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Aggression Trait and Alcohol Consumption

Drinking and aggression do not always go hand in hand. Some people are able to drink to the point of intoxication without becoming aggressive while others are not.

Four researchers collaborated to study the effects of alcohol on aggression, and their findings will be published in the online Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Lead author Brad Bushman is a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, and co-authors include: Peter Giancola, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky; Dominic Parrott, associate professor of psychology at Georgia State University; and Robert Roth, associate professor of psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School.

The study found that one personality trait led to aggression: the inability or lessened ability to consider future actions. When drunk, the inability to focus on anything other than the here-and-now can lead persons to become more aggressive. In most cases, these aggressors are naturally aggressive people who do not often consider future consequences to their actions, but the effects of alcohol can decrease their forward-thinking ability even more, making them even more likely to become aggressive during intoxication and perhaps more in need of alcohol rehabilitation at a residential drug treatment center like Vista Taos in New Mexico.

To researcher Brad Bushman, the idea that alcohol can lead present-focused people to more aggressive behaviors makes sense, since alcohol has a “myopic effect.” By narrowing a person’s attention to the here-and-now, alcohol can lead to aggression. Someone who already has that tendency to ignore the future consequences of their actions could easily become aggressive when placed in a “hostile situation.”

495 adults participated in the study. The pool of participants included both men and women, and the average age of the participants was 23-years old. The study began by screening each participant’s history of alcohol abuse, psychosis, and drug abuse. Additionally, participants completed a survey that measured their levels of future-focus and present focus.

The survey, called the “Consideration of Future Consequences Scale,” matched participants with statements like “I only act to satisfy immediate concerns, figuring the future will take care of itself.” How they scored determined if each person was future-focused or present-focused. 

From there, researchers divided the total participants into two groups: one that would drink to drunkenness and another that would be tricked to consume little alcohol while thinking they had. To accomplish this, the researchers gave the alcohol group an orange juice/liquor drink at a 5:1 ratio. The control group received an orange juice with little alcohol in it and a rim doused in alcohol, to fool them into thinking they were consuming a full drink.

The test commenced when the alcohol group reached a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of 0.095 and continued to rise to 0.105. The placebo group never rose above 0.015 BAC. Each group was then given an electroshock competition test to measure the level of aggression portrayed by each participant.

In the test, the participants were told that they were competing against an opponent on a computer game. The participants were told that for each incorrect or slow answer in the competition, their competitor would deliver an electric shock to the loser. In reality, there were no opponents: researchers randomly chose when to shock the participants, and as the study continued, they shocked the participant for a longer period of time.

The intent in misleading the participants into thinking they were playing against a real opponent was to direct their aggression toward the opponent. As the “opponent” began to shock the participant for longer periods of time, the participant would begin to think the opponent was beginning an aggressive attack. Many reacted in kind, becoming more aggressive in response as the game continued. This response could potentially mean that alcoholics should consider checking into an alcohol rehabilitation program at a residential drug treatment center. 

However, the rise in aggression was much more obvious in the drunk and present-focused groups than any other group, leading researchers to conclude that present-focused people are much more likely to become aggressive while drunk. Researchers warn that those who are present-focused may need to watch their alcohol intake more closely. Present-focused people who suffer from alcoholism or drug addiction may also benefit from alcohol rehabilitation or residential drug treatment program.

Alcohol rehabilitation at a residential drug treatment center can be beneficial to all alcoholics, but for those who suffer from anger issues as derived from excessive drinking or from drug use, alcohol rehabilitation or residential drug treatment could very well save them from injury, jail, prison or even death.

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