Theorists have argued that serotonin is involved, in part,
in the inhibition of behavior. As such, it may be that alcohol
affects the serotonin system in such a manner as to impair
its ability to properly inhibit behavior, including aggression.
Pertinently, there is some evidence to show that low serotonin
may affect aggression by interfering with ECF. Acute alcohol
consumption leads to an initial increase, and then decrease,
of serotonin, which may promote aggression. Others have argued
that the serotonin-depleting effect of alcohol may be more
profound in some people. However, these explanations are highly
speculative because laboratory studies show that alcohol's
aggression-inducing effects occur quite quickly, that is,
when serotonin levels are supposedly still rising. In fact,
a recent study indicated that a given blood alcohol level
is more likely to cause aggression when the blood alcohol
concentration is rising (shortly after consuming a few drinks)
as opposed to when it is falling (during the detoxification
process). Based on this, it is clear that a great deal of
research is still needed to elucidate the complex interactions
of alcohol and serotonin in the expression of aggressive behavior.
In addition, it has been suggested that alcohol may also facilitate
aggression through its effects on brain receptors for another
neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It is believed
that alcohol acts at the same receptor complex as sedative
drugs, such as the benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium, Xanax).
Laboratory studies and clinical reports indicate that these
"sedatives" actually tend to facilitate aggressive
reactions by reducing anxiety, including fear of punishment.
GABA functions, in part, to suppress fearful responses to
punishment and fear-related cues. Alcohol increases chloride
transmission at the GABA receptor complex, which augments
GABA neurotransmission and thus may facilitate aggression
by reducing fear.
Alcohol, the Person, and the Situation | I have neglected
to discuss social and contextual factors, although they are
clearly important determinants of whether alcohol will, or
will not, facilitate aggression. Even a high-risk profile
for alcohol-induced aggression will generate aggression only
in certain contexts. However, because more research has been
conducted on social and situational influences than on person
or trait variables, I have stressed the development of risk
profiles for alcohol-related aggression that focus on the
person. To summarize, people with low ECF, strong beliefs
that alcohol increases aggression, high dispositional aggressivity,
a heavy (or possibly light) drinking history, high testosterone,
or low serotonin levels, or any combination of these traits,
will be more likely to exhibit aggression under the influence
of alcohol than those without these vulnerabilities.
It should be made clear that the risk factors described here
do not comprise an exhaustive list. Other traits that are
potentially important include age, perspective-taking, self-awareness,
negative affect, temperament, emotionality, sensation seeking,
anxiety, irritability, hostility, frustration tolerance, impulsivity,
psychopathology, early physical abuse, perceived self-esteem,
tolerance and sensitivity to alcohol, and physiological reactivity
to stress. There is no single risk profile for intoxicated
aggression. Identifying key vulnerabilities is important because
it will provide researchers with a better understanding of
the causal structure of the alcohol-aggression relation. With
such an understanding, scientists will be in a better position
to develop effective prevention and treatment interventions.
Cherek, D. 1981. Effects of smoking different doses of nicotine
on human aggressive behavior. Psychopharmacology 75: 339-345.
Chermack, S., and P. Giancola. 1997. The relationship between
alcohol and aggression: An integrated biopsychosocial approach.
Clinical Psychology Review 6: 621-649.
Giancola, P., and S. Chermack. 1998. Construct validity of
laboratory aggression paradigms: A response to Tedeschi and
Quigley (1996). Aggression and Violent Behavior 3: 237-253.
Pernanen, K. 1991. Alcohol in Human Violence. New York: Guilford
Roizen, J. 1993. Issues in the epidemiology of alcohol and
violence. In S. Martin (ed.) Alcohol and Interpersonal Violence:
Fostering Multidisciplinary Perspectives (NIAAA research monograph
No. 24, NIH Publication No. 93-3496, pp. 3-36). Rockville,
MD: U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Taylor, S. 1967. Aggressive behavior and physiological arousal
as a function of provocation and the tendency to inhibit aggression.
Journal of Personality 35: 297-310.
1 | 2
| 3 | back to TOC