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Why do I get so angry when I drink?
September 17, 2009 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Why do I get so angry when I drink?

Every time I drink around my boyfriend, I behave very poorly. I get upset over nothing and end up berating him for things that aren't his fault and things that he can do nothing to change. For awhile I was getting upset over his sexual history. I vowed to never do it again, but last night I ranted at him for being a white male who has it easy. I also probably said a lot of other things too. I go on tirades for hours, no joke. I don't do this when I'm sober (although I do get bothered by things, I would never behave like this normally). He's made every effort to rationalize with me about things that upset me-it isn't like he tries to shut me down. We have a good relationship otherwise and talk about our problems very frankly.

I know that it needs to change and I'm not looking for DTMFA answers. I have a therapist through school and I'll definitely be talking to her about it when school starts again. I just want to know why it only bubbles to the surface when I've been drinking. I had a pretty messed up childhood and I'm sure that has something to do with it. I was just able to admit to myself that I'm angry about things in general. Will I be able to get over this? What is happening to me? It feels scary because I don't feel like myself when it's happening and I don't like who I turn into.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (46 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Dump the motherfucking alcohol.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:20 PM on September 17, 2009 [66 favorites]


Alcohol lowers inhibitions. It's lowering the inhibitions you have about talking about certain issues. You either need to start talking about those issues when you're sober or you need to stop drinking.
posted by rtha at 12:22 PM on September 17, 2009 [26 favorites]


2nd'ed.
posted by booknerd at 12:22 PM on September 17, 2009


Some people are Bad Drunks. Sounds like you're one of them The only cure for being a Bad Drunk is to not be a Drunk at all. Stop drinking, at least for awhile. Problem solved.
posted by dersins at 12:22 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


So, how much drink are we talking about? If you are getting like this when you get rip roaring drunk, why were you so wasted on a Wednesday and so often as to make this a relationship problem?

If you get this way with a single glass of wine at dinner. Well then. Hope school starts soon.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:24 PM on September 17, 2009


I have a therapist through school and I'll definitely be talking to her about it when school starts again.

If there's any way to afford it, I'd recommend a therapist outside of school. Serious therapy is the best way to answer the question of why you get angry when you're drunk.

But until then, you probably ought to stop drinking.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:27 PM on September 17, 2009


Why do I get so angry when I drink?

Because alcohol has that effect on some people, and you happen to be one of them.

If you don't like the way you act when you drink, then don't drink.
posted by The World Famous at 12:31 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't like the way I think and behave when I drink in bars. Consequently, I almost never have more than one drink when I'm out socially. The times that I do, I almost always regret it afterward.

If a simple adjustment in your behavior, such as not drinking, will help you avoid predictable problems in your relationship, I recommend you try it. If you find that you can't or that it doesn't seem worthwhile to you, then I definitely recommend you reassess the sustainability of your relationships with alcohol and your boyfriend, respectively.
posted by hermitosis at 12:32 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, in my experience angry drunk is sort of like PMS - the things I get upset about are quite probably things that annoy me "in real life", but are too inhibited or polite to talk about normally.

You say that you berate him for being a white male who has it easy. This is definitely a truism, but why does it bother you? Is this just a cover for something else that's going bad in your life that you don't want to think about? (I do this all the time - yell at my spouse for making a mess, when I'm really mad because I hate my job, and so on) Is there something specific that makes you think his white maleness is a problem for you?
posted by muddgirl at 12:33 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're an angry drunk. Some people just are. The cure is to stop drinking.
posted by HotToddy at 12:33 PM on September 17, 2009


Umm, wow. I hesitate to use the word real here, but aside from pathological intoxication (which does not seem to apply to you), it isn't that you turn into someone else, it's that the layers of inhibition are no longer compressing what is underneath. What comes to the surface is still you.

Most of the angry drunks I knew were hostile under the surface, if you knew what to look for. The weepy drunks were sad (whether self-pitying or fixated on a real issue) but they hid it when sober. The people who are more or less the same when drinking, though a bit clumsier and sweatier, are the ones who generally hide the least.

