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What's Your Drinking Personality?

Experts explore the differences in alcohol-induced behaviors.
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WebMD Feature

Does summer mean parties, heavy coolers, and plenty of pitchers on your favorite restaurant patio? First you may want to recall how your personality morphs after a few drinks too many.

WebMD talked to the experts to find out what's to blame for booze-related personality and behavioral changes, and whether it's possible to tame that other -- sometimes ugly -- persona that has a habit of rearing its head shortly after the drinks start flowing.

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The Angry Drunk

For many people, alcohol creates an overall sense of happiness and camaraderie. But in others it has the opposite effect.

For some, "alcohol is like fueling a fire," says Dominic Parrot, PhD, assistant psychology professor at Georgia State University.

This reaction is not an inevitable reaction to alcohol consumption, experts believe. "Lots of people drink a lot, but not a lot of people become angry and aggressive," Parrot tells WebMD.

Parrot recently conducted a study to examine just who is at risk for starting a bar brawl. Here's what he found: "People who possess aggression-promoting personality traits are the most susceptible to alcohol's effects on aggression." In other words, if you tend to be a hothead when sober, alcohol will ratchet up the likelihood that you'll want to punch the first guy who smiles at your date.

Why does alcohol trigger an aggressive response in someone who ordinarily can squelch aggressive tendencies? "We believe alcohol disrupts cognitive functioning, making us unable to look at different problem-solving options," Parrot suggests.

When Drinkers Get Depressed

While most people report increasing feelings of friendliness when they consume alcohol, a small percentage -- 2%, according to one national survey -- wind up crying into their drinks while everyone around them is dancing on tabletops.

Why does alcohol, reported by many drinkers as a way to unwind and relieve stress, have just the opposite effect in others? No one knows for sure, but researchers do know that for some people, drinking increases responses to stress, sometimes manifesting as tears flowing into beer. Although the evidence is inconclusive, some scientists suggest that this depressive effect may mean a greater susceptibility to problem drinking. For others, the explanation may be simpler: the loss of inhibitions that comes after a few drinks may simply release the drinker's pent-up feelings.

Alcohol and Promiscuity

While some drinkers look for fights, others look to satisfy feelings of love -- or, more precisely, lust. "Our culture tells us that alcohol and sex go together, yet it is illegal to use alcohol to facilitate sex," says Aaron White, PhD, a psychiatrist at Duke University Medical Center.

Licentious behaviors linked to drinking range from mildly annoying to downright dangerous. Looping an arm around the shoulders of an acquaintance is one thing. Acting like a sexual predator is another thing altogether, and can escalate into an act of violence. White calls alcohol "the No. 1 date-rape drug." And he blames not only the perpetrators, but our culture at large.

"We don't view people as responsible when they've been drinking," White tells WebMD. "We live in a culture in which alcohol is used as an excuse for behaviors."

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