Alcohol does not cause aggression, but it enhances aggressive traits in people. When drinking, a person’s natural characteristics are exposed. As Thomas de Quincy said in Confessions of an English Opium Eater, “It is most absurdly said, in popular language, of any man, that he is disguised in liquor; for on the contrary most men are disguised by sobriety.”
This is no truer than in the case of aggression and violence. Put simply, over consumption of alcohol can inhibit some individuals’ ability to put the brakes on.
To understand who is at risk of becoming violent, it is important to know the psychological risk factors that are exposed by alcohol, resulting in violence. These include:
- A predisposition towards violence
- Positive beliefs toward violence
- Poor intellectual functioning
- Lack of empathy
- Low levels of fear
- “Malignant” narcissism (people who need to put others down to make themselves feel better)
- A difficult temperament
- Verbal aggression
Any one of these traits, and others, could be exposed by alcohol to a level that might cause violence. It is unrealistic to expect every person who displays any of these traits to avoid alcohol. To reduce violence caused by alcohol, we need to look at other preventative measures.
A person’s attention is limited when he or she has been drinking. They can generally only focus on one prominent thing, ignoring other factors around them that would normally divert their attention away from violence if they were sober. Therefore, if someone drinking is being provoked, their attention is consumed, which is why provocation so often results in an outbreak of violence. A sober, or less naturally aggressive, person can shift their attention elsewhere to avoid violence. For example, in a bar they might ignore the provocation and continue talking among their friends, or at a sports venue they might continue to watch a game instead of focusing on the threat of violence.
We need more prominent distractions that refocus aggressive attention towards messaging that depicts the consequences of violence. These need to be vivid and clear, so those with risk factors do not focus on violence. Examples include clear video messaging on screens, or “cool down” rooms for people about to engage in violence. Introducing these options to venues where alcohol-related violence is rife would help distract naturally aggressive people away from violence, and reduce its burden on society.
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