Newswise — Aggressive behavior often, but not always, occurs alongside alcohol and drug misuse. Indeed, alcohol and drugs contribute to at least 40% of violent acts. However, despite the importance of substance misuse to understanding aggression, the relationships between alcohol-related, drug-related, and non-substance-related aggression are unclear. In particular, it is not known if these are three different facets of an individual’s overall aggressive tendency, or if they are three distinct and separate entities. A new analysis reported in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has probed this question using statistical modeling.

The analysis used data from 13,490 people with alcohol use disorder, or at heightened risk for alcohol misuse, who had participated in a broader study of the genetics of alcoholism. As part of an in-depth interview with trained researchers, participants were asked if they had ever perpetrated a range of aggressive acts as a consequence of drinking, drug-use, or while sober. Generally, participants reported low rates of aggression, although a quarter had hit or thrown objects while drinking and had fought while drinking. Other acts of alcohol-, drug-, and non-substance-related aggression had been committed by between 1% and 14% of participants.

Through statistical modeling, the researchers showed that the three types of aggression were correlated, such that individuals who had demonstrated one type of aggressive behavior were more likely to have also demonstrated the other types. Despite this, particularly in men, the data better supported a statistical model that treats alcohol-, drug-, and non-substance-related aggression as three distinct constructs, rather than as three facets of a single general aggression construct. However, further analysis suggested a more complex reality, whereby alcohol-related aggression is an indicator of an individual’s overall aggressive tendencies across all three types of aggression.

The findings may help establish the place of alcohol-, drug- and non-substance-related aggression within existing conceptual taxonomies of psychopathology and aggression, although additional research is needed. The results also suggest that alcohol- and non-alcohol-related aggression cannot be entirely separated, and that drinking may serve as a ‘litmus test’ of whether an individual may also perpetrate harm on others in other contexts. Research into the biological and psychological pathways involved in alcohol- and non-alcohol-related aggression is now needed, in order to further enhance understanding of the central role of alcohol in human violence and inform effective interventions.

Alcohol-related, drug-related, and non-substance-related aggression: Three facets of a single construct or three distinct constructs? D.S. Chester, K.K. Bucholz, G. Chan, C. Kamarajan, A.K. Pandey, L. Wetherill, J.R. Kramer, J.I. Nurnberger, J.E. Salvatore, D.M. Dick (pages xxx).