The Science Behind People Who Get Angry When They’re Drunk

man raging

There are clear personality differences between people when they are drunk versus being sober. Most of us know of one person who gets very angry and/or violent when they’ve been drinking – why is this?

Mel Magazine, an online magazine that provides information on sex and relationships, jobs and money, body and mind, and more, has noted the following factors that contribute to those who get angry when drunk:

1) personality type
2) neuroscience
3) social situations/context.

A closer look at  these factors

By understanding these three factors, we may get a better understanding of ourselves and/or others, giving us more room to de-escalate situations before they get out of hand.

  1. Personality type: Research has shown that if you are prone to getting angry while sober or even if you suppress your anger, you are more likely to drink excessively and to engage in more violent incidents. Alcohol decreases self-control and critical thinking, so a person who is more prone to anger and impulsivity will exhibit even more hostile behavior. Furthermore, a 2011 study conducted by researchers from Ohio State University found that participants who were apt to focus more on the present rather than the future were more aggressive and unable to foresee consequences to their actions, which was compounded when they drank.
  2. Neuroscience: Alcohol effects several regions of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making, personality expression, cognitive behavior and moderating social behavior. Heavy drinking can cause slowed action in this area, sometimes resulting in angry outbursts with no rational thinking. Scientists also say that alcohol depletes serotonin, a chemical responsible for regulating mood and other things. If you are prone to anger and drink too much, you will likely experience outbursts of hostility.
  3. Social situations and contexts: Science Daily states that drinking interrupts our ability to interpret things accurately, and for a person who is already apt to be on edge, misreading facial expressions or verbal cues could instantly lead to a fight.

How to handle an angry drunk

Having to deal with people who have had too much to drink is trying; handling angry drunks can feel downright overwhelming. Here are a few ways to approach someone who’s both angry and intoxicated:

  • Stay calm – angry drunks often want to provoke and engage. Take deep breaths and resolve to keep your cool despite what they do

  • Distract them – sometimes a situation can be de-escalated with distraction tactics: change the subject, point out something interesting in the surroundings, etc
  • Get them home – be sure to take their keys and ask for help from another friend or even security if needed. Sometimes it’s best to get them into a cab and away from the scene
  • Consider talking to them…when they are sober – if someone you know has a developed a pattern of excessive drinking and angry outbursts, it might be time to address a bigger issue of addiction


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