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What Symptoms Do People Experience as “Angry Drunks?”

Drugs & Alcohol

Angry drunks are no fun for anyone.

If you’re around an angry drunk, they’re more likely to be aggressive or start a fight out of a minor confrontation. They can escalate a non-issue into a serious problem, simply because of a lack of inhibition.

If you’re an angry drunk yourself, you probably do a lot of things you regret. Those are things you can’t take back the next day, even though you may want to in a lot of cases.

So why do people actually get angry when drunk? It’s well-known that alcohol lowers your inhibitions and changes your decision-making process drastically. You’re more likely to react to a situation based on emotion, without thinking about the consequences.

In a lot of cases, drinking tends to awaken latent or suppressed emotions. While your sober self would think twice about letting those emotions loose, your drunken self will let fly with anger, tears, or whatever else they may feel.

If you’re suppressing a lot of anger – say, frustration overwork or relationship trouble – there’s a good chance that anger will be a lot less suppressed once you’ve had a few drinks. The same goes for any other emotion. But if you’re a weepy drunk or a loud, obnoxious drunk, you’re much less likely to be destructive and cause lasting trouble for yourself and others.

There are many different “drinking personalities,” but angry drunks have a much higher chance of becoming violent when they drink. But the problem with an angry drunk is that they may have a very skewed memory of their own actions after the fact. If they get angry or belligerent while drunk, they may not remember they were acting that way – or even believe it if told by someone else.

If you’re worried that you might be the angry drunk in your particular circle of friends, here are a few warning signs to look out for.

Being Aggressive or Angry While Sober

This may seem obvious, but it’s one of the most straightforward answers you can get to this question. People have their personality tendencies amplified when they drink. So if somebody’s already aggressive, there’s a very good chance they’re going to be a mean drunk as well.

Clearly, this is one of the most obvious signs of a problem. And it may not seem all that insightful to say “people who are angry sober will be angry drunk.” But it’s a good thing to keep in mind when deciding whether or not it’s a good idea to drink with someone – or for you to have a drink yourself.

Of course, if anger is a problem in your everyday life, it may be necessary to consider anger management counseling. And if that’s the case, it’s a good idea to stay away from drinking until you can get your problem under control, as alcohol is likely to just compound the issue.

If you have both an anger problem and a drinking problem, then you may need treatment for a co-occurring disorder.

Co-occurring disorders are when an addiction problem and mental issue happen at the same time. And it’s not just anger – co-occurring orders can happen with:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • schizophrenia
  • Alzheimer’s

and nearly any other mental disorder, at any severity.

Sobriety

Experiencing “Dry Drunk” Symptoms

When you drink, you tend to experience lowered inhibitions, and make decisions you wouldn’t have otherwise. Sometimes those decisions are relatively innocent, like sending a mildly inappropriate text message.

Provided we’re not talking about mooning your boss with a picture message, sending drunk funny texts is something that might embarrass you a bit the next day, but probably won’t cause any lasting damage.

As we’ve discussed, when your behavior skews toward violence and anger, your drunken behavior will be even more extreme. But what happens if you start pushing to those extremes without even drinking?

Dry drunkenness” is a similar, yet completely different type of problem. This is what we call it when someone acts out and makes similarly poor decisions without having a single drink.

Generally, “dry drunks” are people trying to quit drinking cold-turkey, or “white-knuckling” it, as it is sometimes called. If they’re experiencing “dry drunk” symptoms, it’s not going very well for them, and they’re reacting to it by acting out in similar ways to how they would when actually under the influence.

This means the self-centered, impulsive, and yes, often angry and violent nature of an ill-tempered drunk will come out in force, even when they haven’t touched a drink. This is similar in nature to a sort of withdrawal symptom of alcoholism, as it is a total rejection of a sober lifestyle.

Why does this happen? Because beating alcoholism – or any addiction, for that matter – isn’t just about removing yourself from the substance that got you addicted. It’s about changing your attitudes and your entire lifestyle around the idea of sobriety.

If your attitudes haven’t changed and you’re just trying to brute force your way out of alcoholism, you’re going to end up in emotional turmoil trying to deal with the rollercoaster of mental issues.

Angry Drunk = Sudden Aggression and Violence

Hopefully, your run-in with (or experience as) an angry drunk will end with a simple loud and obnoxious argument. However, some people descend into violence when they drink. That could mean a number of things.

People are more likely to respond to emotional triggers when inebriated, so even the slightest comment could generate a shoving match or fistfight.

A piece of prevailing wisdom also suggests that heavy drinking plays a part in domestic violence. We’ve all seen or heard the stereotype of the drunken man who comes home late and abuses his wife. It’s all very 1950’s, and like many commonly-held beliefs from the 1950’s, science appears to have poked a hole in it.

There is indeed a link between drinking and domestic violence, but not the one that was previously suggested. See, heavy drinking doesn’t necessarily lead to domestic violence. In the past, the drinking itself was blamed on the violence in the home. Given the propensity for alcohol to remove restraint and  inhibition, it seemed like a slam dunk to attribute causation to alcohol.

