“He’s a mean drunk.” This is a line you’ve probably heard in a movie, on TV, or even in real life. From the surface, it almost sounds like the unnamed individual is being mean because he’s drunk. But how true is this? Was the anger already there before this individual consumed alcohol, or was it truly a state that was brought out by the alcohol?
While some may believe displaying anger after drinking is a sign of suppressing anger when sober, new studies show a link between alcohol and emotions of anger, stress, or depression – even in individuals who have no history of any of the above.
The Chemistry Behind Alcohol And Anger
Alcohol is a drug classified as a depressant. What that means is alcohol suppresses certain parts of the central nervous system. Some individuals may consider alcohol’s effects to be more of a stimulant, meaning that after a drink or two they loosen up and are ready to go out, socialize, or just relax. While this effect may be true for some individuals, after a few drinks the depressant effects of alcohol with start to make their appearance.
Despite this conflict of opinion, alcohol remains classified as a depressant. The reason for this classification is the parts of the brain alcohol targets once it is absorbed into the bloodstream. While stimulants, such as coffee and Adderall, target dopamine receptors in the brain, alcohol and other depressants target the brain’s GABA receptors.
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GABA, which stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a receptor in the brain that directly influences your cognitive and inhibitory actions. What that means is GABA has an effect on functions such as fine motor skills, speech, sight, reaction time, natural inhibitions, and emotions. This can also be responsible for the ‘stimulating’ feeling some individuals get when drinking alcohol. Even though they may feel more awake and energetic, this is simply a false mask put on by your brain to cover the fatigue alcohol is truly causing.
One study published by Oxford University Press also showed a correlation between the inability to read someone else’s emotions and the consumption of alcohol. In this study, participants were encouraged to pick out emotions of anger, stress, sadness and anxiety in other individuals both while intoxicated and again when sober. The results showed that intoxicated individuals struggled to identify emotions in other human beings, which could be another implication leading some to cause fights or disputes while under the influence of alcohol.
What Makes A “Mean Drunk”?
A common misconception is defining a ‘mean drunk’ as an individual who is abusive or physically violent in nature when a person is under the influence of alcohol. While this may be one extreme scenario that could classify someone as mean or angry while intoxicated, there are many levels of associating anger with alcohol.
Other signs of alcohol influenced anger or aggression can include:
- Fighting or bickering with close friends while drinking
- Breaking up with a spouse or significant other while drunk
- Saying things you “don’t mean” while drunk
- Drinking because you are angry, stressed, or depressed
- Failure to give empathy or sympathy to others when drinking
- Breaking or damaging objects during or after drinking
There are many telltale signs that can point to a trend of associating anger and alcohol. If you find yourself constantly having to apologize after a night of drinking, or if many of your issues with a relationship come out while drinking, you may be at risk for alcohol abuse. Always look for these signs, and know when a pattern or trend emerges.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse is defined by an individual’s behavior surrounding their consumption of alcohol. This can include habits developed, actions taken, and consequences ignored while drinking.
Common signs of alcohol abuse include:
- Taking dangerous or unnecessary risks while drinking
- Missing daily responsibilities because of drinking
- Associating drinking with emotions of stress, anger, and depression
- Lying to loved ones regarding consumption of alcohol
- Developing routines or habits around the consumption of alcohol
- Hurting social, personal, and professional relationships because of drinking
- Ignoring negative consequences that could happen because of drinking
A good example of an individual who abuses alcohol would be someone who gets into physical or verbal fights while drinking, generally involving someone who would not typically display aggressiveness when sober. For this individual, the impulsive action of initiating a fight with someone else takes a higher precedence than the possible negative consequences or legal risks that could be associated with the fight.
Another example of alcohol abuse could be an individual that calls into work ‘sick’ because of a hangover, or misses spending time with their children or family due to the effects of drinking. In this case, especially when done on a semi-regular basis, alcohol has begun to interfere with daily responsibilities and both personal and professional relationships in a negative manner.
An individual who drinks because they feel emotions of stress or anger can also be indicative of an alcohol abuse disorder. On the flip side of this, an individual who maintains a generally calm demeanor while sober, yet displays actions of anger and stress after drinking, can also indicate an alcohol abuse disorder.
Get Help Today
Do you believe you or a loved one is suffering from anger or aggression related to alcohol abuse? Anger and alcohol can ruin relationships and create many issues in your personal, social, and professional life. If you believe you’ve had to apologize one too many times, it’s time to give us a call.
Our addiction specialists are standing by to help find the best treatment program for you or your loved one. Let us help you down the road to recovery, and get you back to repairing lost relationships and friendships. Contact us today.