Why Do I Get Angry When I Drink?

You see them at bars, sporting events, weddings — basically anywhere alcohol is served. They’re the angry drunks. After a few beers or cocktails, an alcoholic rage overtakes them and they come out swinging, screaming or both. Their targets are family members, friends, even complete strangers.

Are you ready to face the fact that you go into an alcoholic rage that can become physically violent? If you’re self-aware enough to know you get angry when you drink, you may want to know why this happens. Researchers are delving into this syndrome and are discovering why some people get into a rage when they drink.

Are you concerned about your drinking and anger issues? Reach out to our treatment specialists at Recovery Treatment Substance Abuse to find out how you can get help. Call today at 912-214-3867.


If you’ve ever asked “why are some people angry drunks,” read on to find out more. And if you are seeing this pattern of behavior in yourself or a loved one, now is the time to reach out to our experts for help. Going into an alcoholic rage can be extremely dangerous for everyone.

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Do You Get Angry When You Drink?

When you drink, do you become angry, aggressive or even violent? If you answered yes, then you know you are hurting your relationships with those around you. Having that much self-awareness is a good first step. The second is seeking professional help for your drinking and anger-management issues.

Yes, some of you who get angry when you drink have anger-management issues. You may think that drinking turns you into another person. That’s not the case. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the formula didn’t transform Jekyll into the barbaric Hyde. Hyde was lurking in Jekyll all along.

Now ask yourself, how do you feel when you are sober? How do you feel about the world around you? What does your typical emotional state look like? Your answers to these questions are important.

Regina Osime, a licensed clinical social worker, says getting angry when drunk is a natural behavior for some people.

“One thing to remember is that alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions,” she says. “It’s not that drinking causes angry outbursts; it creates the perfect storm for them to happen.”

Osime adds that alcohol lessens the activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. That’s the area of the brain that is connected to a person’s self-control and self-reflection.

“If you have less control over your actions, and you struggle with losing your cool, drinking is going to enhance that weakness,” she says. “You will become angrier than you want to be when you’re intoxicated.”

Osime’s reasoning sounds logical enough, but it’s taken researchers years to scientifically prove that reasoning. Researchers now know there are three reasons a person enters an alcoholic rage: a mix of personality, neuroscience and social context.

Your Personality Type

If you’re aggressive and angry while sober, drinking alcohol will exacerbate those traits. But the screamers aren’t the only angry drunks. If you silently seethe, you’re also liable to turn into a mean drunk. A 2010 study conducted by the Swedish Institute for Social Research found a link between people who regularly suppress their anger and an increased likelihood of getting into drunken brawls (or go into an alcoholic rage).

The researchers note that because alcohol decreases our self-control, those with pent-up rage are more likely to have it come out when they’re drunk. The other interesting finding from the study is that those who suppressed their anger were more likely to drink to the point of drunkenness. That in turn led to more violent incidents. This wasn’t the case for those who didn’t regularly suppress their anger.

Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, has another interesting finding. A 2011 study led by Bushman finds that those who focus more on the present rather than the future are generally more aggressive when sober. That aggressiveness increases when they drink. The research finds that the people having trouble thinking about the future also don’t think much about the consequences of their actions while drinking. This is a key point in “angry drunk psychology.”

“Alcohol has a myopic effect,” Bushman states in a release about the study. “It narrows your attention to what’s important to you right now. That may be dangerous to someone who already has that tendency to ignore the future consequences of their actions and who is placed in a hostile situation.”

A Look at the Neuroscience

David Friedman, a professor of physiology and pharmacology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, has been conducting drug-abuse research for nearly 40 years.

“Alcohol affects almost all the chemical systems in the brain,” Friedman says.

Among those impacted are two neurotransmitters that cells use to communicate with each other. A few drinks can short-circuit this conversation and result in parts of your brain not talking to each other as much as they should. 

As stated earlier, the prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that handles decision-making and judgment. The lack of communication is most pronounced in this region.

“Without that prefrontal cortex, the lower parts of our brain that are full of wants and needs go unchecked,” Friedman says. “It’s the adult in the room, and as such, it can perceive the consequences of our actions. But when we’re drinking, the prefrontal cortex isn’t able to exert its influence as effectively. So, if you take someone who is more prone to anger in general, they might be less likely to restrain it when drinking.” 

Alcohol also negatively affects serotonin, which has a major role in regulating your mood. Friedman notes that people with naturally lower levels of serotonin tend to be more violent.

“And drinking alcohol decreases serotonin levels even further,” he explains.

Ergo, naturally low serotonin plus serotonin-depleting alcohol equals a high probability for an alcoholic rage.

Although alcohol is a depressant, you’ll feel an initial “boost” during the early stages of drinking. Once alcohol reaches your brain, it triggers a number of chemical changes, including:

  • release of the body’s “feel-good” chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin.
  • release of gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA, the body’s “slow-down” chemical.
  • A reduction in the release of glutamate, the body’s “speed-up” chemical.

