Training Consultant

Author Bio ▼

Nicole runs Worthwhile Training and has over 20 years experience assisting organisations with practical advice to manage the risks associated employee’s personal safety, security and wellbeing.  She works with organisations to design, implement and embed control measures and training solutions to achieve measurable results.
October 23, 2014

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Workplace violence: dealing with alcohol fuelled aggression


Often in training sessions, learners ask us how they should deal with customers who are behaving aggressively and appear to be under the influence of alcohol. This got me thinking…

Does alcohol really make us more aggressive?

Research supports what seems to be common sense; if you are easily angered or act aggressively when sober, alcohol can exacerbate this.

  • Alcohol can affect your ability to process information logically.
    • Your situational awareness changes and alcohol can give you tunnel vision both mentally and physically. Irritations and frustrations may become magnified; at the same time your peripheral vision is impeded.
    • You may misread body language and people’s intentions, attributing negative intent to accidental actions (the spilt pint in the pub or the “what you looking at?” comment are prime examples).
  •  You are less able to control your behavioural impulses.
    • The executive control functions of the brain (reasoning, planning, etc.) are impeded and therefore our base impulses are able to come to the fore. Young males may have particular problems with alcohol and aggression, as our brains continue to develop into our twenties and the executive control is one of the last parts to develop; combine this with higher levels of testosterone and this can add up to trouble.
    • When sober, our fear of possible consequences and our social conscience may stop us from hitting out when angry. When intoxicated (because of the dampened action of the executive control function) you simply care less about consequences. Have you ever seen a drunk continue to be aggressive even when CCTV is pointed out to them?
  •  We expect people to become aggressive.
    • Research has shown that people can act more aggressively when given a placebo that tastes like alcohol. If we associate alcohol with aggression then the power of expectation may shape our behaviour. If society expects or even accepts or excuses aggression from people under the influence, then people may use alcohol as an excuse for their behaviour.

So how do we deal with people who are drunk and aggressive?

 There is clearly no one correct answer and certainly there is not space here to go into the nuances. That said there are some very simple guidelines that may help.

  •  Don’t be authoritative. Intoxicated people respond better to friendly, coaxing approaches. Think about your body language, make sure you present a non threatening image.
  • Never back a drunk into either a physical or metaphorical corner. You may want to keep a greater distance between you and the person than perhaps you normally would and take your movements nice and slowly. Make sure that you offer them a way out of the situation; if they feel they have no choice this may increase the level of aggression.
  •  Never tell a drunk what to do. Offer them a choice “Do you want to come with me?” “Shall we have a chat about it?” If you act like a disapproving parent, they may become the belligerent teenager!
  • Alcohol makes people more susceptible to distraction; you can use that to your advantage by switching their focus. Some people have reported that even saying random things can distract the person enough to divert their thought process or actions.
  •  Always be prepared to go…timing is everything. Once the intoxicated person has begun to lose control you may not be able to calm the situation and your personal safety should be a priority. Take positive action to remove yourself from the threat and call for support and back up.

Of course, organisations need to look at why they are putting their staff into situations where they have to ask how to deal with alcohol fuelled aggression…but that’s another blog.


A guide to home working

This hub has been put together by SHP, Barbour EHS and The Healthy Work Company to provide research, case studies, videos and resources to enable you to lead this transition in a way which safeguards the wellbeing of your teams and maximises the opportunity to embrace new ways of working for the future.

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