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Anxiety, alcohol use, and aggression: Untangling the causal pathways


Dr Russil Durrant, Institute of Criminology, School of Social and Cultural Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand (e-mail:


Given the enormous social and economic costs of alcohol-related violence, understanding the causal processes that give rise to the relationship between alcohol and violence is of paramount importance. McMurran provides a valuable contribution to this literature by offering a conceptually coherent, empirically grounded, and plausible model of the relationship between anxiety, alcohol intoxication, and aggression (McMurran, 2011, pp. 357–371). In this commentary, I first look more narrowly at the proposed causal relationships that link anxiety problems with aggression via alcohol use, suggesting that although they are largely consistent with McMurran's thesis there may be scope to build yet more complexity into the model. In the second part of the commentary, I consider the nature of both anxiety and aggression within the broader framework of our evolutionary history and argue that considering the adaptive functions of anxiety and aggression may contribute to our understanding of the proposed links with alcohol use. In particular, I highlight the potential value of disaggregating the links between anxiety, alcohol use, and aggression by gender, and type of violence.