Reactions in Social Situations

The ability to interpret social cues is important in how humans socialize. Those social cues can make us feel a certain way about a person and greatly influence how we act around them. Alcohol throws that ability out the window.

“Alcohol makes it harder for people to interpret facial expressions, which is a complex thing to do,” Friedman says. “It’s particularly difficult to distinguish threatening from submissive when under the influence. So here you are, you’re a little bit angry to begin with because that’s your nature, your self-control is weakened [by alcohol] and you look at the guy at the other end of the bar, and what may be a neutral or non-threatening face suddenly becomes threatening. Then you act out.” 

And that’s yet another reason why you’re an angry drunk.

“There’s a saying that the best way to predict future behavior is to look at past behavior,” Friedman says. “If someone has been an angry drunk in the past, you can anticipate they’ll be again sometime in the future.” 

A Shocking Case

A new study from Ohio State University’s Bushman supports that conclusion. In a study, Bushman looked at 495 volunteers with an average age of 23. They all described themselves as social drinkers and none claimed to have any past or present drug, alcohol or psychiatric problems.

Next, they each took a questionnaire designed to measure which of the participants were future-focused and which were more impulsive. After the questionnaire, half of the volunteers were given alcohol mixed with orange juice. The other half received orange juice with a small amount of alcohol. But the researchers sprayed the rims of their glasses with alcohol so it smelled like the drink had more alcohol in it.

Then the real experiment began. The volunteers played a speed reaction game against an unseen same-sex opponent. The winner’s “prize” was giving the loser a harmless, but still slightly painful, electric shock. The volunteers were actually playing against the researchers themselves. As you may have already guessed, volunteers who rated themselves more impulsive didn’t play nice. As the game continued, they were more likely to retaliate by upping the intensity and duration of the shocks sent to the “losers.” It didn’t matter if they really were drunk.

The impulsive volunteers who were not intoxicated did up the intensity of the shocks, but it wasn’t to the same degree as their drunk counterparts.

“If you carefully consider the consequences of your actions, it is unlikely getting drunk is going to make you any more aggressive than you usually are,” Bushman said.

The Blackout Problem

If you are drinking so much that you black out, you have at least three problems. The first is that you’re drinking too much. The second is that during a blackout you have no memory of your actions and those memories are lost forever. And third, during a blackout you can still function normally in many respects, this includes going to an alcoholic rage.

A blackout isn’t the same as passing out. Someone who passes out has either fallen asleep or become unconscious because they consumed too much alcohol. During a blackout, an intoxicated person can still function. They may seem articulate because most parts of the brain are alcohol tolerant. They can still eat, walk, hold conversations, drive  — and get into fights.

This seemingly aware state can make it difficult for other people to recognize if a person is experiencing a blackout. During all this, a person in a blackout can’t record any memories.

Alcohol impairs your ability to walk, speak, react, and remember events. But it also lowers inhibition, hinders impulse control, and affects decision-making. The reward pathway in the brain regulates these activities. Although this part of the brain can build up long-term tolerance to alcohol, this isn’t true of the hippocampus. Found deep in the brain, the hippocampus is critical to forming memories. Its vulnerability to alcohol is the reason why the blackout, more scientifically called alcohol-induced amnesia, occurs.

Heavy drinking may have lasting effects on the brain, from momentary “slips” in memory to permanent, debilitating conditions. It’s thought that chronic alcohol consumption can harm the frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain that controls cognitive function. The frontal lobe also plays a role in short-term and long-term memory formation and recall.

Regular damage to the frontal lobe can impair your behavior and personality, how you perform tasks, and how you keep information. Binge drinking can also impair the frontal lobe.

Alcohol and Violence

So, we know naturally aggressive or impulsive people tend to become more aggressive and impulsive when they drink. But the real bottom line is how much violence these people can wreak.

“Alcohol is involved in half of all murders, rapes, and assaults,” said Robert O. Pihl, a professor of psychiatry at McGill University. “But the dynamics of this association are complicated, which is why any research that focuses on explaining this relationship is important for society in general.” 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has these sobering numbers:

  • 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 were assaulted by another student who had been drinking;
  • 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 reported experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

The relationship between alcohol and intimate partner violence is one area of great concern when it comes to the consumption of alcohol and going into an alcoholic rage. This pertains to adults in long-term relationships. 

In a 2017 report, researchers shared their findings of the relationship between alcohol and dating violence. The study included 67 undergraduate men who were engaged or currently dating someone.  

The report concluded that alcohol increased the odds of physical aggression in those men who had high-trait anger and poor anger-management skills. It also noted that sexual aggression was higher with alcohol, even in men with low-trait anger and reasonable anger-management skills. Basically, women, men, and alcohol can form a violent sexual triangle mostly victimizing women. 

If you or a loved one have problems with alcohol and violence, please call Recovery Treatment Substance Abuse today at 912-214-3867. We can help.

Written by Janet Perez


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