Viewers in the United States haven’t been able to turn on the news this week without hearing about the confirmation hearings surrounding the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. His nomination turned into a firestorm after accusations by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that he had sexually assaulted her in the past, and her claims are essentially on trial. Those defending Kavanaugh argue that it was a long time ago – 35 years – that her memory is suspect, that she’s flat out lying, that this is all a political maneuver. One aspect of the situation that has become contentious all on its own is the fact that on the night in question, both parties were drinking, Kavanaugh heavily and Ford by her own account having only one drink. His supporters argue that he was drunk, and even if something did happen (which they aren’t admitting) it shouldn’t be allowed to ruin his life. At the same time, Ford’s admission that she had one beer has been used in an attempt to discredit her. No matter which side of the political aisle you stand on or who you believe in this particular case, it opens up a discussion about alcohol and responsibility.
An article in the National Review, a conservative editorial magazine, said that “Teenagers in general and teenage boys in particular do a fair number of stupid, rude, and inappropriate things, and doubly so when drunk, horny, and in the presence of the opposite sex,” and “drunk teen boys don’t always know where the lines are.” There seem to be many people who believe that you’re not responsible for things you do while drinking, at least if you’re young. It’s as though alcohol is some sort of parasite that takes over our minds, holding us hostage and forcing us to all manner of unsavory things that we can’t be blamed for later.
So what’s the truth? Does alcohol turn ordinarily nonviolent people into the Incredible Hulk? Not so much. It is true that alcohol can lower your inhibitions and impair decision-making skills and risk-benefit analyses. It also increases the release of dopamine in the brain, which makes things feel more pleasurable or rewarding. However, there’s no evidence that alcohol alone causes people to be violent.
Research has shown that if people hold the belief that alcohol makes them more aggressive, the more likely they are to become violent while drunk. It’s also been shown that in people who are already predisposed to be angry or aggressive, alcohol can increase those behaviors, but it doesn’t induce them in people who weren’t already looking for a fight. Putting aside anything to do with the political argument, it seems clear that drinking on its own can’t be blamed for all of a person’s bad behavior.
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