The things which bother you when drunk are the things which bother you when sober, but you are not expressing them.

It sounds like the therapy deal is the right track, since you are getting to the root of the problem. Repressing things that bother you constantly can't be great for you, either, so while ceasing to drink would remove the current symptoms and is a good short-term strategy, it could potentially lead to your latent anger manifesting in other ways if you avoid therapy.
posted by adipocere at 12:35 PM on September 17, 2009 [12 favorites]


Cutting out the alcohol will only be a bandaid to the deeper problem, which is that you have a bunch of stuff that you're angry about and don't know how to express that anger so you repress it instead. When you start therapy, make sure you address how you get angry when you drink, but also the specific TOPICS that are making you angry.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:37 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Every point I wanted to make here about anger and drinking has already been made and expressed more eloquently than I could ever manage.

I will second this point, though: If there's any way to afford it, I'd recommend a therapist outside of school.

I had therapists provided by my college and I wasn't awfully impressed by them; their main job seemed to be damage control. They were there to make sure that you didn't have an embarrassing breakdown, act out in a way that might get the college in legal trouble or drop out of school and deprive them of tuition money. They didn't provide me with the deeper therapy I needed.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:38 PM on September 17, 2009


Hey there, fellow Bad Drinker. Like you, I go all Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde when I drink. I would get all angry, piss people off, get kicked out, cry, drunk dial people, make an ass of myself, you name it.

You know what I had to do? Quit drinking. It sucked a bit at first, but now it's great. People enjoy going out with me.
posted by unixrat at 12:43 PM on September 17, 2009


Good for you for identifying the problem. I had an ex-GF that was just like you described, and I don't think she had your self awareness. Emphasis on the EX in ex-girlfriend.

Here's my observation: you have a drinking problem. You may not be an alcoholic, but you have a personality issue when you drink. A problem. A drinking problem. Tell yourself that a few times.

People with drinking problems should not be drinking. It really is not the be all and end all to a social life (and if it is in your circle, you need a new circle--regardless of your reaction to booze).

Again, good on you for recognizing your drinking problem. I wish you luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:44 PM on September 17, 2009 [4 favorites]



If there's any way to afford it, I'd recommend a therapist outside of school. Serious therapy is the best way to answer the question of why you get angry when you're drunk.

But until then, you probably ought to stop drinking.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:27 PM on September 17 [+] [!]


I went to two years of therapy "through school" and it was a Professional who they contracted to, so I wouldn't jump to the conclusion this isn't a "real" therapist. However, if it's not, definitely get one - just from your "messed up childhood" comment. A lot of trauma from childhood can manifest in surprising ways.

Nthing easing up - find your limit and don't drink past it (ie don't get wasted, just enjoy some tipsiness if you can).

I have had similar situations where I feel awful the next day about things I said, or am surprised at how angry I was - it feels awful to know I was running off at the mouth about stupid shit. It's hard to know what triggers what, but suffice it to say the easiest way to "solve" this is to stop drinking and talk to a therapist.
posted by smartypantz at 12:46 PM on September 17, 2009


"You know the bottle ain't to blame and I ain't trying to.
It don't make you do a thing, it just lets you."
--Drive-By Truckers, "Women Without Whiskey"

I tend to be a surly drunk, too. I think in my case it's because booze gives me temporary permission to project my personal shortcomings on others and thus gives my anger an external focus. It's a great way to lose friends and alienate people.

People who are happy with themselves and their lot tend to be happy drunks. People with bottled-up anger and self-loathing tend to be shouty mean drunks. YMMV
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:49 PM on September 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's possible you shouldn't drink around your current boyfriend. It's possible you shouldn't drink at all. But the one thing you most assuredly shouldn't do is nothing. Your anger, whether expressed or held inside, is clearly not going away. Your claim that "[w]e have a good relationship otherwise" is just you trying to convince yourself that this is so. Think of your anger as a wedge stuck in a log, everytime you hit it, the split gets bigger. Until you remove the wedge, nothing is going to get better.

