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Why are Some People Angry Drunks?

It is not uncommon to come across a mean drunk person. Some people get angry after drinking alcohol. This is largely due to excessive drinking, which can cause mental health issues, including anger issues.

Someone with an alcohol addiction may experience angry outbursts with little to no regard for the consequences of their actions. This is because alcohol is a depressant and, when people drink, their decision-making skills are impaired.8 They may have little to no self-control after heavy drinking.

If you or someone you know has a drinking problem (or an anger problem when drinking), know that professional addiction treatment for both alcohol use and substance use is available. While this may be an especially difficult time, you do not need to go down the road to recovery alone.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence or violent crimes, reach out for help immediately. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7, and it is free and confidential for your safety.7

What the Research Says 

A 2018 study looked at MRI scans of participants to see alcohol-related changes in the prefrontal cortex of their brains.4 Results showed a decrease in brain activity in this region of the brain, which is related to inhibition and working memory. This reflects lower self-awareness and an increased bias toward hostility, making some men more aggressive when they drink.

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence (IPV), is a huge public health concern in the United States. In fact, in a national study published, 23 percent of Black couples, 17 percent of Hispanic couples, and 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 IPV was also high at 30 percent of Black couples, 21 percent of Hispanic couples, and 15 percent of white couples reporting it.1

Alcohol plays a major role in IPV. Specifically, 30 to 40 percent of the men and 27 to 34 percent of the women who were violent with their partners were drinking.1

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The Psychology of an Angry Drunk

Alcohol affects the brain in a number of ways. In short, drinking alcohol directly affects a person’s cognitive and physical functioning.5 This reduces their ability to come to a non-violent resolution if conflicts arise in relationships.

Plus, alcohol depresses the central nervous system (CNS), acting similar to a sedative in slowing down motor coordination and reaction time.8 When someone drinks alcohol, the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine tell them that they feel happier and relaxed.6 But that wears off when they sober up, which can lead to a depression, which is a common hangover symptom.9

The effects of alcohol also take a toll on someone’s judgment, memory, and reasoning — especially if they black out from drinking.2 And alcohol can impact sleep, leading to insomnia.8

If someone is not able to make sound decisions, has trouble remembering what they have done the next day, gets little to no sleep, and wakes up tired with a hangover, this can all be a recipe for disaster. After all, drunken behavior can cause harm to others. And studies show that sleep deprivation only 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 things can be problematic and make someone act out in anger. 

While alcohol does affect people’s judgment, researchers have suggested that some people may consciously use alcohol as an excuse for their aggressive drinking behavior.1

Connection Between Angry Drunks and Depression

Someone’s drunk behavior may seem angry because alcohol is tied to depression.2 Even if that person’s personality type is not necessarily aggressive when they are sober, they can become aggressive when they are drunk and when they are sobering up after drinking.

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What to Do if You Live with an Angry Drunk

If you live with someone whose drinking behavior is dangerous for you, seek immediate help. Again, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7, free, and confidential.7

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 will not 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 are not worried about your safety, you should still keep cautious around an angry drunk. Do your best to remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible. If you know that someone has a tendency to be an angry drunk, you may 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, among others.

3. Try to get the person some help

If you are dealing with someone who tends to be an angry drunk, they may have an anger problem, a drinking problem, or both. Help them find professional help. Helping them also helps you!

Tips: How to Stop Being an Angry Drunk

If you are someone who gets angry when you drink, be mindful of your alcohol intake. The most obvious step would be to not drink. This is easier said than done, especially if you have an alcohol addiction.

If you are worried that you may have an alcohol addiction, reach out for professional rehab help. You should not try to cut back on alcohol alone, as alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and even deadly.

If you find that you grow angry when you are drunk due to relationship issues, financial concerns, or other personal problems, exploring therapy options can help you better manage your anger and empower you to get back on the right track.

How to Tell if Your Loved One is an Alcoholic

Alcoholism refers to a chronic disease in which a person has an addiction to alcohol. It is also known as alcohol use disorder. You may notice that they continue to drink alcohol despite the toll it takes on their life. Or they have trouble controlling or cutting back on their alcohol intake, constantly finding themselves wanting alcohol.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Symptoms of alcohol use disorder 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 it causes
  • Continuing to drink despite social, financial, and other personal issues it causes
  • Lying about drinking habits
  • Missing work and family obligations, and letting hobbies and passions fall to the wayside because of alcohol-related issues

Treatment Options: How to Find Help for Them

If you or someone you know, such as family members or another loved one, has a drinking problem, reach out for professional help immediately. Both inpatient and outpatient alcohol rehab centers are available with trusted medical and mental health professionals.

Alcohol and drug addiction support groups also exist to help people battle alcohol and substance use problems. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also help people get to the real root of their toxic drinking habits and identify triggers. Therapy can also help with anger management. 

Never try to detox from an alcohol addiction alone. Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, and cutting your alcohol consumption cold turkey can be deadly. It is always best to recover with the help of a professional support system.

Resources

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“Alcohol-Related Intimate Partner Violence Among White, Black, And.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-1/58-65.htm.

“ALCOHOL'S DAMAGING EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm.

Dean, Mary Elizabeth. “How To Handle An 'Angry Drunk'.” BetterHelp, BetterHelp, 7 May 2019, www.betterhelp.com/advice/anger/how-to-handle-an-angry-drunk/

Denson, Thomas F., et al. “The Neural Correlates of Alcohol-Related Aggression.” Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, Springer US, 8 Jan. 2018, link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13415-017-0558-0. . 

“Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol.” Alcohol Violence, WHO, www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/factsheets/fs_intimate.pdf

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, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826824/

“National Domestic Violence Hotline.” The Hotline, 15 Dec. 2020, www.thehotline.org/.

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/alcohols-effects-on-the-body.

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, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28728640/.

Saghir, Zahid, et al. “The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivation, and the Emotion of Anger: A Possible Connection?” Cureus, Cureus, 2 July 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6122651/.

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