Home / The Physical & Psychological Effects of Alcohol / Fighting When You Are Drunk

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 87 percent of adults, 18 and older, had ever consumed alcohol in their lifetime; just over 70 percent reported that they drank alcohol at least once in the past year; and 56 percent reported that they drank alcohol in the past month. Since more than half of adults drink alcohol regularly, many people are at risk of problem drinking behaviors, including binge drinking, heavy drinking, and alcohol use disorder.

NIAAA found that 26.9 percent of American adults reported binge drinking in the month before the survey; binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks in two hours for women, and five or more drinks in two hours for men. Seven percent reported drinking heavily, which is more than 14 drinks per week for men, and more than seven drinks per week for women. Additionally, about 16 million Americans, ages 12 and older, struggle with alcohol use disorder, when problem drinking leads to compulsive behaviors and physical dependence on alcohol.

The Many Problems Caused by Alcohol

An estimated 88,000 people die every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), due to alcohol-related issues. These include alcohol poisoning, drunk driving car accidents, cancer, and liver failure. However, millions more suffer from mood swings, accidents, or aggression related to alcohol use.

Many people who drink too much become victims of violence. Sometimes, people who experience mood swings because of drinking become aggressive and get into physical fights; this is a very bad idea, because alcohol can cause physical side effects that make physical encounters riskier. For many people, the risk of becoming aggressive and getting into a fight is higher when they are drunk.

General physical effects from drinking alcohol, especially to excess, are outlined below.

  • Cardiovascular: Drinking alcohol and becoming drunk increases blood pressure and heart rate, which may cause problems for people with existing heart issues; over time, this can cause chronic high blood pressure, cause drooping in the heart muscle, damage veins and arteries, and increase the risk of strokes or heart attacks.
  • Digestive: Alcohol damages the stomach and intestines; it can cause pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, which can become chronic. Alcohol can also cause ulcers and increases the risk of stomach cancer.
  • Brain: Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it leads to relaxation and slower firing between neurons. This slows down a person’s cognition and reaction time, and leads to sleepiness, lowered inhibitions and poor judgment, memory lapses, loss of physical coordination, and even blackouts. Mood swings are a short-term effect of drinking too much, and if a person drinks too much chronically, they are at risk of inducing mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.
  • Liver: Too much alcohol changes how the liver processes the substance and can add fat to the liver. The drink can also inflame the liver and kill cells there, causing alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver failure, and even liver cancer if it is abused for a long time.

If a person gets into an altercation while drunk, they may not have the presence of mind to get out of the physical altercation. They may choose to fight back when they might not make this choice while sober. They are at greater risk of suffering physical harm in the fight because of slowed reflexes, balance problems, and blurry or double vision, and they are likely to experience more serious harm because of how alcohol changes the body.

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Why Fighting and Alcohol Do Not Mix

  • Poor judgment and mood swings: People who drink too much lower their inhibitions, which can lead to poor judgment. Combined with the risk of mood swings, from excitement or happiness to sadness, irritability, and anger or aggression, this increases the risk of making poor decisions based on intense mood. This can lead to verbal outbursts, physical aggression toward others, and an increased risk of aggression toward oneself, leading to suicide.The CDC reported in 2009 that one in four people who committed suicide met the legal requirements for being considered drunk at the time of their death; their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.08 percent, when a person is not legally allowed to drive because reaction times are so slow. The CDC also found that one-third of those who committed suicide had some alcohol in their blood, even if they were not drunk. This suggests that even a moderate amount of alcohol can change emotions and behaviors, which may lead to verbal or physical aggression.
  • Poor reaction time: An older report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) examined data from 109 research studies on alcohol’s effects on reaction time related to driving. There were various problems associated with a reported BAC of 0.08 percent or less.
    • Reaction time: Reaction to an object that appeared in the visual field was disrupted with a BAC as low as 0.02 percent, and for most people, reaction time was consistently and dangerously slowed at 0.06 percent.
    • Divided attention: Alcohol made it harder to focus on two or more tasks at the same time and make decisions about them. This includes focusing on the road and checking in with peripheral vision, or watching and listening at the same time. Some studies showed that participants struggled with multitasking with a BAC as low as 0.005 percent.
    • Vigilance: This was considered the level of alertness or watchfulness given to an object or task while driving. Vigilance for pedestrians and other vehicles was impaired with a BAC as low as 0.03 percent.
    • Tracking: This involved maintaining relative position on the correct side of the road. This skill is extremely alcohol-sensitive, being affected in some studies’ participants with BACs as low as 0.005 percent.
    • Perception: Also known as sensory processing, perception involves picking out sounds and visual signals and prioritizing, subconsciously, how to react to them. NHTSA survey found that participants were consistently affected with BACs at 0.04 percent.
    • Drowsiness: Feeling tired or sleepy can affect reaction time, and when alcohol is involved, this problem is compounded. Impairment began with a BAC, for many, of 0.01 percent.

BAC of 0.08 percent represents about two drinks in just over one hour. The liver can process about one serving alcohol every hour, depending on age, gender, body weight, and other individual factors. These issues with perception and response time can affect how a person acts in a fight.

  • Double vision: The medical term for double vision is diplopia, and alcohol is one of the causes of this condition. When diplopia is induced by an intoxicating substance like alcohol, it is temporary, lasting only as long as the drug affects brain chemistry. Because alcohol is a CNS depressant, it slows signaling between neurons, including those that process visual input. The eye cannot track objects as quickly, and the visual input from both eyes is not processed as effectively, so depth perception is affected, and the brain processes images without overlapping them completely.Between changes in how the eyes move and how the brain processes visual cues, this can cause the person to experience double vision. If a person gets into a physical altercation, vision problems make self-defense harder because reality is not perceived accurately.
  • Thin blood: Some studies suggest that a moderate amount of alcohol – six drinks per week, for most people – can act as an anticoagulant the same way a regular dose of aspirin works. If a person has a risk of blood clots, this may be beneficial, but alcohol should never be consumed as a blood thinner; if one needs anticoagulants for a medical condition, they should work with a physician to manage the issue, not self-medicate. Alcohol does cause the blood to get thinner, which can make injuries bleed more profusely, especially from arteries. It also increases the risk of a stroke if the person suffers a head injury during a fight or from a fall.
  • Numbness to pain: Drinking a lot of alcohol dramatically slows the brain’s response to a lot of stimuli, including pain. While alcohol does not bind to any pain receptors in the brain, the changes in neurochemistry affect how the person experiences physical pain. However, NIAAA found that moderate levels of drinking do not have an analgesic effect; the person must drink past that point and become intoxicated to experience reduced pain sensations. However, this is dangerous for both acute and chronic reasons. If the person gets into a fight or an accident, they may not know how injured they are, which means they may not seek medical treatment right away.
  • Legal problems: Poor judgment, memory loss, and blackouts can cause a variety of legal problems. The person is at greater risk of becoming a victim of violence, including robbery or assault; they may choose to drive when they are beyond the 0.08 percent legal limit, which is more likely to cause an accident; and they may get into a serious fight with a stranger, a friend, or an intimate partner. The World Health Organization (WHO) has found, through multiple studies, that drinking alcohol increases the risk of domestic and intimate partner violence all over the world. It also exacerbates problems like financial difficulties; child endangerment and childcare issues; infidelity risks, including contracting a sexually transmitted infection; and other family stressors. In the US, WHO found that victims of intimate partner abuse believed their partners had consumed alcohol 55 percent of the time prior to physical assault.


In the US, assault is a crime that can lead to jail time and other consequences. Driving under the influence is also a legal problem, which may force a person into a rehabilitation program in some states, depending on the individual’s BAC at the time of arrest.
Getting into a fight is never a good idea, but getting into a fight when drunk can result in serious problems. If a person regularly drinks to excess, physical, behavioral, and emotional problems will worsen. It is important to get help from an evidence-based rehabilitation program to address the issue of problem drinking.