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Several models have been proposed to explain the complex relationships between violence or aggression and alcohol consumption.
To avoid exposing human or animal subjects to potentially serious injury, research results discussed below are largely based on experiments on nonphysical aggression.
Other studies involving humans are based on epidemiological surveys or data obtained from archival or official sources. Alcohol may encourage aggression or violence by disrupting normal brain function.
According to the disinhibition hypothesis, for example, alcohol weakens brain mechanisms that normally restrain impulsive behaviors, including inappropriate aggression (5).
Widom and colleagues (17) found no relationship between childhood victimization and subsequent alcohol misuse in men.
Even children who only witness family violence may learn to imitate the roles of aggressors or victims, setting the stage for alcohol abuse and violence to persist over generations (18).
However, subjects rarely increased their aggression unless they felt threatened or provoked.
Moreover, neither intoxicated nor sober participants administered painful stimuli when nonaggressive means of communication (e.g., a signal lamp) were also available (5,9).
Type II alcoholism is characterized by high heritability from father to son; early onset of alcoholism (often during adolescence); and antisocial, sometimes violent, behavioral traits (24).
By impairing information processing, alcohol can also lead a person to misjudge social cues, thereby overreacting to a perceived threat (6).
Simultaneously, a narrowing of attention may lead to an inaccurate assessment of the future risks of acting on an immediate violent impulse (7).
These results are consistent with the real-world observation that intoxication alone does not cause violence (4).
The following subsections explore some mechanisms whereby alcohol's direct effects may interact with other factors to influence the expression of aggression. Alcohol consumption may promote aggression because people expect it to (5). This cause may be a temperamental trait, such as a risk-seeking personality, or a social environment (e.g., delinquent peers or lack of parental supervision) that encourages or contributes to deviant behavior (21). Another example of a common cause relates to the frequent co-occurrence of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) and early-onset (i.e., type II) alcoholism (23). Understanding the nature of these associations is essential to breaking the cycle of alcohol misuse and violence. Alcohol and interpersonal violence: Less than meets the eye.