What To Know About An Angry Drinker

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

While being angry while intoxicated is not the norm, alcohol can lead someone to become apparently inexplicably angry or more prone to react with aggression. In many cases, this type of aggression/anger can take the form of verbal or physical violence. Sometimes, an individual may drink to alleviate their anger only to exhibit increased hostility after a few drinks.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are confronted by or otherwise in the proximity of an “angry drunk”, there are a few things you need to be aware of and understand about when to walk away, how to keep yourself safe or ways in which you can potentially diffuse an aggressive situation.

The psychology of anger while intoxicated

Avoid engaging in an argument with an intoxicated, angry person

There are various factors involved in becoming angry while drinking. The most common factor is an overall aggressive personality. Alcohol affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which can lower your inhibitions, especially when in a setting like a bar. Someone who tends to be aggressive and antagonistic toward others when sober is much more susceptible to having these traits magnified when under the influence of alcohol.

However, there are other factors that may help explain how aggression, alcohol, and anger mix. Alcohol tends to interfere with cognitive functional abilities. As a result, an intoxicated person may experience decreased cognitive function. This makes it more difficult for an intoxicated person to consider their options and solve problems in constructive, effective ways. It can also cause increased impulsivity, which may lead to binge drinking or in extreme cases, alcohol poisoning.

To make matters worse, alcohol also impacts serotonin, which controls emotional control. In this way, someone who is already aggressive when they are not under the influence is going to have a challenging time when alcohol is in their system, considering how much the substance impacts critical, neurological functions.

Research behind being angry and intoxicated

In health and science news, experimental social psychology researchers in the United States learned a little more about why some people act aggressively or get angry after a bout of heavy drinking. Brad Bushman is a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University who is interested in the link between drinking and increased anger issues. Bushman, whose research is published in a science journal of experimental social psychology, conducted a study of 495 volunteers where the average age of the participants was 23 years. All the participants described themselves as social drinkers. None of them had past or present problems with drug use, alcohol use, or psychiatric problems.

Each person filled out a questionnaire that was designed to find out which of them were future-focused, and which of them tended to struggle more with impulse control.

Bushman’s team then proceeded to give half the volunteers alcohol mixed with orange juice. They gave the other half a glass of orange juice that only had a tiny bit of alcohol added. They sprayed the rim of the glasses with alcohol to help give the impression that they would actually be drinking alcohol.

Next, the researchers told the participants that they would be playing a game of speed reaction where they were going to play against an opponent of the same sex that they couldn’t see. The winner would be able to give the loser an electric shock that was harmless, but slightly painful. The volunteers were unaware that their opponents were actually the researchers.

As the game ensued, the shocks got longer and more intense, making it appear that the opponent was getting angrier and more vengeful every time they won. In reviewing the original questionnaires, the researchers found that the participants who rated themselves as more impulsive displayed a natural tendency to strike back by increasing the intensity and length of the shocks to the opponents than the participants who were more future-focused.

The study showed that people who were present-focused were bent on retaliation, whereas alcohol had little or no effect on the future-focused participants. As it pertained to the impulsive people who were not intoxicated, they also displayed more aggression and increased the intensity of the shocks, but it wasn’t to the same degree as the people who were intoxicated. Bushman notes that people who engage in thoughtful decision-making and who consider the future consequences of their actions while they’re sober, don’t act very differently when they’re under heavy influence of alcohol.

What to do when you are around someone who is intoxicated and angry

If you find yourself in the proximity of someone who is both angry and intoxicated, maybe at a bar or club, the most productive and safe decision you can make is to remove yourself from the situation, even if they are a friend. Your personal safety is the number one priority. Many times, people have attempted to “babysit” the belligerent person, only to find that they’ve made themselves the target of abuse or a violent crime. If someone is intoxicated and angry, leave the situation.

It’s important to understand that when someone is angry and intoxicated, they are generally looking for opportunities to provoke others around them, whether physically or verbally. It’s not uncommon for someone to sober up later only to be appalled by their aggressive behavior (if they can even remember), especially if they are a close friend. 

You may feel tempted to try to calm down someone who is exhibiting angry or violent behavior, but this can agitate them even further. When they’re sober, and if you are concerned for their safety long-term, you can talk to the person about a detox program and drug rehab if they’re also living with addiction. 

What if the angry drinker is a loved one?

Being aware of the best practices is helpful for both you and the one you love. If someone you know becomes angry when drinking, you can talk to them once they’ve sobered up. You may wish to get through to them even when they’re intoxicated, but this is very likely to backfire due to the temporary neurological impairments of consuming alcohol.

When the person you care for is sober and no longer influenced by alcohol, they are considerably more likely to hear you out and be receptive to your feedback. This is the time when expressing your worries and concerns about emotional or physical aggression related to their heavy drinking would be appropriate. 

