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How To Deal With An Angry Drunk: Critical Do’s and Don’t’s

Dealing with an angry drunk can be challenging, particularly if they are a friend or loved one who isn’t prone to anger when sober.

Alcohol can cause a number of personality shifts – that both make people more prone to anger and less receptive to rationality.

But there are a few simple things you can do to learn how to deal with an angry drunk, and hopefully resolve the situation.

Understanding the Drunk Mind

To better learn how to deal with an angry drunk, it’s important to first recognize the shifts that can happen to a person when they’re inebriated. We’ve explored the drunken mind in depth on other articles here, such as how alcohol can change your personality, or whether a drunk mind speaks a sober heart. But in terms of anger, there’s a few key points to understand:

  • Alcohol focuses a person’s thoughts on the present moment. Context from the past or consequences in the future become less relevant to a person the more they drink.
  • One of the main effects of alcohol is to shut down regions of the brain associated with judgment, rationality, and critical thinking. 
  • Alcohol leads to heightened emotions, and an inability to regulate them. For some people, this leads to heightened joy or deep sadness – but it can also lead to intense and uncontrollable anger.
  • Memory formation and recall is hindered by alcohol use. They may not remember the events of the evening and may not be able to recall their anger after the fact.

These insights make up the foundation of the strategies you can use to deal with an angry drunk – and provide some perspective for how you can, and cannot, approach them about their anger.

A woman grips her partner's hand that he has clutched around her face. In the other hand he holds a bottle of alcohol. He's an angry drunk.
how to handle an angry drunk

The Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with an Angry Drunk

Learning to deal with an angry drunk is just as much about what not to do as it is about what you can do. So, let’s break down some strategies that can be helpful, as well as what might just make the problem worse.

Don’t: Try and Rationalize with Them

A drunk person is not typically a rational person.

If they get angry, and you try and explain to them why their anger is unjustified, your words may fall on deaf ears. It may even make the situation worse, as they may see your attempts to explain the situation as invalidating their anger.

Multiple studies have shown that alcohol reduces a person’s ability to think objectively about a situation, come to rational conclusions, and make sound judgments.

So even if the person you’re dealing with is typically a rational and reasonable person while sober, they may simply not have the capacity for these higher-level cognitive functions while under the effect of alcohol.

Do: Avoid or Leave the Situation

Anger is a volatile emotion, and often the best strategy is to simply leave to avoid any harmful consequences.

While leaving may cause some hurt feelings or frustration, it’s a vastly superior alternative to a drunken argument or the risk of violence.

Sometimes, this is as easy as saying goodbye and hopping in your car.

But if the altercation is happening in your own home, or you can’t leave the situation for whatever reason, you may need to turn to some of the other strategies listed below.

Alternatively, you can try to avoid the situation with an angry drunk entirely. If a friend of yours tends to get angry when drunk – don’t drink with them. If you notice that your family gets rowdy after 9 o’clock, leave the family function at 8.

Recognizing the patterns that alcohol use causes, you can prevent yourself from getting into volatile situations in the first place.

Don’t: Escalate the Situation

Anger feeds off anger. If you engage with their arguments, start using aggressive language, or get angry with them for their anger, you are feeding the flames of the altercation. Their anger is likely to only get worse in response.

Some of the most common ways that frustrations build into full-blown fights include:

  • Raising your voice
  • Belittling them
  • Making threats or challenging them
  • Reminding them of past mistakes

Anger can be infectious – but don’t let it infect you. Try to keep calm and focus on resolving the issue at hand.

Do: Validate their Frustrations

Validating why a person feels so angry can be a remarkably effective way of helping them calm down.

Even if you disagree with their behavior, you can likely understand their frustration.

By acknowledging that you recognize the source of their anger, you put yourself on their team; not the object of their anger, but a partner in moving past it.

The key to validating their experience without feeding into their anger lies in empathy and active listening.

