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The Psychology behind Getting Drunk and Saying Hurtful Things

If you’ve ever been drunk, you’ve no doubt 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. 

Sometimes we get drunk and say genuinely hurtful things to people we love. 

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?

What Alcohol Does To Your Personality

It’s probably not news to anyone that alcohol can change your personality

The effects can be longer-lasting for people who drink excessively, resulting in personality shifts.

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 during acute ingestion.

The combination can cause a person to feel elevated confidence levels, ease in social situations, and even desire. 

Alcohol alters a person’s personality by lowering their inhibitions and making it more difficult to coordinate their movements, making people bold, clumsy, and problematic.

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getting drunk and saying hurtful things

Why Some People Get Mean When They Drink

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 drank 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 Being an Angry Drunk

Alcohol can make people angry or upset, some more than others. 

Feeling aggressive from alcohol can be caused by multiple variables. Here are a few:

Gender

Men who suppress unwanted thoughts, especially those that contradict the “tough” masculine norm, are more likely to be aggressive when drunk. Men experience drinking-related belligerence more often than women.

It doesn’t mean women can’t be belligerent drunks, too. We have our moments, but it’s just more frequent in men.

Drinking habits

Binge drinkers may be more aggressive than slow drinkers, which makes sense, considering how alcohol impacts personality.

Drinking heavily makes you more inclined to feel emboldened, less inhibited, and more emotionally volatile – a recipe for making an angry drunk.

Social factors

Peer pressure plays its part. If your friends drink aggressively, you may follow suit. If they drink aggressively and get riled up, spoiling for a fight, guess what? You probably will, too. 

Mental illness

Mental illness often co-occurs with alcohol abuse. 

Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders may cause excessive drinking. People with PTSD experience aggression and turn to alcohol as an outlet, creating an unhealthy anger cycle.

Stress

Some individuals use alcohol to relieve stress, a recipe for disaster. Someone who starts drinking because they’re angry and anxious will often find those feelings amplified by large amounts of alcohol. 

Personality

Personalities vary. These traits can make you alcoholically aggressive, and trait anger and thrill-seeking may lead to violence when drinking. Plus, the emotional guard rails are off when you’re drunk, so anything goes! 

Trauma

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. 

One or more combinations of any risk factors can lead to angry drunk behavior. 

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?

Hell, no!

Nobody deserves to be verbally (or physically) abused. Losing control because of alcohol is no excuse. 

If a person you love keeps getting drunk and saying hurtful things, it’s time to have a serious talk. 

This clearly shows their drinking is becoming a problem, and they need to seek therapy or addiction support. 

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).

Related Post: The Psychology Behind Drunk Texting

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What to do if you keep getting drunk and saying hurtful things to loved ones

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.

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. 

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? 

Not exactly. 

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.

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. 

Access should not be a barrier to help.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a therapist with the knowledge and background to help you navigate your specific issues, try BetterHelp. Learn more about my counseling journey with BetterHelp or visit their website below.

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4 Comments

    1. We’ve got a great Facebook group! I also recommend getting in touch with your doctor, a counselor, or an addiction specialist. Reaching out can be scary, but you can do it!

  1. After being in many toxic relationships this reasonates with me, we were both drinkers and I was drinking due to being so unhappy and to scared to say anything whilst sober but after a few drinks would say what I thought and felt ending in fights and regret the next day when really I should have just left the relationships

    1. I can totally relate. My relationship is on the rocks now. I did and said horrible and hurtful things to the man I love more than a few times. I’m so ashamed. I really don’t deserve to be with someone who makes me feel loved, wanted, and happy I guess. I see how the choices I made in my life have come back to bite me in the ass. I want to be happy and sober so much.

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