If you’ve ever been drunk, you’ve undoubtedly had at least one moment where you said something that made you cringe with regret the following day.
Maybe you revealed a crush on a coworker at the office happy hour. Or perhaps you let your best friend’s new boyfriend know what you really think about him.
We come home from a party and emotionally unload on our mothers for everything they didn’t do when we were young.
We pick a fight with our spouse over something small and tear into them for not being good enough.
It’s horrible for the drinker and traumatic for the victim.
But why does it happen?
Why do people get drunk and say hurtful things to people they love?
- Why do people get mean when they drink?
- What Alcohol Does To Your Personality
- What The Research Says About Alcohol and Aggression
- Risk Factors for Getting Drunk and Saying Hurtful Things
- What to do if someone you love keeps getting drunk and saying hurtful things
- What to do if you say hurtful things you can’t remember when drunk:
- FAQs on Getting Drunk and Saying Hurtful Things
Why do people get mean when they drink?
First, it’s important to note that alcohol by itself does not make people mean or angry. What it does is lower inhibitions and judgment. So people who typically keep certain thoughts and feelings to themselves while sober are more emboldened to unleash them onto the world when they drink.
We all have raw emotions inside us – things that can be much more extreme or bold than we display outwardly. We also have built-in filters that keep them in check.
Alcohol shuts those filters off.
So when filters, inhibitions, and judgment are turned off, you can find yourself in a volatile situation.
But what some people don’t realize is how alcohol changes your personality in the long term (even when you’re not drinking) and how those changes also contribute to angry drunk behavior.
What Alcohol Does To Your Personality
It’s probably not news to anyone that alcohol can change your personality.
We’ve all been or seen someone have a few drinks and become a new person. The shy girl is suddenly more extroverted. The nice guy in marketing is yelling at strangers for looking at him the wrong way. Normally you don’t date coworkers, but tonight Derrick from Accounting is looking cute, so you’re going for it.
Why does this happen?
Because of what alcohol does to the brain.
Alcohol is a depressant.
It affects the brain by interacting with GABA receptors, and GABA is the neurotransmitter to blame for any feelings of pleasure or euphoria you might have.
Alcohol also increases dopamine and alters opioid receptors, and can lead to a release of β-endorphins.
The combination can cause a person to feel elevated confidence levels, much more at ease in social situations, and desire people you might not otherwise fancy.
Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and makes it more difficult to coordinate your movements, making you bold, clumsy, and problematic.
What The Research Says About Alcohol and Aggression
Although alcohol can make anyone a mean drunk, there are some interesting studies on the effects of alcohol on aggression in men in particular.
Australian researchers recruited 50 healthy men ages 18 to 30 to play an aggression-inducing game in an MRI scanner.
Before playing the aggression game, volunteers drank two alcoholic or placebo beverages. Each drunken person consumed 2 cups of lemony vodka tonic, which raised their BAC above Australia’s legal limit of 0.05 percent.
After drinking, individuals entered the MRI scanner to play the aggressiveness game, a competitive reaction-time test. Each individual was shown a display and had to race his “opponent” to hit a button whenever a colored square appeared.
The human player got blasted by a loud noise if the AI rival was quicker. Even if the human was faster than the AI opponent, they got to see the volume level of the noise blast they would’ve gotten had they lost. (Something that riled them up further.)
As the drunk players played, they got more aggressive than the sober players.
Activity in the brain region responsible for memory and inhibition dropped significantly. The drunk participants took the loud blasts from opponents more personally and were ready to respond in kind (or even more loudly).
For more on alcohol and violence, this Ted Talk has some interesting insights:
Risk Factors for Getting Drunk and Saying Hurtful Things
We’re all capable of becoming angry drunks, but some of us are more susceptible than others. How do you know if that’s you?
Let’s talk about the risk factors.
Alcohol can increase aggression in both men and women, but studies have shown that the effects can be stronger in men.
It doesn’t mean women can’t be belligerent drunks, however.
When Your Wife Or Girlfriend Is A Mean Drunk
I do want to note an important caveat. Some women are abusive drunks. They get drunk, say hurtful things, hit, and wreak havoc on the lives of their partners.
This can be hard for male partners who may struggle to label their partner’s behavior as abusive. We have these ideas about gender roles and who abuses and gets abused. And that prevents men from seeing their partner’s angry drunk behavior for what it is – abuse.
Some men will try to brush off the behavior as, “Oh, my wife just gets crazy when she drinks.” It can lead to a sense of powerlessness over the situation. Men don’t feel they can defend themselves or react back.
Additionally, some men feel embarrassed or ashamed that they suffer abuse from their wives or girlfriends.
There are limits to how much you can take from an alcoholic spouse or partner, no matter which partner we’re talking about.