For example, an angry drunk may say something like “You always take their side – you never listen to me!” A validating response might be to say “I hear that you don’t feel understood, and that it’s frustrating. But I want to understand, so let’s talk about what’s bothering you.”

A woman puts her hand on the counter, sneering at her angry drunk husband who holds a bottle of beer and argues back
understanding what makes people angry drunks

Don’t: Ignore Their Concerns

It’s all too easy for people to dismiss the concerns and frustrations of a drunk person. Saying things like “you’re just drunk, you’ll get over it” can only lead to more agitation and communication problems. 

While an intoxicated individual may not have all their faculties intact, their anger is real – and in the moment, it may be the only thing on their mind whatsoever.

By dismissing them, you invalidate their experience, which can lead to a buildup of rage and potentially lashing out.

Do: Stay Calm

This last tip can be incredibly difficult but is essential if you need to resolve an altercation with an angry drunk. Staying composed and collected in the face of anger can model to your friend or loved one what acceptable behavior looks like and can help prevent the anger from escalating.

Look at any argument, and you can see a common pattern. When one person raises their voice, the other person shouts over them. The volume in the room continues to rise until they’re screaming at the top of their throats. When one person gets physical, the other pushes back even stronger.

By staying calm, you prevent the buildup of anger that can quickly lead to an explosion and stop yourself from getting wrapped up in the intense emotions of the angry drunk.

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Dealing with Violence or Abuse

The strategies for dealing with an angry drunk outlined above are intended for helping you avoid or resolve arguments, frustrations, or interpersonal conflicts. But when anger crosses the threshold to violence or threats of violence, your own safety must come first. 

Alcohol has been repeatedly linked to violence, particularly between intimate partners. You should never stay in a violent or abusive situation, and alcohol use is no excuse for these behaviors. If you fear for your safety when a friend, loved one, or intimate partner gets drunk and angry, skip the steps listed above and focus on actions that can keep you safe:

  • Distance yourself from the violent person. Keep out of arm’s reach and escape the situation if you can.
  • Find shelter. If you have a friend or family member’s house that you can go to, head there immediately. Get behind a locked door away from the violent person. If you’re away from home, seek out a public space or security personnel that can protect you from harm.
  • Call for help. Don’t hesitate to call 911 if a friend, loved one, or stranger is a serious threat to yourself or others.

Once you’ve reached safety, you need to take measures to avoid future violence as well. Don’t dismiss the actions of a violent person as an anomaly. There are a number of resources to help people experiencing domestic violence – including the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233; https://www.thehotline.org/), and domestic violence shelters throughout the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41% of women and 26% of men have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime. So, if it has happened to you, know that you are not alone – and that there are resources available to help.

Warning Signs of Abuse

The signs of abuse aren’t always readily apparent. Sometimes they only appear late in a relationship, and too often people will dismiss abusive behavior as just a symptom of alcohol abuse. If you’re unsure, consider some of the common warning signs of abuse:

  • Feeling pressured into sexual acts
  • Extreme jealousy or distrust
  • Being frequently insulted or demeaned in front of other people
  • Pressuring you to drink or use drugs
  • Intimidating you with threats, actions, or weapons
  • Discouraging you from spending time with others
  • Controlling your behaviors

These behaviors are not normal in a healthy relationship – and alcohol use is no excuse. If you recognize these signs, it’s time to stop worrying about managing your loved one’s anger while drinking and start taking steps towards reaching safety for yourself.

Helping an Angry Drunk

When the angry drunk in your life is a close friend or loved one, their anger while drinking can place an immense strain on your relationship.

Continued drinking despite damaging the important relationships in your life is a key criterion of an alcohol use disorder, and your loved one may need support if they want to stop drinking and put their life back into order.

Overcoming an alcohol addiction isn’t easy – but it is possible. If they’re ready to reach out for help, we have an abundance of resources to help people stop drinking, where you can get counseling, how you can support them in recovery, and what you need to know about alcoholism.

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