Seeing a therapist is something you should do immediately, and I second jason's_planet's recommendation to go outside of school. You want someone who has your health as a their primary motivation and not lawsuit prevention.
posted by tommasz at 12:52 PM on September 17, 2009


Extending on what BOP said, I used to be an angry drunk in college. I dealt with a lot of my issues of inadequacy, self-esteem, and anger-at-the-world and now I'm generally a much happier drunk.
posted by muddgirl at 12:53 PM on September 17, 2009


Although cutting out the booze altogether is likely to be the best suggestion, have to tried to see if there's any pattern between your behaviour and what you drink, as well as how much?

Different types of drink have different effects on people - gin makes some people maudlin, whisky makes others aggressive.
Obviously (perhaps) mixing different types of drink is bad - stick to one sort (e.g. wine or beer or spirits).
Similarly obvious, drinking quickly can exaggerate the effects of drinking, as does drinking on an empty stomach.

Doing this kind of experimentation needs time, patience and an understanding partner; if you don't have these, then just stop drinking. Easier said than done, though...
posted by Chunder at 12:56 PM on September 17, 2009


Setting aside whether you should quit drinking (probably you should) I would like to disagree with many posters who claim that you are at heart an angry person, and that this is why you get pissed when pissed.

Drinking can bring out certain repressed sides of people, or it can bring out the sides that do the repressing. So happy drunks could be clamping down on depression by pumping up their jovial sides, and angry drunks could be getting angry because that helps them forget to be depressed. Don't take it as a sign that you're actually a jerk. You may just be unable to stop yrself from becoming one when booze brings on the sad music. Good luck, go see a therapist.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:57 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


"A drunk man's words are a sober man's thoughts"

In other words, you're angry about lots of things, as you've admitted. It seems as though you're not good at dealing with this anger, so you bottle it up. When you get drunk, those inhibitions are released and you go on a tirade.

Alcohol is not the problem here, although it couldn't hurt to take a break. You need to deal with the situations in your life that cause you to have so much pent-up rage in the first place..
posted by chrisamiller at 12:58 PM on September 17, 2009


Own up to what you've said. What of the terrible things you've said are partially true about how you frame things internally? Whether or not you want to hold your boyfriend responsible for certain things, is part of you holding him responsible? Read Adipocere's comment carefully - it applies.

Alcoholism doesn't just set in in old smelly men. *Lots* of college students suffer from it and don't seek appropriate help until they wreck their lives. You may not be an alcoholic, but you may be one. If you are one, its better to find out now and learn how to spend the rest of your life with minimal/no alcohol. If you aren't one, then its time to start being honest with yourself and talking about how you feel about your relationship with your boyfriend.

Consider that maybe part of you wants to be in a different relationship or wants to change the terms of your relationship. Definitely talk to someone about getting a non-school appointed therapist (decent health coverage should cover some mental health visits minus copay.).
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:58 PM on September 17, 2009


I would tend to agree with most people here that the alcohol is probably amplifying feelings you already have, but are able to keep more in check when sober. You really need to get to the root of the anger. I was an angry drunk sometimes -- usually when I was drinking to escape some sort of anxiety or fear. If I drank to celebrate, I was usually a happy drunk, but when it was "FUCK THIS SHIT, GIMME A BEER," the anger jut bubbled right on up.

I quit drinking first, then dealt with the other shit, but that was because I had become dependent on alcohol. You may not be at that stage yet, but you might aught to pull back on the booze while you sort it out, especially if you love your boyfriend.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:01 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alcohol is not the problem here, although it couldn't hurt to take a break. You need to deal with the situations in your life that cause you to have so much pent-up rage in the first place..