Being around an angry or belligerent person can be painful, difficult, and scary. Problematic drinking behaviors may even lead to events of domestic or intimate partner violence. You deserve to live a life free of the stress and anxiety caused by uncontrolled dating violence, and you shouldn’t have to experience the consequences of the actions of someone who becomes aggressive while drinking, even if they are your loved one.


What if i’m the angry one?

If you’re someone who becomes angry, violent, or aggressive while under the influence, this can be difficult to manage and there is no exact science to it, especially if it’s beginning to hurt your relationships with those around you. Seeking professional help is the most effective way to change your negative or aggressive behaviors. Becoming more self-aware can help, too.

How do you feel when you are sober? Are you a happy, fully functional person? How do you feel about the world around you? What do your typical emotional responses look like? Are you aware that drinking alcohol lowers your inhibitions? Have you had a significant weight loss? Has alcohol ever affected your long-term partnerships? Have you thought about entering an alcohol or drug rehab program?

You’ll find the answers to these questions may give you vital insight into your conduct when you’re intoxicated. Consider how you conducted yourself the last time you were under the influence. How did you feel? Did you lash out at people? You should generally avoid getting into a situation where you are not able to recall what you did, what you said, or who you may have been around. 

A licensed professional, with years of experience working with people to cope with their anger in healthy ways, may be best suited to help you. It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment as soon as possible and listen to the science behind why this is happening. 

Addiction to being intoxicated

Problem drinking and alcoholism can manifest in a variety of ways, and it generally takes time to develop. This does not mean that being angry when under the influence automatically makes someone addicted to alcohol. However, alcoholism develops over time, and it can be difficult to realize until it’s already manifested.

If you or someone you know has an alcohol or substance use disorder, seeking professional help is the best step forward to help you stay sober. Many people tell themselves they can stop drinking whenever they want, but when someone feels dependent on alcohol, stopping on their own and without any help or support can be extremely challenging.

Thankfully, there are many forms of therapy that can help individuals who are struggling with alcoholism and want to stay sober. Options for treatment include working one-on-one with a therapist or in a group setting.

Alcohol addiction treatment can have various components depending on what the client wants and needs. Alcohol detox is often the initial stage of rehab programs. If you’re in need of alcohol detox, it’s important to get it safely. A good rehab program will provide an attendant to monitor you while you go through the alcohol detox process. If you’re also struggling with drug addiction, your alcohol rehab program may include drug rehab. Typically, your rehab program will begin with alcohol detox before you begin other parts of your rehab.

Rehab programs have various approaches to detox. Depending on the severity of your addiction, your detox program might last several days, weeks, or months.

Many people who live with mental health disorders also struggle with drug or alcohol addictions. This is called dual diagnosis. While someone that has a mental health disorder is participating in an alcohol or drug rehab program, the provider will usually address the addiction and the mental health disorder at the same time.

Different treatment options work for different people, and that’s okay. However, if you are living with alcoholism and finding it difficult to get sober on your own, then having the right support system in place is imperative. This isn’t something you should do alone.

Therapy for aggression and alcohol or substance use disorder

If you’re interested in working with a professional, BetterHelp has a network of licensed professionals with years of experience. No matter who you are or what your story is, you should never feel as though you are alone and without anyone to turn to. Help will always be available to those who are open, receptive, and willing to accept it. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, or you want to learn tips on how to control anger or deal with a loved one’s aggression, online therapy can be a safe, convenient, and affordable way to reach support and learn about available resources.  You can schedule appointments from a preferred space with an internet connection and at times that are convenient for your schedule.

Studies evaluating the effectiveness of online therapy as an intervention for alcohol addiction have seen success in healing participants or significantly reducing their problematic symptoms. In one review of currently available scientific literature, researchers concluded that telehealth options like online therapy were just as effective as in-person treatment and may help to engage patients by availing treatment to a wider demographic and making that treatment more convenient overall. 

If you’re curious to learn about other people’s experiences in managing their alcohol or anger challenges, read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Avoid engaging in an argument with an intoxicated, angry person

Betterhelp counselor and therapist reviews

“Krysten has been an immense help in dealing with and confronting my anger and depression issues. I started to notice immediate changes in my general disposition within a week of working with her. My friends and family have even said I seem less bitter and jaded. And the fact that I can communicate with her frequently has done wonders in keeping me on track and progressing forward. My time working with Krysten and being on BetterHelp has been a positive experience and done much more for me than traditional in-office therapy ever did.”

“Regina helped me pinpoint where my anger issue stemmed from in the very first session, and has been helping me become more self aware of my warning triggers. Very insightful and helpful!”


At some point, we all will encounter a challenge we wish to overcome. It could be supporting someone close to you who becomes angry when drinking, adapting to a recent lifestyle change, or coping with loss. When faced with challenges in life, we may aim to rise above them and find ways to move forward and thrive. 
Learn to separate anger from behavior
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