Brain Scans Reveal Why People Become Aggressive After Drinking Alcohol

Through the utilization of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, researchers are able to measure blood flow in the brain to better understand why people become aggressive and violent after consuming alcohol. Research notes significant changes in the working of the prefrontal cortex of the brain after two drinks – a part of the brain that tempers an individual’s aggression levels. This study was conducted by Thomas Denson of the University of New South Wales in Australia, and was published in the journal of Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience. 

Fifty healthy young men participated in the study. They were either given two drinks containing vodka, or placebo drinks without any alcohol. Participants then had to compete in a task which has regularly been used over the past decade to observe levels of aggression in response to provocation, whilst lying in an MRI scanner.

The functional magnetic resonance imaging allowed Denson and his team to identify which areas of the brain were triggered when the task was performed. They were also able to compare the difference in scans between participants who had and had not consumed alcohol. Being provoked was found to have no influence on participants’ neural responses. However, when behaving aggressively, there was a dip in activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brains of those who had consumed alcoholic beverages.

“Although there was an overall dampening effect of alcohol on the prefrontal cortex, even at a low dose of alcohol we observed a significant positive relationship between dorsomedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity and alcohol-related aggression,” states Denson. “These regions may support different behaviors, such as peace versus aggression, depending on whether a person is sober or intoxicated.”

The results are vastly consistent with a growing body of research about the neural basis of aggression, and how it is triggered by changes in the way that the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system and reward-related regions of the brain function. The results of the current study are also consistent with several psychological theories of alcohol-related aggression.



Loneliness Could Be a Bigger Public Health Threat Than Obesity

Loneliness and social isolation seem to be a much more impending health problem than obesity. According to research presented by the American Psychological Association, approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are suffering from chronic loneliness, in addition to more than one quarter of the population living alone. More than half of the population are also unmarried, and marriage rates and the number of children per household have declined. “These trends suggest that Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness,” said Holt-Lunstad.

“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need – crucial to both well-being and survival. An extreme example to indicate this are infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.

Holt-Lunstad conducted two studies, with the first finding that greater social connection is associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of early death. The second study examined the role that social isolation, loneliness or living alone might have on mortality. It was found that all three had a significant and equal effect on the risk of premature death, one that was equal to or exceeded the effect of other well-accepted risk factors such as obesity.

“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” said Holt-Lunstad. “With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase. Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic.’ The challenge we face now is what can be done about it.”

5 Ways To Fight Loneliness

  1. Get out and about
    Even if you aren’t directly engaging with someone, make the effort to be surrounded by people – whether it’s walking around the grocery store or working out at the gym.

  2. Meet with people in person
    Whether it’s being in contact with someone via email, phone calls or social media, that’s not enough. Social networks can offer real connections, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Have confidence in yourself and reach out to people.
  3. Walk interactively
    Don’t just walk to your next destination. Travel with purpose and notice what is around you. Say hi and good morning to those that pass by you. You will be surprise at how much position connection you will receive in return.
  4. Sign up for a class
    Pursue a hobby that brings joy and adds value to your life. Participate in organized activities that provide creative outlets for social experience in which you and others can share common ground.
  5. Seek professional help if deemed necessary
    Utilize the tools and resources available to you in order to process your feelings and receive constructive feedback. For some this may be a therapist, and for others this may be seminars or events at local health/medical clinics. 

Become involved with SDPA and visit our website for helpful resources related to this topic.