Truth, truth, truth.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:01 PM on September 17, 2009


For me, whenever I turn into Crazy Angry Drunk it's because I'm upset about something that I let fester for a long time without talking about it. However, this has only happened about four times in my entire relationship, the fact that it's happening every time you drink means you should probably stop drinking or get a better sense of your limits. You say you get bothered by these things when you're sober, but are you talking about them with your boyfriend or just repressing them? It's good that you're in therapy, but I also think you need to learn how to discuss these things that bother you with your boyfriend when you're sober, so it doesn't build up to a drunken explosion.
posted by Shesthefastest at 1:02 PM on September 17, 2009


The problem is that you're too disinhibited while you drink. The obvious solution is to smoke a j with your drinks, thus re-inhibiting yourself back to the sweet spot where you're not all fighty.
posted by mullingitover at 1:03 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The obvious solution is to smoke a j with your drinks, thus re-inhibiting yourself back to the sweet spot where you're not all fighty.

Yeah, that's what I thought, too. Then I was forced to start dealing with my problems head-on instead of ignoring them by self-medication (when I took a job that does random drug tests). Worked out a lot better for me in the end - I wasn't a very pleasant stoner, either.
posted by muddgirl at 1:07 PM on September 17, 2009


Different types of drink have different effects on people - gin makes some people maudlin, whisky makes others aggressive.

The active ingredient in alcohol is alcohol.
posted by ook at 1:16 PM on September 17, 2009 [12 favorites]


This might not be strictly psychological, although you should certainly investigate that if you're worried.

In some people, rapid intake of alcohol leads to a short-lived but powerful spike in testosterone levels in the bloodstream and brain. I've seen it suggested that this testosterone spike is largely responsible for a lot of the stereotypical side-effects of drinking: increased arseyness (alpha (fe)male behaviour), increased anger/aggression, horniness, etc. The exact effect will vary between people, based on their genes and current hormonal makeup. So sex will play a big role and, for women, you'd also expect where you are in your menstrual cycle (or hormonal birth control cycle) to have an effect.

So, yeah, one possibility is that you're just someone who gets a big testosterone spike from drinking alcohol. Combined with the poor judgement that everyone gets, this could make you really argumentative.

It is possible to monitor testosterone levels by testing saliva samples. It's very easy to do in a lab setting (and I've seen some people in a documentary taking sample swabs while drinking in a bar), but I've no idea where you'd get the kit from, or even if it could be useful for a non-scientist.
posted by metaBugs at 1:16 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Different types of drink have different effects on people...

Very true. I have one friend who goes wacko on clear spirits while another does so on dark liquors (oh my...no Mount Gay Rum for Steve!).

Doing this kind of experimentation needs time, patience and an understanding partner...

Good advice!
posted by ericb at 1:16 PM on September 17, 2009


Have your boyfriend covertly tape record you when you reach the tirade point of drunkenness. (you won't remember the request--you're drunk!) Play it back when you sober up. That might enlighten you to the areas you need to address in therapy, and the atrocious reality of it will help you become a teetotaler on a deeper, more subconscious level.
It sure helped me!
posted by Acacia at 1:18 PM on September 17, 2009


The "different liquors affect people differently" is a simply a confirmation bias. If you drink whiskey when you're feeling grumpy, you'll get angry. If you drink tequila while partying, you'll take your clothes off. It doesn't mean whiskey makes people angry, it means people (at least the people you know) drink whiskey to get angry.

Anyway, alcohol doesn't make anyone do anything. It is generally a depressant in a broad categorization, and reduces inhibitions, but that's about it. If you're getting angry while drunk, it means that you're angry in some degree while sober, and just letting it out while drunk.

Part of what you need to do is work on your anger while sober, so you bring less of it to the drink. The second part is to tell yourself that alcohol is a "happy drug," and approach it only in happy times like parties or hanging out with friends. Don't drink to drown sorrows or to handle bad shit. Learn to re-associate alcohol with fun times, and you'll be more relaxed when you drink.
posted by explosion at 1:33 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem is not whether or not you're angry, or why you do this, why it only happens when you're drinking, or any other thing. Your feelings are not the priority. They are not the problem.

The problem is that you are abusing your boyfriend every time you drink.

