Does Alcohol Make You More Violent?

There are strong links to alcohol and violent behaviour, in the United Kingdom (UK) alcohol and offending behaviour is a very common occurrence. Accident and Emergency departments see a large increase in those who have incurred wounds fighting over the weekend, and often drinking alcohol in large amounts has been highly implicated as the cause.

Alcohol has also played a part in more serious crimes. Recently Netflix aired a TV show named “Dahmer”, which depicts the life of Jeffery Dahmer the serial killer and his heinous crimes.  One thing that is shown throughout the show is Jeffery Dahmer drinks heavily and consistently from his high school years up until the point he was caught by the police.

This was true to the fact; Jeffery Dahmer drank throughout his life and probably was an alcoholic of sorts. In the graphic novel “My Friend Dahmer”, written by John Backderf, who was a childhood friend of Jeffery. Backderf shares that towards the end of his schooling at high school Jeffery drank frequently and appeared to be drunk at school. This was also depicted in the film of the same title. Later during confession to his crimes Jeffery confessed that he’d often drink until black out drunk and had sometimes unintentionally killed his victims.  This is unlikely for some, as a lot of his killing was pre-meditated.

A lot of people prone to anti-social behaviour have a tendency towards substance use disorders of some kind, not always addiction but certainly a tendency to throw caution to the wind in taking drugs and drinking too much. Roughly around 90% of those who have been jailed who have an anti-social personality disorder and high psychopathic traits have a substance use disorder.

During the 1970s to 1990s there was a huge surge in football violence across the UK, the finger was pointed at cocaine and alcohol as a fuel for gangs to become out of control. Whilst the alcohol and drug consumption was certainly to a high volume, it’s debatable about what really fuelled this period.

Often drugs and alcohol can be cited as the problem but there are a lot of other cultural, economic and societal issues that can affect and influence behaviours.

There isn’t really much in alcohol that can flip a person into bad behaviour, although alcohol can severely effect judgement and impulse control. However, there isn’t really a component that can make a person violent.

This may seem hard to believe, if you’ve ever walked through any high-street in the evening around the UK and witnessed the behaviour there is a sudden turn – from normal everyday business to then a sudden pensive and hostile environment. The main component in change is obviously alcohol and plenty of it. But what if I was to say that wasn’t always the rule?

Football and Violence

As stated before, there’s been lots of violence at football events and they consume a lot of booze? Therefore, there is a direct correlation between alcohol and violence? Well, not quite, there are events where the alcohol is equal and above the alcohol consumed at football events.   Rugby fans tend to outpace football fans in terms of drinking, with sometimes rugby fans drinking over double what football fans drink. So, is it the game that makes people violent? Well, even events outside of sporting, such as October Fest all across Germany, where alcohol consumption is quite often at huge levels there are sometimes no acts of assault or violence at all. The environments can be completely safe.  Same can be said for drugs.

As a young man, going to Highstreet nightclubs in places like Birmingham City were quite often dangerous affairs, I can recall being assaulted a numerous number of times. Sometimes completely randomly, or accidentally touching elbows would spark off immediate tension. When I moved towards the dance scene, which was flooded with drugs and excessive consumption of alcohol, I can’t recall any incidents of violence ever occurring to me or around me.

Festivals that focus on dance music in the UK, although usually fuelled by consumption of class A drugs (ecstasy, cocaine and LSD) often have very little problems with violence. The only times these festivals face violence is usually when someone who is criminally minded infiltrates the festival intent on the commission of crime. Such as an individual who attended the 2009 Glade festival to plunder cars and rob people with a crossbow.

Crack Cocaine

In the 1980s there was a huge uptake of the drug crack-cocaine. The drug isn’t too dissimilar to cocaine, but the image is completely different. Most people associate cocaine with Hollywood, free-spirits, traders and politicians. Crack is seen often as a down and out drug and the fuel for criminals.  It’s not just completely a bad perception by the masses or hype by the media. Crack cocaine is cited by many people entering in the prison system with substance use disorders as being one of their drugs of choice. 

