When your partner is an “angry drunk,” life can be confusing and unpredictable. Many “angry drunks” may become verbally or physically aggressive when intoxicated, acting in an incongruent way with how you may know them to be when sober. Because of this behavior change, living with an “angry drunk” may feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells to avoid triggering an argument.
This Jekyll-and-Hyde routine can often leave partners of “angry drunks” feeling conflicted; At the same time, they may recognize that their partner’s drunken behavior is unhealthy or even abusive, they may also overlook or minimize these actions because their partner is “not themself” when they’ve been drinking. By rationalizing their behavior in this way, an “angry drunk” may deflect any responsibility for their actions by blaming what they’ve done on the amount of alcohol they’ve consumed.
Despite how common these rationalizations have become, studies show that these are merely excuses we tell ourselves to help make sense of the seemingly nonsensical shift we see when those we love turn into people we don’t recognize as they drink. Rather, science supports a far more grim reality than many of us may be willing to bear – that “angry drunks” are not only capable of anger and violence when sober but are actually predisposed to it, putting their partners and other loved ones at risk of serious harm.
Alan Harper Neal once wrote that “some people dismiss their own hurtful words with the excuse that they were drunk, angry, or tired. But, those conditions and others don’t change our beliefs. They only indicate our comfort in revealing them.” These words eloquently reflect the science behind alcohol and its effect on the brain.
Alcohol is a disinhibitor. Simply put, this means that alcohol doesn’t cause someone’s personality to change – it merely reveals traits that are already there. Alcohol can reveal more about some people’s personalities than others, often showing a side of them that shocks their friends and family alike. People who change the most when drunk may have learned to hide traits that were socially unaccepted. For “angry drunks,” this may mean that they are prone to anger or aggression when sober that they actively repress to avoid stigma or consequence, but feel free to let themselves be angry when drunk because it is considered more socially acceptable or excusable.
Furthermore, alcohol consumption can impair someone’s executive functioning skills, making it difficult for them to control their impulses and make rational decisions. As such, someone who has been drinking may not control their emotions in the same way they would while sober. Therefore, someone who already struggles with anger management would lose their ability to suppress their emotions and may even become aggressive due to this. Alcohol does not cause this reaction, but it does exacerbate it.
Let us be clear: alcohol, by no means, causes domestic violence. Millions of people choose to drink and go home to their partner every day without causing them emotional or physical harm. Similarly, a great number of people can and will abuse their partners every day without ever consuming a drop of alcohol. There is, however, a strong connection between alcohol consumption and domestic violence that cannot and should not be ignored.
Studies show that alcohol, more than any other intoxicant, is involved in perpetuating violent crimes. Partners of “angry drunks” may be some of the first recipients of this violence because they either share a household with that person or spend more time with them than others. Research conducted by the WHO indicates that over 55% of people who experienced domestic violence believed that their partner had been drinking before perpetrating an act of violence against them. Their research goes on to suggest that “heavier, more frequent drinking increases the risk of violence” and that “ intimate partner violence is more severe and more likely to result in physical injury when the perpetrator has consumed alcohol.” This may, in turn, increase the risk of lethal force being used when your partner is under the influence.
If your partner is an “angry drunk,” day-to-day life can be difficult and even dangerous. You cannot predict what will make your partner angry or how they will respond when they’re drunk. Because of this, there is no definitively effective way to prevent your partner from blowing up. This is never your fault; if your partner is an “angry drunk,” there is nothing you can say or do to cause or prevent an outburst – their anger is almost always inevitable.
Many partners of “angry drunks” find that, while they can’t prevent their partner from acting aggressively towards them, they can minimize the amount of harm done to them by creating and using a safety plan. Having a safety plan in place can help a partner of an “angry drunk” better respond to dangerous situations, giving them several ways to get away from an angry outburst before things become violent. If you’re struggling to create a safety plan for yourself, consider the following strategies:
Know that, while the list above identifies some strategies for staying safe before or during incidents of abuse, it is by no means exhaustive; every person’s relationship is different and, as such, every person will need to come up with a unique plan that is tailored to addressing their specific needs. For help creating a more personalized, in-depth safety plan, consider contacting your local domestic violence program or calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline to speak with an advocate.
Finding help for an “angry drunk” isn’t always easy. Sometimes, their harmful behavior may even begin to bleed into their everyday lives; you may notice that they are becoming more aggressive in their day-to-day interactions with you or others in their lives, seeming angry when sober. This can complicate an already difficult conversation when trying to address your partner’s problematic behavior. While many people may want to confront their partner and say, “Hey, you’re an angry drunk, and I think you need help,” this won’t always yield positive results. Many “angry drunks” may rationalize or excuse their behavior to avoid taking responsibility for causing another person pain. They may try to claim that their behavior isn’t as serious of a problem as you say, or perhaps even blame you for their actions. These are common responses to being confronted with the truth.
Unfortunately, there is no one “right” way of getting help with or for an “angry drunk.” Every person has to decide whether their relationship is worth trying to salvage or if the damage caused by their partner is irreparable. You ultimately know what is best for you.
If you’re willing to continue working on your relationship, consider talking with your partner when they are sober about their drunk behavior and how it’s impacting your relationship. Consider confronting them with text messages, photos, or videos that show the type of person they become when they’ve been drinking. While difficult to discuss, this can be a necessary wake-up call for your partner to help them realize that they have a problem. If your partner isn’t receptive to one-on-one conversations, or if you feel it would be safer to talk with them in a group setting, consider enlisting friends and family to help you talk with your partner if they’ve witnessed their drunk behavior.
However you choose to have this conversation, be prepared to talk with your partner about potential treatment options. Anger management classes won’t be enough to address this problem; you must choose a comprehensive treatment program that addresses both their drinking and anger management simultaneously to ensure your partner has the scaffolding necessary to change their behavior by learning to better handle and cope with their emotions. Studies show that one of the most effective interventions in a comprehensive treatment program is therapy; both individual and group sessions can help your partner learn more about their behavior and how it is tied to their thoughts and emotions, giving them the ability to take responsibility for their past actions while learning ways to prevent future harm. Other interventions are often used in tandem to support these efforts, such as other more holistic approaches like massage or meditation. Check in with your partner regularly when they are receiving treatment to help them identify what is and is not working so that you can make adjustments as needed.
If you decide that your relationship cannot be saved or too dangerous for you to be involved with your partner, choose to leave my spare you significant heartache. This can be an empowering, liberating decision, but it can often come with unforeseen complications; for many partners of “angry drunks,” leaving their relationship can often put them in even more danger. Their former partner may be angered by this decision, causing them to lash out. Consider reaching out to a local domestic violence agency if you think this might be the case; a trained advocate can help you adjust your safety plan, talk with you about the pros and cons of filing for an order of protection, and even assist you in finding safe shelter, if necessary.
Whether you have chosen to stay in or leave the relationship, many “angry drunks” also benefit from individual counseling. Talking with a licensed mental health professional can provide you with a healthy outlet for expressing your thoughts and emotions, allowing you to process through any lingering feelings you may have about your partner’s past words or actions. If you feel you might benefit from therapy, consider reaching out to the ReGain team of licensed mental health professionals for compassionate, convenient, and confidential support.
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