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Alcohol and aggression

Just what is it about alcohol that so often leads to fights and arguments?

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Experts believe the reason some people become confrontational when drunk is due to the way alcohol affects the brain.

How alcohol can make us aggressive

"Alcohol reduces our ability to think straight," says Professor McMurran, a psychologist at the University of Nottingham. "It narrows our focus of attention and gives us tunnel vision.
"If someone provokes us while we're drunk, we don't take other factors into account, such as the consequences of rising to the bait. This can lead to violent reactions from people who would usually shrug things off."

Alcohol causes chemical changes in the brain which can initially make you feel relaxed, which can be one of the reasons we enjoy drinking. But, according to Professor McMurran, anxiety actually protects us by telling us to avoid or escape certain situations. "When we're drunk, this warning system doesn't work and this can put us in dangerous or confrontational situations."

The way we process information is affected when we've been drinking too. We're more likely to misinterpret other people's behaviour and misread social cues. This could be the reason why so many drunken fights start over little more than a 'dirty look'.

Find out if you're drinking too much with our Alcohol Self Assessment Tool

Avoiding aggressive encounters

The majority of people who drink are never violent and even those who do become aggressive won't do so all the time. Still, losing your cool over something as simple as a spilled drink is never a good move.
 Binge drinking increases the likelihood of both becoming aggressive and of being on the receiving end of someone else's temper1.

 If you're wanting to cut back on alcohol or simply want to keep track of how much you're drinking, our free Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app or MyDrinkaware tool can help.

Think about trying a different pub if nights at your local tend to get heated. There's no reason why a good night has to end in trouble.

Avoid problems by trying alcohol free nights out



(1) Home Office website, ‘Violence in the night-time economy: key findings from the research’, 2004. Available at:

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