Alcohol Intoxication as a Cause of Speeding, Aggression and Sexual Misconduct

It is commonly believed that intoxication causes drivers to speed or drive recklessly, that it causes aggression (fights, domestic violence, etc.), and that it causes people to act in sexually inappropriate ways.

Not surprisingly, these are also common assertions to juries in court cases involving intoxicated persons who were speeding, fighting, or engaging in prohibited sexual activities.

But intoxication does not cause people to do these things. Intoxication is often associated with these behaviors but doesn't cause them. The simple fact is that alcohol does not act on peoples' brains to inhibit them.

The evidence indicates that intoxicated people have much greater control over their behavior than generally recognized. For example, in those societies in which people don't believe that alcohol causes disinhibition, intoxication never leads to unacceptable behavior. But when they "learn" that alcohol disinhibits, it does and they become disinhibited when intoxicated.1

Dr. Robin Room explains that "Because intoxication is culturally regarded as causing obstreperous or evil behavior, getting drunk indeed has these effects and, to an extent, legitimates them; a desire to be obstreperous many thus motivate a drunkenness episode."2 "As one man in a violent offender program noted, ‘When I first came to your program I told you that I hit my wife because I was drunk; now I realize that I drank so that I could hit her.'"3 Dr. Scott Hampton, a violence prevention expert, observes that in our society "Alcohol acts as a permission slip."4 It gives us an excuse to do what would otherwise be unacceptable: "Don't blame me, it was the alcohol that made me do it."

Research in the US has long found that when males are falsely led to believe that they have been drinking alcohol, they tend to become more aggressive and sexual. And when men and women falsely believe that they have been drinking alcohol, they experience greater sexual arousal when watching erotica.5 In doing so, they conform to societal beliefs about the effects of alcohol.6

It's not the alcohol, it's the person who acts. Or as the ancient Chinese proverb says, drunken behavior is the fault the person not the alcohol. Research now demonstrates that the Chinese wisdom was correct.

Readings on Alcohol Intoxication as a Cause of Behaviors:

  • Graham, K. Theories of intoxicated aggression. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 1980, 12, 141-158.
  • Grattan, K. E., and Vogel-Sprott, M. Neurobiological, behavioral, and environmental relations to drinking - maintaining intentional control of behavior under alcohol, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 2001, 25(2), 192-197.
  • Hamilton, C.J., & Collins, J.J. The Role of Alcohol in Wife Beating and Child Abuse: A Review of the Literature. In J.J. Collins (Ed.), Drinking and Crime: Perspectives on the Relationship between Alcohol Consumption and Criminal Behavior. New York: Guilford, 1981. Pp. 253-287.
  • Marlatt, G. A., and Rosenow, D. J. The think-drink effect. Psychology Today, 1981, 15, 60-93.
  • Marshall, M. "Four Hundred Rabbits": An Anthropological View of Ethanol as a Disinhibitor. In: Room, R., and Collins, G. (Eds.) Alcohol and Disinhibition: Nature and Meaning of the Link. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1981. pp. 186-204. P. 200.
  • Ortner, C., et al. Alcohol intoxication reduces impulsivity in the delay-discounting paragism. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2003, 38, 151-156.
  • Some Doubt the Role Alcohol Plays: Statistics seem to indicate a connection between alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence, but some researchers question the cause-and-effect relationship. About Alcoholism, 6-24-04.
  • Zubretsky, Theresa M. and Karla M. Digirolamo. "The False Connection between Adult Domestic Violence and Alcohol." In Albert R. Roberts, (Ed.), Helping Battered Women. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.


  • 1. MacAndrew, C., and Edgerton R. Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation. Chicago, Illinois: Aldine, 1969.
  • 2. Room, R. The impossible dream? -- Routes to reducing alcohol problems in a temperate culture. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1992, 4, 91-106. P. 103.
  • 3. Hampton, S. Alcohol and Sexual Assault: The Connection
  • 4. Hampton, S. Alcohol and Sexual Assault: The Connection
  • 5. Marlatt, G. A., and Rosenow, D. J. The think-drink effect. Psychology Today, 1981, 15, 60-93.

Filed Under: Abuse