Anxiety, alcohol intoxication, and aggression


Mary McMurran, Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham, Sir Colin Campbell Building, Triumph Road, Nottingham NG7 2TU, UK (e-mail:


Purpose. Research into alcohol-related aggression has typically focused on perpetrators’ externalizing characteristics. The purpose of this exploratory review is to examine the contribution of anxiety to alcohol-related aggression.

Arguments. Anxiety disorders are associated with externalizing disorders in childhood, but anxiety appears to protect against extreme antisocial behaviours. In contrast, in adolescence and early adulthood, anxiety appears to be associated with increased risk of antisocial behaviour. One possible explanation for this disjunction may be alcohol use, which typically starts in adolescence. Alcohol is an anxiolytic drug, which may appeal to certain young people who are socially anxious but not socially avoidant. Alcohol myopia, the cognitive mechanism whereby alcohol exerts an anxiolytic effect, is also a mechanism by which alcohol serves to increase aggression. Therefore, in anxious antisocial people, drinking to cope with anxiety is likely to increase aggression.

Conclusions. Interventions that flow from the research on anxiety, alcohol, and aggression are suggested.