Alcohol & Health
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Updated on February 2, 2023
8 min read

Alcohol & Anger

Alcohol can elicit different behaviors in people. Sometimes, drinking alcohol can cause people to become an “angry drunk”.

Alcohol is linked to anger and aggression more than any other psychotropic substance.7 While not all drinkers become angry, someone who is predisposed to anger can become more aggressive when they drink alcohol.

What Causes Alcohol-Related Anger and Aggression?

The cause of alcohol-related anger varies from person to person. Alcohol triggers anger in some people. In others, anger is present before drinking and drinking brings out that anger.

It’s also important to recognize the role your environment plays in anger. Some of the most common environmental issues that trigger anger include:

  • Stress
  • Financial problems
  • Lack of personal connection with friends and family
  • Abuse
  • Overwhelming obligations to others

Anger issues tend to be more common for people who came from families in which anger was a problem. Many health experts agree that a genetic component influences how the brain reacts to serotonin, which affects how people deal with anger.8

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5 Triggers for Alcohol-Related Anger and Aggression

Anger is a normal part of the human experience. However, it can be harmful and destructive if you cannot control your anger.

1. Loss of Inhibition 

Alcohol makes it more difficult to control anger and other emotions. That's because it reduces an individual's self-control and internal inhibition.

The inability to control or suppress your emotions can lead to inappropriate or dangerous situations. Heightened responses due to alcohol consumption can make anger intensified.

2. When Coping with Alcohol Use Disorder

Control of emotions isn’t the only link between alcohol and anger. For some people, anger is a coping mechanism. They feel anger to avoid other more challenging emotions and behaviors. 

Instead of being a natural emotion, someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) will express anger to avoid dealing with unpleasant or adverse circumstances, including the addiction.

Anger and alcoholism work together in a cycle.  Drinking helps someone escape their negative emotion of anger, and feeling angry lets them avoid the fact that drinking has become a problem. The two feed off one another and can be  dangerous to their health and well-being.

3. Decreased Function in The Prefrontal Cortex

Studies show that excessive drinking can negatively impact the prefrontal cortex, which helps with impulse control.9 

Lack of impulse control can make someone fly into a fit of rage or become aggressive rapidly. 

4. Less Cognitive Function

Alcohol severely decreases cognitive function, which makes it harder to problem-solve, make safe decisions, and control aggression. 

Less cognitive function also means that you may misunderstand something and, in turn, overreact. 

5. Co-Occurring Disorders

When someone has both a mental health and substance use disorder, they are considered co-occurring disorders. In these cases, the person has a dual diagnosis.

If anger is a symptom of someone's mental health disorder, alcohol can intensify the anger to dangerous levels.

The following behavioral disorders should be treated with anger management and also have a high rate of co-occurrence with alcoholism:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder

People with co-occurring disorders should receive specialized treatment. The treatment should target both the person’s mental health and substance use disorder as two parts of a whole. Read more about co-occurring disorders and alcoholism.

Alcohol and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a very dangerous potential result of alcohol abuse. A 2017 study showed that men under the influence of alcohol had higher rates of physical and sexual aggression.

This occurs in long-term relationships such as marriage, as well as all dating scenarios. If your partner shows intense feelings of anger and a lack of self-control when drinking, reach out for help. It could escalate to physical violence.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides confidential assistance from trained advocates. Call 1-800-799-7233 if you or someone you know could be in danger of abuse.

Other Risks & Dangers of Alcohol-Related Anger

Separately, anger and alcohol abuse both create risk. Combined, the risk is even greater. For example, alcohol-related anger:

  • Increases your risk of violent behavior
  • Damages relationships
  • Puts your career in jeopardy
  • Increases your chances of experiencing heart attacks and strokes
  • Weakens your immunity
  • Increases your anxiety
  • Increases your odds of developing depression
  • Shortens your lifespan
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Who is at Risk of Becoming an “Angry Drunk?”

Anyone can feel anger when they are drunk or sober. However, some people are more likely than others to be angry when drinking alcohol.

