Recently, a woman reached out to me and asked for help. She said, “When I drink, I get angry at my boyfriend, and I don’t know why I do it.”
I immediately felt a sense of empathy with her because I used to make my husband’s life miserable whenever I drank and picked fights. So many people are guilty of this.
But why does it happen? More importantly, how do we stop it?
- Why do I get angry at my partner when I drink?
- Alcohol changes your brain and mood.
- Alcohol can also change your personality.
- What should I do if I get angry at my boyfriend when I drink?
Why do I get angry at my partner when I drink?
You get angry with your partner when you drink because of what alcohol does to your brain. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions, increases extroversion and aggressiveness, and makes us more emotionally volatile. For some, this translates into drunk anger and aggression towards loved ones.
But why does it happen? Is it a Jekyll and Hyde routine or something more?
I’ll briefly explain what alcohol does to your brain that can lead to angry outbursts and picking fights with your partner, why it happens, and what you should do moving forward.
Alcohol changes your brain and mood.
Because alcohol is so common in our culture, it’s easy to forget it is a drug. A powerful one at that. Alcohol fundamentally changes the functioning and chemical structure of the brain.
Our brains like balance. Alcohol is disruptive to that balance, so the brain reacts accordingly when we consume high volumes of alcohol.
So the brain overcompensates.
Alcohol binds to your GABA receptors, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This slows your body down, making you feel mellow, less inhibited, and happy (at first). It also slows down the communication between your brain and body.
When you feel less inhibited, you are more inclined to say and do things you normally wouldn’t.
Alcohol also floods your brain with an artificial dopamine boost, feel-good chemicals that give us that buzzy, drunk feeling.
Again, our brains don’t actually like that.
So the brain goes to work. To protect itself from the dopamine flood, it shuts down dopamine receptors and shrinks that part of the brain to return things to normal.
So then, why does this make us get into fights with people we love? Let’s talk about how alcohol changes our personality and behavior next.
For a quick and interesting tutorial on the impact of alcohol on the brain, watch this brief video:
Alcohol can also change your personality.
For a full deep dive into how alcohol reshapes your personality, visit our “Alcohol and Personality Changes” post.
A few issues are at play as it relates to getting angry with your boyfriend or girlfriend when drinking.
1. Alcohol makes you overconfident and increases extroversion.
Translation? When you drink, you may feel emboldened to say and do things you normally would not say and do.
This is why people sometimes pick fights when they drink.
The alcohol makes you feel bold and assertive. If there are problems you have not addressed, those things come bubbling to the surface.
2. Alcohol lowers impulse control.
When you drink, you become much more impulsive. This is why people engage in risky behavior when they drink. Our cognitive safeguards don’t work the way they normally do.
Situations we would normally keep our mouth shut in become fair game.
Chronic drinking decreases activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for impulse control. So if you drink often and already struggle with impulse control and emotional regulation, this becomes a double-whammy.
Plus, when you feel less inhibited, you don’t care about consequences like you might when you’re sober. That’s why “drunk you” might be ready to say anything to anyone without caring what happens.
3. Alcohol lowers emotional stability.
Another side effect of consuming too much alcohol is emotional instability. Drinking is like pouring gasoline onto a fire if you have a short fuse or do not manage stress well.
It lowers emotional stability in everyone, but this is a particularly dangerous side effect for people who already struggle.
This might be a factor if you get angry easily with your partner when you drink.
What are your fights about? Do you pick fights or blow up over seemingly small things when you drink?
Picking fights is usually a symptom of unresolved issues coming to light. Blowing up over small things stems from emotional sensitivity.
Alcohol will heighten both.
It makes people take things personally, even things their sober self would not care much about. And the thing is these things compound. None of these effects from alcohol happen in insolation. When you add them all up, it’s easier to see how we get here.
Less inhibition + over-confidence + emotional sensitivity = angry drunk fights.
What should I do if I get angry at my boyfriend when I drink?
Or girlfriend, wife, partner, etc. Getting angry and picking fights every time you drink is not sustainable.
Before your relationship is threatened further, here are a few things you should start doing immediately.
1. Take a break from alcohol.
Quitting drinking, even temporarily, is important if you want to stop this behavior. You may even find you should quit drinking altogether.
You need to give your brain and body a vacation from alcohol. It’s the only way you can reverse the changes alcohol has made to your mood and personality.
It’s worth noting that becoming angry when you drink and regretting it afterward shows that alcohol is not working well for you.
You cannot control your impulses or get a check on your emotions if you continue to fuel your body with a substance that works against both of those things.
If taking a break or quitting alcohol is overwhelming to think about, these resources can help:
- The First 30 Days of Sobriety: What To Expect
- 7 Obnoxious Things I Stopped Doing When I Quit Drinking
- 17 Online Sobriety Support Systems Worth Checking Out
- Drinking Was Hard on My Marriage. So Was Recovery.
- What Happens To Your Body When You Quit Alcohol?
2. Examine why you get angry with your partner when you drink.
Once you have a sober vantage point from which to look at your behavior, try to get at the root of what’s causing it.
What are you getting angry about?
For some people, unresolved issues and resentment boil up to the surface after a few drinks, and this causes fights.
If you constantly bury and repress your feelings, they will make themselves known when you drink.
Do you get defensive easily when you drink? Are the fights in response to your partner’s behavior at the time?
If you cringe the following day because you immediately realize you overreacted or misinterpreted things when drinking, that’s a sign of a different issue.
The important thing is to spend time unpacking why you’re getting angry so that you can do something about it.
3. Resolve to fix the problem.
Fixing the problem means addressing the underlying conditions fueling them. If you think you have a drinking problem, start there.
Reach out to a therapist or sobriety support network.
These people can help you understand your relationship with alcohol in a clearer light and support you as you work on quitting or improving that relationship.
You also need to address the issues behind your anger. Do you and your boyfriend or girlfriend have unresolved issues? Are there things you don’t talk about but should?
Maybe the problem is internal. You have a short fuse and don’t know how to regulate your emotions in a healthy way. When you drink, all bets are off, and you lose control.
Again, this is where having a good therapist comes in.
Find someone to talk to to help you address your anger’s root causes. This can be done one-on-one or as part of a couples therapy session.
You have to take action and get help.
Access should not be a barrier to help.
4. Take ownership of your behavior.
It’s very important to own your behavior. That means talking to your partner and acknowledging the problem, your part in it, and what you plan to do about it.
You risk your relationship if you get angry at your partner when you drink. Being open and honest with your partner is an olive branch.
“Hey, I know I’ve been picking fights with you when I’m drinking. I feel so bad about it, and I realize I need to work on some things and get help to stop the behavior.”
Ultimately, it’s up to them if they want to support you through that journey, but you increase the chances by coming to them openly with a sense of responsibility (and humility).
If you continue to struggle or want additional support, the Soberish private Facebook community is always ready to welcome you.
The important thing now is that you take the necessary steps to change your behavior, work on your emotional and physical health, and (hopefully) salvage your relationship.