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Alcohol and Aggression

There is an area of the brain called the amygdale, which is associated with aggressive behavior in humans.  The effect of alcohol, on this portion of the brain is one of the causes of extreme aggressive behavior. It is established that alcohol produces dose-related changes in the brain, central nervous system and hormonal systems which in turn affect basic physiological and cognitive processes. After ingestion of moderate to high doses of alcohol, reaction times are generally slower; muscle control, dexterity and eye hand co-ordination may be impaired; short-term and intermediate memory may be affected and performance on problem solving tasks decreases.
   The relationship between alcohol and aggression is a strong one indeed. When most people think of alcohol they think of happiness and a good friendly time.  Actually, alcohol is known to lower inhibitions against committing acts that are frowned upon in our society.  Some of those acts also include aggression.  Crime statistics show that 75 percent of individuals arrested for violent crimes were legally drunk at the time of their arrest.  In a laboratory experiment done by Taylor & Leonard in 1983 they showed the same results.  Their experiment tried to show that when a person has alcohol in their system they tend to be more aggressive.  Individuals who had enough alcohol to be legally drunk reacted much more aggressively to provocations than people who had had little or no alcohol in their system.  The results of this study do not mean that alcohol automatically drives people to be more aggressive.  The alcohol actually acts as a disinhibitor and lowers our social inhibitions and making us less cautious than we usually are.
   A person with alcohol in their system is more likely to show their primary tendencies.  People who are primarily affectionate will become very affectionate with the consumption of alcohol.  Persons who are primarily aggressive will become even more aggressive with the addition of alcohol.  A number of theoretical models indicate that drinking can lead to more extreme responses to frustration, including aggressive responses. The 'frustration-aggression' theory, originally conceived by Dollard et al (1939) but later substantially refined by Berkowitz (1978) and others, states that frustration, caused by 'interference in goal directed activity', does not automatically result in aggression but produces a 'readiness' for aggression which if 'triggered' can result in aggressive responses. The 'trigger' may be an insignificant element of behavior - such as a casual joke, gesture or mild criticism - which would normally be overlooked, but to the frustrated individual may be enough to provoke an aggressive response. The alcohol induced cognitive impairments identified above - narrowing of the perceptual field and reduced powers of reasoning - may increase the likelihood of a frustrated person focusing on this one small aspect of the situation, exaggerating its importance, and responding in an irrational, aggressive manner. Again, however, we must stress that this does not occur automatically or by any means universally, and that other mediating situational and cultural variables, outlined below, are necessary to produce this response. People who are under the influence of alcohol and others have also shown that alcohol consumption interferes with primary cognitive ability by reducing the perceptual field. Steele and Joseph (1990) use the term 'alcohol myopia'. In layman's terms: when inebriated, we cannot 'take in' as much information from our surroundings and social context as we can when we are not inebriated. The information we use to guide our responses is increasingly limited in proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed. As inebriation increases, we begin to focus on small parts of the situation, one at a time, because our ability to perceive the situation as a whole is impaired. This in turn results in unstable, fluctuating perceptions and reactions, depending on which narrow aspect of our surroundings we are paying attention to. There is, therefore, an increased risk of misunderstandings and misinterpretations, which can in some contexts lead to aggressive responses.   are also frustrated or provoked, will have fewer inhibitors against committing violent acts.  From the research evidence available, we can conclude that there is no direct relationship between alcohol and violence. The probability of aggression is increased when the effects of alcohol induced cognitive impairment are amplified or exacerbated by both the characteristics of the immediate situation and cultural expectations that drinking causes aggression. Where the immediate social context is non-aggressive and where cultural beliefs and norms inhibit aggression, drinkers are highly unlikely to become aggressive.  These conclusions indicate that attempts to restrict consumption of alcohol are likely to be unsuccessful in preventing or reducing problems of disorder and violence.  A more effective approach would involve measures designed to improve the management of drinking environments and, even more importantly, educational measures designed to preserve and promote more positive beliefs about the behavioral effects of alcohol.

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