Do alcohol and bad behaviors go together? Does drinking alcohol cause bad behaviors?
Control over Behavior
Intoxicated people have much greater control over their behavior than people think. For instance, in some societies people don’t believe that drunkness causes disinhibition. So in those societies, it never leads to bad behavior.1
Despite common lore, there’s no evidence that different kinds of alcohol elicit different moods. There is evidence our expectations heavily influence how alcohol transforms us.
Psychologist Alan Marlatt set up a fake bar at the University of Washington. He plied volunteer students with either real alcoholic drinks or taste-identical substitutes. Then he observed their behaviour. The students who drank a substitute thinking it was the real thing, felt, and behaved, as if they were really drunk. They were louder, flirting, standing up and feeling dizzy, despite being stone-cold sober.
Says Dr. Simon Adamson, senior lecturer at Otago University’s National Addiction Centre. “How people behave when they drink is not simply a result of the pharmacology. Some people will anticipate that they’re going to become agro [aggressive] when they drink. And the fact they tend to get into fights at the pub isn’t a surprise – that’s more than the effects of alcohol.”2
Drinking Alcohol and Bad Behaviors
Other research finds that when males falsely believe that they have been drinking alcohol, they tend to become more aggressive. And when men and women falsely believe they’ve been drinking alcohol, they have greater sexual arousal from erotica.
So it isn’t simply a case of “the alcohol made me do it.” Researchers asked volunteers to press a button when prompted by a computer screen. They were also instructed not to press it if a red light also appeared. Those who were given alcohol were more likely to press the button in spite of the red light. That’s just as a drunk is more likely to punch someone even if told to stop.
But when drinkers were offered a small reward, they performed as well as sober volunteers. The researchers conclude that people who have been drinking can control their behavior if they really want to.3
People around the world can control their behavior when drunk. The Lepcha people of the Himalayas tend to become sexually promiscuous when drunk. That behavior is fine when drunk.
Their incest taboo extends very far and extends to very distant relatives. And it’s highly complex and hard to learn. But violation of the incest taboo leads to certain death. No matter how drunk they become and how promiscuous they behave, they never violate that complex taboo. It’s simple. They don’t want to suffer a painful death. So they control their behavior no matter how drunk they become.4
Because alcohol doesn’t cause bad behavior it isn’t a legitimate excuse for it.
In short, bad behavior isn’t the fault of the alcohol but of the person.
Footnotes: Alcohol and Bad Behaviors
1. MacAndrew, C., and Edgerton R. Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation.
2. Shepheard, N. Exploding the myths about alcohol. New Zealand Herald, Oct 14, 2017.
3. Grattan, K., and Vogel-Sprott, M. Neurobiological, behavioral, and environmental relations to drinking – maintaining intentional control of behavior under alcohol, Alco Clin Exper Res, 25(2),192-197.
4 . MacAndrew, C., and Edgerton, R., op cit.