During the late 1980s reports were coming in of wholesome family orientated individuals who’d been flipped by the drug crack cocaine into becoming an anti-social criminal, even sometimes murderous. It was common place to understand that messing around with crack could potentially warp your mind and make you become entirely self-involved and anti-social.

People who use drugs and alcohol to problematic levels tend to use them as a crutch, drugs allow people to temporarily do something or shut themselves off from something that they would otherwise find very difficult. If this worked well then, we’d all be a lot more content with our lives, however what is certain to happen is a contradictive effect, it suspends problems temporarily but they often rebound in a manner that is much worse. It is almost as if it were akin to Newton’s third law of physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Drink for sedation – experience surges in anxiety afterwards. Use cocaine to boost energy – experience depression following usage. These are just simple examples, this law extends itself to more complexities in personality, affect (mood) and behaviour.  Some people drink to repress themselves, the thoughts in their head, and the anxiety they feel about themselves, the world and everyone in it. This also has a tendency to rebound.

Probation Services for Alcohol & Crime

Whilst working for Aquarius, a Birmingham based Alcohol Charity, I was tasked with working with Northampton Probation Services.  Every client I met had had an alcohol related criminal offence, ranging from driving offenses to even rape. Some people were awaiting sentencing, some people had been discharged from jail or serving a community order.

There were a high number of clients that had assault charges in conjunction with alcohol use.   I decided to take on some personal research to help understand my clients better, I asked them when did they first encounter violence, who was violent to them first. In all cases they answered within the house-hold, often from their father, mother or older siblings. This isn’t the case for all offenders, but it was certainly the case for every offender I had met.

To me as a therapist tasked to help the community, I could see that most of my clients in probation services suffered from an array of difficulties in many areas of their life. They often displayed behaviour problems, had ADHD-like symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional volatility and of course somewhat of a substance use disorder.  I say somewhat as some of them didn’t actually drink to alcoholic levels or indeed actually drink that much.  Some people could exacerbate their mental health problems and volatility just through binge drinking or drinking very rarely and not being able to hold their drink.

I wanted to understand more about the cycle of violence in a bid to reduce offending behaviour. Some people don’t like to see criminals getting “treated” but it’s worth noting that the re-offending rates in the UK have always been staggeringly high, very few criminals receive any correctional behaviour or interventions on their behaviour.  If the offending behaviour can be corrected then a person will not continue to offend and thus will reduce the impact on society and prevent further victims from occurring. – We hope.

Alcohol and other drugs deregulate emotions, both good and bad. If you happen to observe a group of party revellers in the midst of celebration, often their actions, volume of voice and interactions with each other will often be unregulated. They may speak to strangers with over-familiarity, over-step boundaries and be unaware of what their limits are.  This ranges from mild out of social context behaviour to extremely dangerous behaviour.

Sometimes when people have been drinking or using, they reflect back on their actions with regret, not even knowing they were capable of doing such a thing. This can be seen in people who rarely, if ever strike out at a person, but wake up from a drunken or drug induced haze to find out they have assaulted someone during the course of a drunken argument.

Alcohol or other drug usage is no defence of a person’s actions. Even if a person unwittingly didn’t know they were going beyond their limits. By definition of UK law, the ingestion of drugs and alcohol is not an excuse for criminal behaviour. The only time drugs and alcohol can be used as an excuse for criminal behaviour is when a person can clearly prove they were unaware of concealed side-effects from a medicinal drug.  Famously there was a case against a band member from a famous 90’s pop/rock band, who attacked cabin crew members on a flight, causing them injury.   He managed to convince the court that he was completely unaware that mixing red-wine with his sleeping/anxiety medication would cause him to become completely unhinged and violent.  

