The Association Between Alcohol and Aggression

Energy Drink Cocktails May Increase Aggression

upset man drinking beer at bar
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The association between alcohol and aggression is huge, according to Robert O. Pihl, professor of psychology and psychiatry at McGill University. "Alcohol is involved in half of all murders, rapes, and assaults," he said. "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."

Statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism from 2013 corroborate his statement, including:

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

The Basics of Anger

Aggression is an outlet for anger. "When most people think of anger, they probably think of the emotional state," said Amos Zeichner, professor and director of the Psychology Clinic at the University of Georgia. "This is when we get mad in response to some form of provocation."

Actually, the personality trait of anger refers to your general tendency to experience chronic anger over time. If you're an angry person, you tend to seek out stimuli that activate feelings of anger, which may explain why you are angry more often compared with someone who does not have this personality trait.

Trait Anger Is an Aggression Predictor

Trait anger, described above, significantly predicts aggression in intoxicated men who report low levels of anger control, according to a study published in Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research.

 To obtain these results, researchers recruited 164 male social drinkers ages 21-35 to express their aggression after consuming an alcoholic or placebo beverage.  

Participants were told they were going to compete against another individual on a "reaction time" task, during which they might receive electric shocks from their opponent.

While engaged in this fictitious task, which included both high and low shock levels or "provocation," the participants' experience of anger was unobtrusively assessed using the Facial Action Coding System.

Alcohol Brings Out Aggression

"Alcohol intoxication brings out people's natural tendencies in the expression of anger," said Dominic Parrott, the graduate student who conducted the study. "Our findings strengthen the notion that alcohol increases the likelihood that certain drinkers, particularly those with the tendency to be angry and to express their anger outwardly, become aggressive when provoked."

"If individuals tend to express their anger outwardly," said Zeichner, "alcohol will 'turn up the volume,' so that such a person will express anger more frequently and more intensely. A heightened response will most likely occur when the provocation against the drinker is a strong one, and will less likely occur when the individual is experiencing a low provocation and is sober."

Energy Drinks and Alcohol a Potential Risk Factor

Cocktails with an energy drink as one of the ingredients should be considered as a potential risk factor for aggressive behavior in bars, according to another study published in Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research.

This time, researchers surveyed 175 young adults who mixed alcohol with caffeinated energy drinks about their verbal and physical aggression in bar conflicts.

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Miller, et al. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research: Alcohol Mixed with Energy Drink Use as an Event-Level Predictor of Physical and Verbal Aggression in Bar Conflicts. (2016)

Parrott and Giancola. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research: A Further Examination of the Relation Between Trait Anger and Alcohol-Related Aggression: the Role of Anger Control. (2004)

University of Georgia

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