There is much discussion around the different drunk personalities people can exhibit. One of the best known is the “angry drunk.”
We’ve all met an angry or “mean drunk” at some point in our lives. Such people often get irritated at the slightest provocation when they’ve been drinking. They might abuse others verbally or even physically, leading to arguments and violence every time they drink. Even worse, some might entirely forget what they were doing while drunk, making it very hard to change this behavior.
So, what can you do when you encounter an angry drunk. How can you deal with a loved one who exhibits aggressive drunk behavior? And if the above describes you, how can you stop being an angry drunk? Below, we’ll answer both pressing questions. But first, what makes one person become angry while drinking, while another does not?
Why Are Some People Angry Drunks?
Research has uncovered at least three reasons why someone might display aggressive behavior while intoxicated:
1. They already have a short temper
A comparative study on anger traits and alcohol-induced aggression confirms that many angry drunks are already naturally angry people. So if someone you know is normally short-tempered, this may explain why they display rage when drinking.
2. They suppress their anger when sober
What about that friend who often seems mild-mannered when sober, but changes character completely when they drink? According to research, many people who become aggressive when drunk score high on the anger-suppression scale. They may be great at masking their feelings under normal circumstances. But since alcohol lowers inhibitions, it may all come spilling out when they drink.
3. They are impulsive
Finally, other research shows that people who rarely think of the consequences of their actions are more likely to be angry drunks. Since emotions are heightened during drinking, when their anger is triggered all they can think of is fighting back—whether with words or full-blown physical violence.
Any or all of these reasons can cause someone to display greater aggression when drinking. But if you have someone like this in your life, or you struggle with anger while intoxicated yourself, what‘s the best way to manage or change it?
How to Deal With an Angry Drunk
If the angry drunk in your life is a friend or loved one, what is the best way to deal with their behavior while intoxicated?
A person who becomes aggressive when drunk can be intimidating, but there are often safe ways to deal with the situation. When an angry drunk in your life is making a scene, try the following four strategies to diffuse things:
When provoked, an angry drunk looks for ways to expel their anger. So if you act agitated, it can fuel their anger and worsen the conflict. Even asking them to calm down can aggravate them.
Instead, change the dynamic by example. Rather than reacting, do your best to stay composed. Take deep breaths, and avoid escalating things. This may help them calm down, and even listen to you.
Introduce a distraction
Sometimes, distractions can also help de-escalate an alcohol-induced conflict.
In a study on how people manage anger, researchers discovered that self-focused rumination often worsened a person’s mood, but distractions helped diffuse negative emotion. Therefore, if you’re in an unpleasant situation with an angry drunk, try finding a distraction—such as a new topic, or something else happening in your surroundings.
Of course, you should always do this with care and tact. If your friend is talking about a subject that makes them angry, they could also become more annoyed if they feel you’re inattentive to their concerns.
Flee, or get them away from the scene
If you don’t want to fight, sometimes it’s wise to choose a flight response—especially if you notice that you won’t be able to control your emotions any longer. This will help you avoid a situation that could get more violent.
And if the angry drunk is a loved one who is getting themselves into trouble with someone else, you might also try to take them away from the place of conflict. However, it’s important to negotiate this with friendliness, and affirm their concerns with kindness.
Gently talk to them when sober
If your loved one has a pattern of becoming aggressive when drunk, consider communicating your concerns to them. They might be unaware of their behavior, or not realize that it’s hurting you or others.
When the alcohol has left their system, find a good time to bring the topic up. Avoid accusatory language, or judgement, which might make them defensive. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements, and if they are struggling with alcohol in general, offer support and understanding.
It’s not always easy to address problematic drinking behaviors. However, with care and empathy, it’s often possible to have a productive discussion, and help someone move forward.
How to Stop Being an Angry Drunk
What if you’re the angry drunk? Perhaps a friend or loved one has pointed out your aggressive behavior while intoxicated. Or maybe you’ve experienced the consequences the morning after a few too many times, and are beginning to think there may be a problem.
But if you’ve noticed this pattern, what can you do about it? It’s hard to change things overnight, but there are some constructive steps you can take to avoid and unlearn this behavior:
Identify your anger triggers
We all get angry sometimes. It’s an important emotion for helping us determine when and how someone has wronged us. Anger can be a problem, however, when you release it in unproductive ways.
Think of the situations you get angry in, and the reasons why. If you tend to pick fights without a strong enough reason, for example, it’s possible you’re venting feelings stemming from a deeper issue you haven’t tackled.
Maybe you’re not happy about your life in general. Perhaps you have a genetic tendency towards anger. Or you might have grown up in a hostile environment, and see aggression as the only way to handle difficult circumstances.
Whatever your reasons, know that no behavior is set in stone. By practicing some of the below strategies, and finding the right support, it’s possible to establish newer, healthier patterns.
Start a mindfulness practice
Beginning a regular meditation practice, or any type of mindfulness therapy, can make it much easier to regulate your emotions—drunk or sober.
Being mindful of your emotions doesn’t mean suppressing your anger: it means learning to observe it, reflect on it, and determine how to productively respond to it. This can help you to be more self-compassionate, and more measured in how you respond to others.
By placing an extra step between your feelings and your actions, you can reduce the chances that you’ll do or say something you’ll later regret. Instead, you can learn from watching yourself and others what actions might get you more positive results.
Reduce your alcohol use
If you often drink to excess—especially if you often black out or fail to remember what you did while drunk—changing your behavior can be difficult. You may also have a pattern of using alcohol to cope with stressful situations, or as an excuse to expel pent-up anger.
If any of the above is true, it may be time to quit or cut back on your alcohol consumption.
Of course, this is often easier said than done. The good news is that there are newer, easier ways to access support for problem drinking. Online programs like Ria Health can give you access to coaching support, medication to reduce cravings, and handy digital tools. You don’t need to identify as an alcoholic to join either—whatever your goals, we’ll meet you where you’re at.