Neuroscience / Psychology

Why does alcohol make some people violent?

Alcohol-fuelled violence has been getting a lot of media attention here in Australia. Just yesterday, the state government of New South Wales passed legislation to try to address the problem. The new laws will ensure mandatory 8-year prison terms for anyone convicted of fatally punching someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs (the so-called ‘one-punch law’) and implementation of bar and club lock-outs in specific districts in Sydney.

The idea behind mandatory sentencing is obviously that it will act as some kind of deterrent for people amped up on booze. But research into what’s going on in the minds of people who are prone to alcohol-fuelled violence — and it’s far from everyone — suggests that taking stock of the situation and weighing the consequences is far from easy for these people.

It turns out that subtle differences in the way that our brains are wired (due to both genetics and early life experiences) are part of the explanation. But personality and social norms can also play a role. I wrote an article for ABC Health & Wellbeing on the science behind why some people, and not others, are prone to lashing out when their blood alcohol level climbs. Check it out here.

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