It’s not okay.
If you’re a man dealing with a partner who becomes scary or violent when they drink, I want to encourage you to reach out to someone to get help and support. The fact that you’re bigger or physically stronger does not mean you have to take this behavior.
This is a bad situation for you, and I highly encourage you to find ways to get out. (Easier said than done, I know.)
2. Drinking habits
Binge drinkers may be more aggressive than slow drinkers, which makes sense, considering how alcohol impacts personality.
The more you drink, the more you’ll become:
- Emotional volatile,
- and Aggressive
Because alcohol impairs your cognitive functions, heavy drinking is more likely to lead to cognitive distortions, including perception and interpretation of social cues.
It can lead to distorted thinking patterns and misinterpretations of others’ intentions or behaviors. Under the influence of alcohol, you’re more likely to perceive neutral or non-threatening situations as more provocative or hostile, which, in turn, can set you off.
3. Underlying Emotional Issues
Underlying emotional issues such as unresolved trauma, unresolved conflicts, insecurities, or unexpressed emotions can contribute to people getting drunk and saying mean things through a variety of mechanisms.
Here are a few:
Using alcohol as a coping mechanism:
Some people turn to alcohol as a way to cope with or escape from their emotional pain. Most of us have probably been guilty of nursing a bad day with a few drinks, but for some people, this is their primary way of dealing with pain and distress.
Alcohol can temporarily numb emotional discomfort or stress and provide a sense of relief or temporary release from distressing thoughts and feelings.
But there’s a darker flipside to drinking for relief.
When these underlying emotional issues remain unresolved, alcohol can act as a powerful disinhibitor.
Instead of providing relief, alcohol ends up amplifying negative emotions and impairing judgment and impulse control.
This is when you get the Jekyl and Hyde routine, leading to hurtful words and aggression.
Underlying emotional issues can lead to difficulties in regulating emotions effectively – something heavy drinkers notoriously struggle with.
This can manifest as intense and overwhelming emotional responses, difficulty managing anger or frustration, or a tendency to suppress or even avoid emotional experiences.
Alcohol can (and does) exacerbate emotional dysregulation, making it harder to modulate emotional responses. The result is more impulsive, hurtful behavior.
You might wake up the next day and think, “I don’t know what came over me. That’s not me. I’m so sorry.”
But every time you drink heavily, you risk another angry episode.
Disrupted Communication and Conflict Resolution Skills:
When you ignore underlying emotional issues, it can lead to poor communication and conflict resolution skills.
What does this look like in practice?
You might struggle to effectively express your needs, emotions, or concerns in a healthy and assertive manner in your day-to-day life. Over time, that wears on you.
And as these problems build, alcohol provides the mechanism to unleash it all at once.
When you’re drunk, it’s really hard to engage in constructive dialogue or resolve conflicts peacefully.
What starts off as a moment of honesty via some liquid courage can quickly devolve into a hurtful and mean-spirited back and forth.
4. Social factors
Peer pressure also plays a part. If your friends drink aggressively, you’re more likely to follow suit.
If they drink aggressively and get riled up, spoiling for a fight, guess what? You probably will, too.
And the thing is, a lot of social situations produce the conditions for it.
In an environment where heavy alcohol consumption is normalized or where aggressive behavior is condoned or encouraged, you’re much more likely to exhibit anger and aggression while intoxicated.
5. Mental Illness
Mental illness often co-occurs with alcohol abuse.
Many mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder, can impair a person’s ability to regulate their emotions effectively – a major risk factor in becoming an angry drunk.
As mentioned previously, it’s also not uncommon for people with mental health conditions to self-medicate with substances like alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. I certainly did.
But here’s the thing.
Alcohol can exacerbate underlying mental health symptoms and impair judgment, increasing the risk of impulsive and angry behaviors.
And the worse a person’s mental health symptoms become, the more they tend to drink to get relief. It becomes a terrible self-reinforcing cycle that way.
Personalities vary. But some traits can make you more alcoholically aggressive. Let’s briefly examine some of the traits that make someone at high risk of becoming an angry drunk.
High levels of trait anger:
People with higher baseline levels of anger or irritability may be more prone to becoming angry when they consume alcohol.
If you’re predisposed to anger, drinking can exacerbate those tendencies. The disinhibiting effects of alcohol will shut down any filters you usually put on to put that anger at bay.
People who exhibit high levels of impulsivity may also struggle with self-control and trouble keeping their anger in check when drinking.
Sensation-seeking refers to the desire for novel, intense, and thrilling experiences.
People who are high in sensation-seeking are already more inclined to engage in risky or aggressive behaviors. Add alcohol into the mix, and all bets are off!