Do you want to abuse your boyfriend?

No?

Then stop drinking.

Everything else can come after you have achieved this.
posted by kathrineg at 1:46 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


And, frankly, it doesn't matter if you're angry when sober but not expressing it. That's a good thing. We don't have to act on all of our feelings, especially when those feelings tell us to scream at someone for hours on end.
posted by kathrineg at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2009


I'd like to point out that while I always consider therapy a healthy option, I don't necessarily think you're repressing anger by not drinking.

When we get these irrationally angry thoughts while sober, we don't necessarily bottle them up -- often we rationalize them. We think about them clearly and remind ourselves why those feelings are inaccurate or unfair. When you're drinking, suddenly the rational mind isn't so quick on the job, and feelings make it to the surface that would normally have been disintegrated before they ever got that far.

Maybe you do repress your angry feelings, and if so you should work on that. But I don't think you'll necessarily go from being an angry drunk to a repressed sober person if you dry up.
posted by hermitosis at 1:48 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Anger is a strong emotion of displeasure caused by some type of grievance that is either real or perceived to be real by a person. The cognitive behavior theory attributes anger to several factors such as past experiences, behavior learned from others, genetic predispositions, and a lack of problem-solving ability. To put it more simply, anger is caused by a combination of two factors: an irrational perception of reality (“It has to be done my way”) and a low frustration point (“It’s my way or no way”). Anger is an internal reaction that is perceived to have a external cause. Angry people almost always blame their reactions on some person or some event, but rarely do they realize that the reason they are angry is because of their irrational perception of the world. Angry people have a certain perception and expectation of the world that they live in and when that reality does not meet their expectation of it, then they become angry.

Alcohol may encourage anger by disrupting normal brain function. According to the disinhibition hypothesis, for example, alcohol weakens brain mechanisms that normally restrain impulsive behaviors, including inappropriate aggression. By impairing information processing, alcohol can also lead a person to misjudge social cues, thereby overreacting to a perceived threat. Simultaneously, a narrowing of attention may lead to an inaccurate assessment of the future risks of acting on an immediate impulse.

However, intoxication alone does not cause anger. See this study about the affects of alcohol on anger, aggression and violence.

Some common means of anger management include relaxation, cognitive restructuring, problem solving, better communication, using humor, changing your environment, and simply easing up on yourself. [more]
posted by netbros at 1:49 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's been said, but I'm going to repeat it because I am so puzzled: if you don't like the way you act when you're not sober, then why are you drinking? I'm honestly curious why you're looking for a solution to fix your drunken behavior, when it seems the simpler answer is just to stay sober.
posted by larsks at 1:49 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. I don't have a whole lot to add--the rest of these comments are really great--but I'm commenting because a good friend of mine was going through such a similar situation that I thought you might be her. The thing that gave it away is that your boyfriend is a white male; her's is not. Another thing that gave it away? He's no longer her boyfriend. He broke up with her because of this exact situation. It was a good thing for her because it was the wake-up call she needed. She stopped drinking the next day and hasn't had a drink since.

I wish you the best and sincerely hope this is something you can work through. Her situation was a result of a lot of repressed memories and stuff she'd never dealt with and she's in therapy now and doing much better. So there is hope, but like everyone else is saying, you should probably stop drinking until you've worked out what the real issue is.
posted by a.steele at 1:49 PM on September 17, 2009


I had a pretty messed up childhood and I'm sure that has something to do with it.

I had a really shitty childhood too, and I don't want you to think that I'm picking on you when I say this:

You need to do your best to focus on your actions today and in the future. Your past already happened and you can't change it. It's okay to be angry, sad, frustrated about that, but you can't live your life in the past. You have to be the best person you can be right now.

You will encounter people, friends, therapists, articles, and books that will encourage you to use your childhood as an excuse for destructive behavior. Don't let them take your agency away from you. You are your own person and you are responsible for your own behavior. It is a beautiful thing, to be free and done with your childhood! Don't waste it.
posted by kathrineg at 1:57 PM on September 17, 2009 [10 favorites]


You need to do your best to focus on your actions today and in the future. Your past already happened and you can't change it. It's okay to be angry, sad, frustrated about that, but you can't live your life in the past. You have to be the best person you can be right now.