Ultimately, nobody knows what comes first⁠—anger or alcohol use disorder (AUD). The answer varies from person to person. However, some studies have been done to better understand who is more at risk.

Studies show that people who abuse alcohol are more likely to be abusive to their family members, including children.10 Children who grow up around domestic violence are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as teens and adults. This creates a cycle of alcohol use and violence.

There is also a theory that the disinhibition that alcohol creates raises the risk of violent behavior. Heavy drinkers are more likely to engage in risky behavior, which includes being violent and acting out hostile emotions, often against a loved one.

Additionally, there is evidence that chemical and biological factors play a role. People with higher levels of testosterone are more likely to be aggressive. That likelihood increases when they consume alcohol.

Another study found that people who focus on the present moment tend to be angrier alcoholics.1 They don’t consider the consequences of their actions, so they’ll act on their anger without regard to what will happen in the future.

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Living With Someone With Alcohol-Induced Anger

People who are the closest to the alcoholic who struggled with anger often get the most abuse. You may find yourself walking on eggshells to avoid an alcohol-induced anger outburst.

If you are close to someone who experiences alcohol-induced anger, it’s important to get help and support.

Groups like Al-Anon or Al-Teen are available to help support people who have been affected by a loved one’s alcoholism. These groups are free to join and offer group therapy.

How to Cope with Alcohol-Induced Anger

The most effective way to cope with alcohol-induced anger is to avoid consuming too much alcohol. Some people need to avoid drinking alcohol entirely.

Self-awareness is important for everyone’s mental health, but it is especially necessary for people with AUD and anger issues. Understanding your emotions and making smart decisions about alcohol consumption is the best way to avoid problems.

Anger Treatment Options 

There are several treatment program options available for people struggling with anger issues and addiction. For example:

Anger Management

Anger management therapy is one of the best options available for helping you understand your emotions and find effective ways to cope with them.

Working with a therapist trained in dealing with anger problems helps you gain important anger management skills such as:

  • Identifying anger triggers
  • Learning self-calming and coping skills
  • Responding in a healthy manner to triggers
  • Learning to communicate more effectively, even when you are feeling negative emotions
  • Redirecting anger into more constructive outcomes
  • Identifying and managing stress on an ongoing basis

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and addiction, including:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center.

These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to professional medical monitoring. 

The first step of an inpatient program is detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced. These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer.

Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) provide similar services to inpatient programs. Services include:

  • Medical care
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Support groups
  • Other customized therapies

However, in a PHP program, you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program.

PHPs accept new patients, and people who have completed an inpatient program and require additional intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient treatment or partial hospitalization programs. They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover, but cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school.

These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment.

Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program. It is important for people undergoing treatment to have a stable and supportive home environment without access to drugs and alcohol.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Sometimes medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment. These medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions.

Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat AUD. 

When combined with other evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.

Support Groups

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART) are open to anyone with a substance use disorder.

They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. Support groups can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

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Updated on February 2, 2023
10 sources cited
Updated on February 2, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. One Trait Has Huge Impact on Whether Alcohol Makes You Aggressive.” ScienceDaily, 2011.
  2. Anger Management | Harvard Medicine Magazine.” Harvard.Edu, 2019. 
  3. Shorey, et al. “Trait Anger and Partner-Specific Anger Management Moderate the Temporal Association Between Alcohol Use and Dating Violence.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies, 2017.
  4. Eckhardt, CI. “Effects of alcohol intoxication on anger experience and expression among partner assaultive men.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2007.
  5. Zeichner, et al. “Effects of Alcohol and Trait Anger on Physical Aggression in Men.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2002.
  6. Norström, et al. “Alcohol, Suppressed Anger and Violence.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2010.
  7. Beck A, et al. “Alcohol-related aggression-social and neurobiological factors.” Dtsch Arztebl Int., 2013.
  8. Grazzini, Giuseppe. “Relationship of Anger with Alcohol use Treatment Outcome: Follow-up Study PMC.” 
  9. Squeglia, et al. “The effect of alcohol use on human adolescent brain structures and systems.” Handb Clin Neurol, 2014.
  10. Alcohol Use in Families.” American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology, 2019.

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