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How to Deal with an Angry Drunk

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Why are Some People Angry Drunks?

It's not uncommon to come across a "mean drunk." This is a term used for someone who becomes prone to anger after drinking alcohol.

Excessive drinking can cause mental health and emotional issues such as excessive anger.

Alcohol is a depressant that impairs your decision-making.8 You may have little to no self-control after heavy drinking.

For this reason, some alcoholics may experience angry outbursts without regard for the consequences of their actions.

If you or someone you know has a drinking problem, professional help is available. While this may be a tough time, you don't need to face recovery alone.

For victims of domestic violence or violent crimes, reach out for help immediately.

What the Research Says 

A 2018 study looked at MRI scans to see alcohol-related changes in the brain.4 Results showed a decrease in activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is related to inhibition and working memory.

This reflects lower self-awareness and more hostility and is why some men are more aggressive when they drink.

Domestic violence is a major public health concern in the United States.

A national study on domestic violence and alcohol consumption found:

  • 23 percent of Black couples
  • 17 percent of Hispanic couples
  • 11.5 percent of white couples

Reported male-to-female partner violence in the 12 months preceding the research.1

And the rate of female-to-male violence was also high at:

  • 30 percent of Black couples
  • 21 percent of Hispanic couples
  • 15 percent of white couples1

Alcohol plays a major role in intimate partner violence (IPV).

30 to 40 percent of the men and 27 to 34 percent of the women who were violent with their partners were drinking.1

The Psychology of an Angry Drunk

Drinking alcohol directly affects a person’s mind and body.5

It increases impulsivity and reduces emotional control. This negatively impacts your ability to come to a non-violent resolution if a conflict arises.

Alcohol also takes a toll on someone’s judgment, memory, and reasoning.2 It can also lead to insomnia.8 Studies show that sleep deprivation increases anger and aggression.10

Excessive drinking can also cause financial difficulties, get in the way of family obligations like childcare duties, and lead to infidelity.5 All of these are problems that can lead to increased anger. 

While alcohol affects people’s judgment, researchers have suggested that some people may consciously use alcohol to excuse their aggressive drinking behavior.1

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Ways to Deal with an Angry Drunk

Here are three ways to deal with an angry drunk.

1. Talk to them when they are sober

Don’t try to engage with an angry drunk person.3

Understand that they are not currently in their right mind, and you won't get a rational response. They may not even be aware of what is happening or remember the situation anyway.

You will have a better chance of de-escalating a situation by removing yourself from it than you would by trying to engage in a discussion that can turn aggressive or violent.

2. Keep yourself safe

If you are worried about your safety, reach out for emergency help. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at any time.7

If you're not worried about your safety, you should still be cautious. Do your best to remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible.

If you know that someone has a tendency to become mean when drunk, take preventive measures. These can include not being alone with them in private places, not drinking yourself, and having a method of transportation to get yourself home if necessary.

3. Try to get the person some help

If you live with someone whose drinking behavior is dangerous for you, seek immediate help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is free, confidential, and available 24/7.7

Help them find professional help. Helping an alcoholic also helps you.

Tips: How to Stop Being an Angry Drunk

If you get angry when you drink, be mindful of your alcohol intake. The most obvious step would be to refrain from drinking.

This is easier said than done, especially if you have an alcohol addiction.

If you're worried that you may have an alcohol addiction, reach out for professional help. Don't try to cut back on alcohol by yourself - alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and even deadly.

If you have an alcohol use disorder and a mental health problem, it's essential to seek help for both conditions. 

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How to Tell if Your Loved One is an Alcoholic

Symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD) include the following:

  • Cravings for alcohol
  • An increasing tolerance for alcohol
  • Needing to drink more to achieve the same effects
  • Wanting to drink more and more often
  • Continuing to drink despite health complications
  • Continuing to drink despite social, financial, and other personal issues
  • Lying about drinking habits
  • Missing work and family obligations
  • Letting hobbies and passions fall to the wayside because of alcohol-related issues

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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, and support groups, along with 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 as well as 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.

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.

They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school. 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. If family members/roommates drink or use drugs in the home environment, it will be extremely difficult for the person to maintain abstinence when they return home after treatment. It is extremely difficult to undergo successful outpatient therapy if you are living in a home environment with ready access to drugs and alcohol.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Sometimes medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment.

Some 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.

Updated on April 18, 2022
10 sources cited
  1. Alcohol-Related Intimate Partner Violence Among White, Black, And.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. ALCOHOL'S DAMAGING EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  3. Dean, Mary Elizabeth. “How To Handle An 'Angry Drunk'.BetterHelp, BetterHelp, 7 May 2019
  4. Denson, Thomas F., et al. “The Neural Correlates of Alcohol-Related Aggression.Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, Springer US, 8 Jan. 2018.
  5. Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol.Alcohol Violence, WHO.
  6. Lovinger, D M. “Serotonin's Role in Alcohol's Effects on the Brain.Alcohol Health and Research World, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1997
  7. “National Domestic Violence Hotline.” The Hotline, 15 Dec. 2020, www.thehotline.org/.
  8. Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol's Effects on the Body.Harvard Health.
  9. RJ;, Piasecki TM;Trela CJ;Mermelstein. “Hangover Symptoms, Heavy Episodic Drinking, and Depression in Young Adults: A Cross-Lagged Analysis.Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  10. Saghir, Zahid, et al. “The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivation, and the Emotion of Anger: A Possible Connection?” Cureus, Cureus, 2 July 2018.

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