Alcohol and sedatives can put people in a very dissociative state, this is why most sedative-like medications caution that no alcohol should be consumed. Hopefully doctors prescribing this medication will tell their patients this also – as not everyone reads the fine print in their medication. Being this dissociated or unhinged can lead to very bad outcomes. Sometimes a person might not quite realise who they are talking to (such as people with authority), or how they are behaving and talking.  Occasionally, when sedation is heavy, people may act out like they are in a dream-like state and respond to the situation as if they were in a dream or nightmare.   In a nightmare, if you assumed you were being invaded by a force that wished intent to harm you, you might lash out, you might do things without any level of judgement because the experience is exaggerated by the delusion of your subconsciousness.  

This is why some people wake up the day after and they can’t believe what they have done. However, it isn’t just alcohol and other drugs that make a person this way.  There may have been exposure to threat, involvement in violence and exposure to domestic abuse long before an incident. Sometimes a person isn’t always aware of how bad their exposure has been. They don’t quite add the events together, they may have had lots of problems domestically as a child but in their conscious mind if you were to ask them how things were? They may very well say “Well that’s just the way things happened”, without ever realising the effects these events had upon their mind.

Adverse Childhood Environment

Adverse Childhood Environment (ACE) is the biggest catalyst for substance use disorder, but it is also one of the biggest catalysts for personality disorders and also violent behaviours.  These adversities can range from being bullied, domestic violence, assaults, kidnappings, rapes, murders and incest.  If a person is exposed to these as a child and then encounters more issues as an adult the tendency to act out can be much greater.  Violence doesn’t always mean assault, violence comes in the shape of abusive language, being excessively punitive towards others (such as in the work place), shouting, screaming, throwing objects, and deliberately targeting people for shame and insults.  

When people lack resources and support around them, ACE tends to have a legacy that if untreated can lead to a repetition of problems throughout a person’s life. They made also develop worse coping skills and false safety behaviours that keep them locked into patterns of repeating the same or similar problems. 

If you’re prone to emotional instability, alcohol and other drugs might be something you want to abstain from entirely if you notice an increase in instability.  However, not everyone who’s had a rough time will become violent through drinking and using drugs.

It’s worth noting that emotional instability, traumatic events and addictive disorders don’t have a habit of just sorting themselves out. Even if they improve under personal circumstances, they may be under the surface bubbling away and waiting for the right trigger to come along and bring it out of you.  

Counselling for Behaviour and Alcohol

There’s no need for too much shame to be involved if you are prone to outbursts or indeed violent behaviour at times, they’re all a part of our human way of surviving. Genetically we’re not much different than our ancestors who would have undoubtedly been the survivors of violent conflicts through using their hardwired conditions of flight, fight or freeze. However, now this survival state, rather than keep us alive, it causes a contradictive effect putting us under more distress and causes us further problems in our life.

If you can recognise patterns of violent behaviour in your life you should probably seek help where-ever possible.  Unfortunately, if you’ve already committed an act of violence and you’re currently in legal trouble as a result, don’t rely on probation, prison and other services from the government to help reform your character. Most NHS mental health workers write-off people with “anti-social behaviour” problems and unless you respond to the “bio-medical model” of treatment you won’t get any further help (which in short is limited to medication).  

Violent offences in the UK are nearly always prosecuted by custodial sentences when a person is over the age of 18, use of excessive force or weaponry is looked down upon greatly as a considerable danger to society and penalties of multiple years in custody reflect that.

Unfortunately, if you find yourself in the dock for being violent and drunk, you’ll be very unlikely to give your side of the story of how you got there.  If you’ve committed an offence, you’re not the victim. Mitigating circumstances to a crime are usually only when you’ve been wrongfully prescribed medication or had an emergence mental health episode such as psychosis which is independent from drug use. Even if the aforementioned are true, they can be difficult to prove in a court of law. You may very well hear of celebrities getting a way with it, but they usually have top-class paid for lawyers.