But recent research has shown that a majority of those who are guilty of both alcohol use and domestic abuse do so after only a couple drinks – usually not enough to be drunk enough for significantly impaired judgment.

The implication is that both the drinking habits and the violence are merely elements of a larger pattern of abuse in these people. In other words, both the actions of violence and the actions of drinking are parts of the abusive behavior, but neither is causing the other.

Aggression and Violence

Having a Hard Time Stopping Your Temper or Drinking

If you’ve had a particularly rough bout of drinking, you may be asking yourself some serious questions about your drinking behavior. At the top of the list is probably something like “Should I stop drinking?”

You’ve probably thought about it before, but then the next time an opportunity to drink comes up, you’ll make excuses for why it’s okay this time, and surely you’ll be able to control yourself.

That kind of bargaining is a telltale sign of a problem drinker and alcoholic. You find it difficult to say no to an opportunity to drink, and once you do, you find it difficult to control your temper and emotions.

You might be skeptical of a claim that your drinking is a serious problem, and that’s understandable – most problem drinkers deny that they have a problem. There are many different types of alcoholism. All are harmful, but they have varying characteristics.

For example, it is possible to be a highly functional alcoholic who maintains a relatively normal job, social life, family, and so on. But at the end of the day, you still lean on alcohol to complete what feels like a “normal” day to you. And if you don’t have it, you’ll be in a bad mood (this is a situation where “dry drunkenness” can arise).

See, not all alcoholics are completely unable to do anything but drink all day. Alcoholism is tough to detect, because alcohol consumption is a normal thing in our society at a certain point. But angry drunkenness can be a sign of problem drinking, which itself is an indication of alcoholism.

Now, people rarely call alcoholism on themselves. Because of the way addiction works, denial is a strong thing to overcome. But if you’ve caused problems with your drinking, or you frequently drink to excess, or people have gotten hurt as a result of your drinking, and you still haven’t stopped, it may be a sign of a bigger problem.

There are ways to tell if you’re an alcoholic, and while the measures aren’t exact, they do a pretty good job of pointing you in the right direction if it’s time to ask for help.

Have you ever been – or been around – an angry drunk? What are some methods you have for dealing with the situation? Leave us a comment below.

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By |2019-10-10T18:30:21+00:00April 10th, 2017|

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7 Comments

  1. Susan smith March 21, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    I know someone that drank for 25 yrs, and was sober on and off for 2 Yes and all of a sudden was in destruct mode ,getting angry and breaking things and yelling???Why the new anger??

  2. Roshawnda October 28, 2018 at 11:38 pm

    My husband does the same thing its sad

    • Northpoint Recovery October 31, 2018 at 5:34 am

      We are sorry that you are close to someone who demonstrates these symptoms, Roshawnda. Thank you for your input.

  3. Sally Eckhoff November 28, 2018 at 5:35 am

    My friend who’s an angry drunk will say unbelievably cruel (and often nonsensical) things to me when he’s drinking.

    And now he says them when he’s sober too. “You better believe it! What’s more, you deserve to feel bad, because what I said is true.”

    I think he fills in the blanks when he’s sober, so he won’t sound inconsistent when he’s drunk. He’s had to make some pretty absurd statements to keep this up, but he does it.

    • Northpoint Recovery December 1, 2018 at 6:48 pm

      Thank you for sharing with us, Sally. That is a difficult experience you have been going through. You must care deeply for this individual to stick through it. Best wishes, and happy holidays!

  4. Mads May 20, 2019 at 6:31 am

    I was previously in an abusive relationship from the age of 17-21, and it was my very first relationship. He was drinking a fifth or so of hard liquor every night, smashed glasses above my head, hit my arms frequently which left big black and blues, and made me bleed and stained his shirt. Thankfully I got away from that relationship years ago, and am now with who I consider to be the love of my life, however, I have been an angry drunk at times towards him, where I bring up past issues and let it get the best of me, even though they aren’t real things to worry about anymore, and even pushed/hit his arm once while black out
    And don’t remember doing it. He has since forgiven me, and it hasn’t happened again, but I do get moody and somewhat angry while drinking sometimes, and it’s awful. Is this a side effect from my past haunting me? And how do I make this better? I would do anything for this man, because he’s such a good soul, and feel awful that I ever did such a thing to him. I want to be better for myself, and for him and our relationship, so any advice/tips would be greatly appreciated so we can move forward with our lives!

    • Northpoint Recovery June 3, 2019 at 4:14 pm

      It is possible that you are acting out while drinking due to your past experiences. However, if these behaviors are only occurring while drinking and blacking out from drinking, then I would recommend limiting and/or to stop drinking alcohol. If you are still angry and saying hurtful things when alcohol is not involved, then you may want to try counseling to discuss the feelings you have and what the cause of the anger is. We wish you all the best!

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