Alcohol and Anger: Causes, Dangers, How to Help
Nearly everyone has experienced someone with a drinking problem. While not all those with a drinking problem are mean, it often seems as though angry alcoholics are more common than you’d think. Disproportionately angry, perhaps. It might not be that angry people are often alcoholics, but it could be that alcoholism causes anger in some people.
AUD or alcohol use disorder is a challenging disorder to live with. Once one has it, it’s difficult to shake, and it affects everyone around the individual. People with AUD often have difficulties controlling their emotions. This means that those with AUD are often more depressed, more verbally abusive, emotionally volatile, and may struggle with other problems that they hadn’t before, such as anxiety, further depression, and anger.
Alcoholism is usually part of a bigger problem. Understanding why you or your loved one is struggling with alcoholism will help you understand them better as well. The underlying issues that lead to alcoholism typically demand to be dealt with before they deal with their alcoholism, and anger management issues make this task so much more difficult. Being patient with your loved one and wanting them to be helped needs to be priority number 1, though it can be too exhausting and mentally draining for one that just wants to help.
Alcohol is a complicated substance. Understanding alcoholism and the brain and why it makes alcoholics will help you better deal with those you love.
Alcohol and the Brain
Alcohol is a depressant. The brain responds to alcohol by slowing down most bodily processes, including heart rate, coordination, and decision making. When under the influence of alcohol, it’s difficult to make quick decisions though it will feel to the person who is intoxicated as if everything is just as it is typically. This misunderstanding is critical blunder #1 for most people. Understanding that even though things feel as if they usually are, it isn’t and must be making decisions based on the fact that what they feel is not reality.
Alcohol increases your brain’s production of dopamine at a much higher rate than is usual. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that lets you know if you’ve done something good or worth doing a second time. These activities usually include working out, getting a good grade on a test, winning a sports game, among other things.
You haven’t done anything positive with alcohol, but your brain starts producing dopamine anyway, effectively circumventing the natural processes your brain has set up and rightly confusing you.
As a consequence, those who drink alcohol regularly will find themselves looking for more and more alcohol and find that the amounts they used to drink don’t satisfy them as much as they used to. The rates at which dopamine is produced in your brain change, and your brain will quickly get used to that elevated rate.
In addition to this clear trap that will eventually drown someone who drinks alcohol regularly, alcohol can also change other parts of your thinking in the moment and for some permanently. These things include:
- Decision making: This is one of those things that are clear to sober people but not as apparent to those who have been drinking. Divisions at the moment while under the influence of alcohol can seem like not bad decisions at all, when in reality, they are terrible decisions and need to be vetted by someone with a sober mind. These decisions will be rash, impulsive decisions that the individual will later come to regret significantly later on once the consequences of their actions have set in. Alcohol has a significant effect on the cerebral cortex, the part of our brain that governs decision making, rational thought, and the ability to take in and process information.
- Memory: People with alcoholism will often struggle with memory loss. This memory loss will often come from excessive nights out drinking (often called “blacking out”). While these nights are usually eventually recalled, there are reported experiences where individuals never recover their memory. Along with nights of excessive binge drinking affecting their memory, long-term memory loss is also a problem that many alcoholics suffer from. Long-term alcoholics will frequently forget things that seem easy to remember, keys, wallet, phone, etc.
- Speaking: This is another one that seems easier to spot if you’re sober and much harder to spot if you’re under the influence. It’s also involuntary, so if one might notice that their speaking is slurred or not cohesive, they might not be in a frame of mind to do anything about it.
- Movement: people who are under the influence will have trouble with their balance, movement, and vision. These are all different parts of the brain that alcohol has a massive effect on. This is why individuals who have had any alcohol should never drive or do other high-risk activities.
Long-term alcohol use will affect these sections of your brain more permanently. While it will take some time for all of these parts to seriously see a difference, they will eventually deteriorate. People who suffer from alcoholism will see all of these parts of their brain eventually be permanently changed.
Alcoholism and Anger
Many studies have been done to understand the connection between alcohol and anger. Anger usually comes from one’s inability to control their own emotions. Expressive anger comes from a lack of understanding of the world around them, confusion, frustration, and is accentuated by one’s inability to control their own emotions.
Alcohol can affect these parts of the brain. It comes as no surprise that one would be naturally angry if they drank often. Not only would the individual be regularly confused, unable to control others, let alone their own selves, but they will also be more susceptible to mood swings, among other things. All of this leaves one ripe for a recipe for disaster. When understanding all of these things in a vacuum, it’s no wonder that someone would be angry while under the influence.
Research has shown that there are connections between Alcohol Use Disorder and anger. People with AUD and sought treatment for their AUD were studies and among their findings was:
- Those with AUD showed higher signs of anger than those without AUD.
- Higher levels of anger often lead to higher levels of alcohol consumption and vice versa.
- Alcohol can make aggressive behavior more prevelant.
- People who were rated more likely to become angry were even more likely to be triggered by the addition of alcohol.
These findings are nothing surprising, though which causes the other is something for study. It seems that both push the other, meaning that if you suffer from the one, you are also likely to have symptoms of the other. This is not super unusual in these cases, however.
Other studies have shown a connection between alcohol, anger, and the ability to consider future consequences. The study looked at over 400 individuals of different gender, age, and life status. Researchers asked participants to consume varying, controlled amounts of alcohol and then complete a series of tests against another participant. If they won, they were asked to deliver a series of shocks to the loser. (in reality, there was no other participant, and there was no electric shock given)
According to the study, people who were present-focused and drunk (not blackout but still drunk) shocked their opponents longer and harder than any other group. This study seems to suggest that individuals with natural tendency to think of the present instead of the future are more likely to display angry reactions while drunk, and therefore alcohol has a clear link to anger.
Thankfully, people who treat those who have AUD know the link between anger and alcohol and know how to treat these two in turn.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anger or alcoholism in general, reach out to somebody right away. Unfortunately, these conversations can be more difficult with those that are more inclined to react in anger. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want or need help.
Many treatment programs know how to treat those with anger issues and want to help those who are genuinely struggling.
If anger is an issue for you or someone you love when they drink, contact an addiction treatment professional, rehab facility, or sober house and explain your needs. They will work with you and work to get you treated in the best way possible for you.
If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, reach out to us at ecosoberhouse.com. We have all the resources you need to help treat you. Don’t wait. Help yourself today.