Getting Help for Legal Problems

Involving drug counselling services or going to rehab can help.  Several clients in the past whom I’ve worked with have used their time in counselling services or rehabilitation centres as proof as they’re willing to make amends or deal with the problems that brought them to these dire actions.  I worked with one young man who had committed a string of offences that can often be classified as an “aggravating feature of a crime” (sometimes known as an “aggy” in the UK). In simple terms in means the commission of a crime upon top of another crime – such as robbery then assaulting someone – or burglary then assaulting someone in their home on top of that.  Crimes that have an aggravating feature, especially when violence is involved, usually get more severe sentences.    

One of my old clients had committed an aggravated assault, which he claims was a string of errors due to a drinking and drug binge. I wrote to his probation office and dealt with him as a client, I was convinced that he would receive a custodial sentence (sent to jail) for his crimes. He asked me for help to prepare his defence for court.  I obliged, as he had never been in treatment before and had none of his previous issues dealt with. I judged that his commission of these acts was done completely unwittingly.  He was highly motivated towards receiving treatment and showed major levels of improvement whilst working with me.   I detailed these to his probation officer and made a letter ready to be read in court on part of his defence.  He received a suspended sentence.  This was the best possible outcome he could have achieved. Assault alone you can face a hefty jail term, once you make it an aggravating feature it’s highly unlikely anyone over the age of 18 isn’t going to go to jail.

As a counsellor it is an ethical dilemma to support someone who is being sentenced for a crime. Usually, the motivation and commitment are a good benchmark. However, motivation and commitment can be quite high when someone is facing losing their freedom.  My personal recommendation is that a client must adhere to a long treatment program that extends beyond a short placement in a rehab or a few weekly counselling sessions. Treatment for alcoholism and other addictions really takes years, and it is not always a linear path forward. Clients who wish to receive support from a counsellor in court should also be showing other signs of commitment like attending AA groups, SMART groups or other peer support groups.

If as a counsellor you are unclear about your client’s intentions from a treatment program but are requested to provide support for your client, then simply state the facts and also the limitations from engaging in treatment.  Although you work for the client, you do not want to endanger other members of the public if your client’s behaviour is untreated and their dangerous behaviour is escalating.

Although I focus a lot on the behaviours of the perpetrators of crime in this piece, it is worth noting that there are obviously victims to these crimes too. They don’t deserve to see their perpetrator walk away Scott-free because someone can blame their past and addictive disorder. However, we must consider that these events aren’t completely independent of each other, they are all connected, sometimes even victims of crime become cold and hardened by their experiences and in fact then go on to become anti-social or commit acts of violence themselves.  This is why we must seek the implementation of treatment wherever possible.

It’s a very important issue to address, as the ramifications are not just limited to the acute distress of violent events but the legacy of fear they can leave in all our lives.  

Written By Dylan Kerr 16/11/2022

Published by Dylan Kerr BA ACAT FDAP DipHE MBABCP

Mr Dylan Kerr Addictions Counselor Bachelors in Clinical Counseling (Hons) Advanced Certified Addictions Therapist Member of the British Association for Behaviour and Cognitive Psychotherapist Member of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Practitioners HeDip Health-care HeDip Psychology of Addiction Dip Counselling Diploma in Arts Therapy Diploma in Transactional Analysis CSAT III Dylan Kerr is a Certified Substance Abuse Therapist who is qualified in Counseling, Psychology of addiction from Leeds University and Healthcare from Birmingham City University. Dylan Kerr has been a senior Therapist at the River Rehab, Lead Therapist at Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai and Head Counselor of Hope Rehab in Siracha. As well as working in Thailand for 7 years, Dylan has also been the on-tour counsellor for the the Rock band ‘The Libertines’. Dylan is now resident counsellor at an Asian rehab. Dylan has experience of working within the music industry supporting acts in therapeutic needs. As well as working around the world Dylan has over 13 years experience delivering substance use disorder treatment at various agencies around the UK. He is skilled in motivational interviewing, CBT, RET and guidance around 12 step philosophies. Dylan has worked with a broad client base and establish the rapport needed to effect change and sustainable progression. Dylan wishes to start this blog to help educate people on his observations within this field and debate the nature of work in the addictions field.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: