Alcohol and violence

Situational factors

While the biochemical effects of alcohol on cognitive processing operate universally, it is clear from the research evidence that the behavioural consequences of drinking, including aggression and violence, are modified both by the social contexts in which drinking takes place and by cultural traditions which either inhibit or facilitate aggression in these contexts.

While experimental studies on the behavioural effects of alcohol are still popular, and early research of this kind by Taylor (1975) and others is still widely quoted, most researchers now recognise the limitations of such experiments, particularly the fact that real-life drinking does not take place in a sterile laboratory, and real-life aggression does not consist of administering electric shocks by pressing a button.

It is now generally accepted that, in the real world, there must be elements in the immediate situation of the drinker which are open to misperception or misunderstanding before alcohol-induced cognitive impairments can lead to aggressive responses. In particular, violence is more likely to occur in a drinking environment characterised by an abrasive or unfriendly 'atmosphere', discomfort and poor service – and highly unlikely to occur in clean, comfortable, friendly, well-managed drinking contexts (Graham et al; Tuck, 1989; Marsh and Fox, 1992; Parker, 1993; Sumner and Parker 1995, etc.). It must be said, however, that even in drinking environments with significant situational 'risk factors', violence is still relatively rare (Marsh, 1978; Homel et al 1992; Sumner and Parker, 1995), suggesting that further mediating variables are involved.

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