You will encounter people, friends, therapists, articles, and books that will encourage you to use your childhood as an excuse for destructive behavior. Don't let them take your agency away from you. You are your own person and you are responsible for your own behavior. It is a beautiful thing, to be free and done with your childhood! Don't waste it.
(kathrineg)

Quoted for truth!
posted by ocherdraco at 2:01 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


What comes to the surface is still you.

Possibly true and possibly it's just a sensitivity to the ingredients. I am a miserable drunk when I drink tequila. It turns out I'm miserable when I eat agave sweetened ice cream, too. It was the agave, not the alcohol. (Also, coffee, whether decaf or caf. Diet Coke? No problem.)

I've known a few people who were angry drunks with wheat-based things but not rum, etc. I have a friend allergic to juniper, which makes gin a bad bad thing for him.

I'm not saying you don't have underlying anger problems- I almost think more peope do than don't (that's probably confirmation bias) but it's not ALWAYS the alcohol.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:24 PM on September 17, 2009


You may have been my wife five years ago. Serious therapy with a highly qualified psychiatrist who specializes in treating her condition sorted it out for her, but it didn't sort *us* out - that could only happen after she was receiving the treatment and outside support she needed to see what was going on and learn to manage it. You need that too and it probably isn't going to come from a non-medically trained counselor who specializes in dealing with a revolving door of college students.

As kathrineg points out, you are abusing your boyfriend when you drink. Where I might differ is acknowledging the strength of the hold that past environments and experiences may have on your current behavior. If you don't know how to make the change, or what needs changed, you aren't going to self-empower yourself out of it.

If you do want to work things out with this person, you need to stop drinking if that is what triggers the abuse. That has to happen right now. I say this because your boyfriend is human and you have no idea what sort of damage you are doing to your relationship (or him). He may not know either. The longer you create a hostile environment for him, the greater you diminish the chance that you two will build a sound relationship. You will eventually drive him to leave (once he wises up that things aren't going to change), or worse, to violence himself.
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:29 PM on September 17, 2009


And, frankly, it doesn't matter if you're angry when sober but not expressing it. That's a good thing. We don't have to act on all of our feelings, especially when those feelings tell us to scream at someone for hours on end.

There are healthy and productive ways to express anger, frustration, and negative feelings other than "to scream at someone for hours on end". I like to develop and deliver humorous rants. My spouse likes to exercise and work things out internally while listening to loud, up-beat britpop. Neither of us get drunk and scream at anyone.

Also, I don't necessarily think she's ignoring anger that only comes out when she's drunk. I suspect she's suppressing something that is manifesting itself as anger. There's a huge difference.
posted by muddgirl at 2:34 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are two possibilities: you have a bunch of nasty issues/aspects to your personalty that booze lets off the leash. Resolve those and you won't have a drinking problem.

The second is that alcohol has a negative effect. Some people react badly, even if they're genuinely happy, healthy people. If you're one of those people, you should lay off drinking.
posted by rodgerd at 7:11 PM on September 17, 2009


As a curiosity, I wonder if your drinking certain alcohol gives off different "personalities?" (and I wonder why does this happen in people).

For my husband:

beer makes him just a little bit annoying (babbling)
wine a little more annoying, loud, and a touch of whiney
hard liquor/sakke (as in a LOT sakke)--a really, really, really mean and horrible asshole. I told him if he chooses to drink hard liquor, don't come home.

For me I only drink wine. Wine makes the experience into a therapy session and I start getting way too emotional. (hellooo annoying drama). This is why I stick with 1-2 glasses and shut up or be in a crowd where I'm with people who understand.

I agree with the rest--stop drinking and go to a therapist to find out the issues.
posted by stormpooper at 11:14 AM on September 18, 2009


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