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Alcoholism and aggression/ aggressive behaviors. How is it connected?

November 5, 2021
Reviewed by: Lisa Misquith

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” This is probably one of the most poignant lines from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’. Alcohol abuse has been the cause of many broken marriages, domestic violence, road rage, drunk driving and at times even murder.

Alcohol consumption is on the rise in India. About a third of Indians consume alcohol on a regular basis and 11% of the Indian population were moderate to heavy drinkers. In multiple surveys conducted over the years, it has been found that alcohol abuse can lead to deterioration of physical health, mental well-being, finances and relationships.  

Alcohol in itself isn’t a good or a bad thing. It’s the abuse of alcohol that leads to a range of psychological and social problems. According to the World Health Organization, the consumption of alcohol is more closely connected with aggressive behaviour than any other category of psychotropic substance.

Intimate partner violence and alcohol

Alcohol consumption patterns in India

Why does alcoholism lead to aggression?

Alcohol elicits different emotional reactions for different people. If you have been to a party where there is the consumption of alcohol, you may have seen it first-hand. Some people become happy and start singing and cracking jokes, some may become silent and sit in a corner and some may start getting boisterous and angry. It is said that alcohol often triggers your already pre-existing emotional condition. So, if you are someone who gets angry easily, drinking alcohol may cause you to become even more aggressive.

Let’s look at some of the cognitive factors that lead to aggression post alcohol consumption.

Disinhibition: One of the physiological and behavioural effects of alcohol is disinhibition. Disinhibition can also be described as reduced control over impulses or urges after alcohol consumption, especially excessive consumption. In this state of mind, a person is incapable of suppressing or changing an act of aggression that is not called for in the situation they are in.

Impulsivity: It has been observed that continuous alcohol consumption decreases the function in the prefrontal cortex, which plays a major role in impulse control. Researchers have also associated impulsive alcohol-related behaviour with genetic involvement. The presence of the serotonin 2B receptor gene (HTR2B) plays a significant part in impulsive and aggressive behaviours while under the influence of alcohol. Reduced impulse control can cause a person to suddenly fly into a rage or act aggressively with or without provocation.

Cognitive function: Consumption of alcohol weakens cognitive function. This leads to difficulty in problem-solving, controlling anger and making rational decisions while drinking. Reduced cognitive function can cause a person to misjudge a situation and react in a violent or harmful way. For e.g., if someone accidentally bumps into an intoxicated person, the person under the influence of alcohol may assume that it was on purpose and may resort to violence. Often many bar fights happen over such supposed slights.

Low Regard for Consequences: According to a 2012 study, individuals who tend to disregard the future outcomes of their behaviour, or score low on the Consideration of Future Consequences (CFC) scale, have been found to exhibit more aggression. These individuals get even more violent and aggressive under the influence of alcohol.  

Risk factors for the increase in alcohol-related aggression

There are many factors that can cause alcohol-related aggressive behaviour. It is found that males are more prone than females to indulge in aggressive behaviour post alcohol consumption. Individuals who go on a binge-drinking spree for hours may exhibit more aggression. People who are by nature ‘angry’ also display more aggression under the influence of alcohol. Also, attention-seeking personalities, people lacking empathy and people with underlying irritability problems may all display alcohol-related aggression.

It has also been observed that continuous exposure to or having friends and relatives who display aggression while intoxicated can also lead a person to indulge in violent behaviour post alcohol consumption. 

The Angry Drunk: How Alcohol and Aggression Are Linked

Patterns of alcohol consumption

People consume alcohol in varying amounts and in varied settings. Defining these consumption patterns will help us ascertain what constitutes harmful and when to seek help.

Social Drinking: This pattern of drinking is also called moderate drinking. It refers to men having no more than 2 drinks and women having no more than one drink per day. This pattern refers to the consumption of alcohol in a single day and is not an average over several days. Another type of social drinking involves consuming alcohol only during a social event like a party, family gathering or other social events involving other people. These people may not necessarily consume alcohol on their own or at home.

Binge drinking: Binge drinking can be defined as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent – or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter – or higher. For a typical adult, this pattern equals consuming 5 or more drinks for males, or 4 or more drinks for females, in a time frame of about 2 hours.

Harmful drinking pattern: This type of alcohol consumption may lead to physical or psychological harm to the individual or society. For e.g., physical abuse of wives by their intoxicated husbands or road accidents due to drunk driving. This disorder is also recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Hazardous drinking pattern: This pattern of alcohol consumption may put the individual at a high risk of adverse health problems like liver disease, pancreatitis, cancer, angina, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart failure, stomach ulcers, acid reflux and heartburn.

Alcohol dependence: This pattern of alcohol consumption can be categorized as a collection of behavioural, cognitive and physiological changes that happen after frequent and repeated alcohol consumption. People with alcohol dependence seek alcohol all the time, they prefer drinking over other responsibilities like going to work or parenting their children. They also have increased tolerance for alcohol and will have physiological withdrawal symptoms if they have no access to alcohol.

Alcohol consumption in India– An epidemiological review

10 health risks of chronic heavy drinking: Liver disease, pancreatitis, cancer

According to IWSR (International Wines and Spirits Record) Drinks Market Analysis, a London-based research firm, India is the world’s ninth-largest consumer of all alcohol by volume. It is also the second-largest consumer of spirits (whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, tequila, liqueurs), with China in the first place. Indian consumption of alcohol has been more than 663 million litres of alcohol, and this number is up by 11% since 2017.  

Today, consumption of alcohol is widely accepted, however, we need to keep a close eye on whether the consumption of alcohol is affecting our lives or those of our loved ones. Lying about drinking, binge drinking, day drinking even during work hours, fighting with loved ones; are some of the signs of alcohol addiction. If you find any of your friends or family members showing any of these signs then it’s time for them to seek help. let’s one find the right counsellor for their needs and help them on the path of recovery. Alcohol-related aggression can often be controlled through counselling for alcohol addiction.

Once again, alcohol in itself is not good or bad, responsible drinking is the need of the hour!

Dark truth behind India’s post-lockdown liquor lines


Intimate partner violence and alcohol. (2006) World Health Organization.

Desai, B., (2016, Feb) Alcohol consumption patterns in India.

Buddy, T., Umhau.C.J., (2021, Aug) The Link Between Alcohol and Aggression.

Eashwar, V., Umadevi, R., Gopalakrishnan.S., (2020, Jan) Alcohol consumption in India– An epidemiological review. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care

Davis, K., Sampson, S., (2018 Feb) Ten health risks of chronic heavy drinking.

Dodgson, L., (2018, Jul) ‘JOMO’ is the joy of missing out — here are 3 ways people find happiness in not being involved.

Biswas, S., (2020 May) Dark truth behind India’s post-lockdown liquor lines.