Sometimes that intensity manifests in aggression and picking fights (verbal and physical).
Agreeableness is a personality trait associated with being cooperative, compassionate, and considerate of others’ feelings.
People who score low on agreeableness may be more prone to expressing hostility or engaging in conflict when drunk. They already have a general tendency towards aggression towards others or disregard for others’ perspectives, especially those that differ from their own.
These types will engage in heated debates and take it too far, which can lead to regrettable words and a lot of hurt feelings to answer for the next day.
Hostile attribution bias:
Hostile attribution bias is when you interpret ambiguous situations or actions of others as intentionally hostile or threatening.
Alcohol makes it harder to view situations objectively. The end result? Perceiving other people’s behaviors negatively and overreacting to situations.
Trauma victims may express their trauma through anger, but this might not be apparent when they aren’t drinking. Alcohol can bring that out in people, explaining how otherwise calm people become nightmarish drunks.
This is especially true if someone experiences a trauma-related trigger while drinking. Their typical coping mechanisms may shut down, paving the way for raw, emotional reactivity.
What to do if someone you love keeps getting drunk and saying hurtful things
First, know that it is not your fault. Alcohol can have wild effects on people’s behavior, and, as we just read, some people are wired to look for a fight when they drink.
You might wonder if this person is revealing their true thoughts and feelings, but what’s likelier is that they are uninhibited from the alcohol and speaking from a purely emotional place that may not be rooted in reality.
Does that excuse the behavior?
Nobody deserves to be verbally (or physically) abused. Losing control because of alcohol is no excuse. I cannot stress this enough.
If there’s an angry drunk in your life, it’s time to have a talk.
More importantly, you do not have to subject yourself to their bad behavior.
Set boundaries and let them know that you will not be around them or accept their calls or texts when they drink and that the future of your relationship depends on their ability to get help for their drinking.
This is true not only for romantic partners but also for friends and family. You shouldn’t be anyone’s emotional punching bag.
For more on this point and whether alcohol brings out the “real” you, I highly recommend this video:
What to do if you say hurtful things you can’t remember when drunk:
If you get drunk and say hurtful things to people you care about, you first must take ownership of your behavior and apologize. Then, you have to stop repeating the behavior. The only surefire way to do that is to stop getting so drunk.
Those are your options.
Don’t just apologize and then continue to drink and repeat the behavior.
“I’m sorry. I was drunk” is not an excuse for hurting people.
If drinking alcohol makes you lash out at others and say regrettable things to people you care about, that is a five-alarm warning to stop drinking.
What is the message you send loved ones if you don’t?
You’re telling them that drinking is more important than your relationship with them, or you are unable to change due to addiction.
Neither situation is healthy for the other person. You will either continue to abuse them, or they will find a way to get away from you (and rightfully so).
What’s especially hard is when the other person is a young child who can’t escape you.
It is a horrible feeling to wake up and realize you said mean things to people you love, and I hope it is a wake-up call to get the help you need.
I say this from a place of tough love as someone who used to get drunk, say terrible things, and pick fights with people I cared about. Every sober day is a gift to myself and penance to them for the damage I wrought for so many years.
If this is you, it’s a great time to change your life and get some help. You can’t change what you’ve done, but you can change what you will do. The Soberish community is here to support you along your journey.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
FAQs on Getting Drunk and Saying Hurtful Things
Do people mean what they say when drunk?
Yes, sometimes people mean what they say when they are drunk. But most of the time, people say whatever comes to mind when drinking without any concern if it’s genuinely how they feel.
Alcohol lowers inhibition and makes people feel talkative, extroverted, and emboldened. The result is drunk blabbermouths who overshare and say embarrassing or regrettable things.
Is it their true self revealed? Not exactly.
Sometimes alcohol emboldens someone to share pent-up feelings, but other times, it clouds judgment and makes people say things they genuinely do not believe and wish desperately to take back the next day.
Does being drunk cause people to tell the truth?
People who consume excessive alcohol are more likely to reveal private information and secrets than they usually would. Does that mean alcohol is a truth serum?
It exposes the uninhibited, unfiltered version of whatever crosses a person’s mind. That’s not the same thing as the ‘truth.’
Alcohol can make people answer hastily, without giving it any thought, and say whatever comes to mind.
People hold conflicting thoughts and ideas constantly. Our sober selves can thoughtfully sift through these ideas and decide what’s true or not.
Our drunk selves? Not so much.
Is it normal for couples to argue when drunk?
Getting drunk and arguing with your significant other is not normal, but it is common among binge drinkers and alcoholics.
It can be a sign that you both need to get help with your drinking. It can also signify that some underlying problems in your relationship bubble up when you’re both drinking.
Either way, there is work to be done.