Debate continues on alcohol and violence

Following the previous post  Alcohol, violence and inhibitions here are more comments on the alcohol and violence debate at The Standard post Not all research is created equal.

Psycho Milt:

“This report’s lie by omission is that alcohol weakens those inhibitions.”

What lie by omission? First, saying that alcohol lowers inhibitions is a very different thing from saying that alcohol causes violence. Second, Fox’s statement “violent people were more likely to act violently in certain situations” assumes the situation “inhibitions lowered by alcohol.” What exactly is the complaint about Fox’s research, other than that you don’t like the resulting recommendations?


“First, saying that alcohol lowers inhibitions is a very different thing from saying that alcohol causes violence.”

Tell that to the Police, Ambulance staff, and staff in Hospital Emergency rooms around the country. You might also try telling that to all the battered women, beaten by intoxicated partners.
It’s not the greatest leap of reason, to move from
“Intoxication lowers inhibitions” to
“Intoxication increases the propensity for those with a violent disposition to behave violently”.
Had Fox actually said that, then the report would not have been published, because it would have admitted that alcohol was a prime factor in many instances of violent behaviour. But No! we have the weasel words
“violent people were more likely to act violently in certain situations”
The lie is in the deliberate omission that alcohol is involved.

But Macro has omitted many things that Fox wrote in her report about alcohol’s involvement.

Psycho Milt:

Her point is that the person’s culture and personality bestowing them with a predisposition to violence is the prime factor, so she’s hardly likely to declare alcohol the prime factor. Alcohol is incidental, contributing no more than a lowering of inhibitions. It’s true that in some people, the lowering of inhibitions is a very bad idea because their true selves are malicious and violent, but the bottom line is that the problem isn’t the recreational drug, it’s the loathsome creature using it. Policy that directs itself to the drug rather than the loathsome creature is a waste of effort.


“There is overwhelming historical and cross-cultural evidence that people learn not only how to drink but how to be affected by drink through a process of socialisation…Numerous experiments conducted under strictly controlled conditions (double-blind, with placebos) on a wide range of subjects and in different cultures have demonstrated that both mood and actions are affected far more by what people think they have drunk than by what they have actually drunk…In simple terms, this means that people who expect drinking to result in violence become aggressive; those who expect it to make them feel sexy become amorous; those who view it as disinhibiting are demonstrative. If behaviour reflects expectations, then a society gets the drunks it deserves.”

Heath, D.B. (1998). Cultural variations among drinking patterns. In M.Grant and J.Litvak (eds.), Drinking Patterns and their Consequences. Washington: Taylor & Francis.

Magisterium then explains the different approaches to alcohol and violence from a health perspective versus a behavioural perspective:

There is a big divide between people studying alcohol from a health perspective and people studying alcohol from a behavioural perspective. The former tend to have as a baseline the position that alcohol is a poison and poisons are bad for your health so we should research alcohol’s health impacts; the latter tend to have as a baseline the position that drinking alcohol is something that people do and what people do is interesting so we should research the things that people do with and without alcohol.

Thus we have Doctor of Anthropology Anne Fox publishing a paper that says “alcohol doesn’t cause violence, violent people cause violence” so Miss Nicki Jackson, Auckland Uni PhD student in the Dept of Health and Medical Science calls the report “completely flawed”. These two people speak different languages, and I wonder why the Herald contacted a person working academically in the field of health and medicine to comment on a report in the field of human behaviour.

In the world of human behaviour and how alcohol affects it, the defining work of academic scholarship is MacAndrew, C. and Edgerton, R. (2003) “Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation”. Aldine, Chicago. If you haven’t read it and you’re not familiar with its conclusions then you really shouldn’t be making claims on how alcohol affects people’s behaviour. Because some very clever people have done decades of research involving people and cultures all over the world and they know more about this shit than you, and their findings have been critiqued and dissected and reproduced by other very clever people. And if you don’t know what conclusions all that research produced then you really shouldn’t go around claiming that alcohol causes violence, because you’re like someone claiming vaccines cause autism because everyone knows that because you saw it on Facebook.

Just about all anthropological research arrives at the same conclusion (I say most because I haven’t read every single paper in the world, and who knows one might disagree, but I have yet to find it): the way alcohol affects human behaviour is entirely cultural. People who get drunk don’t become violent as a matter of course; rather, people who get drunk act the way they have learned to act when drunk, or they act the way they think they can get away with while drunk, and in some cultures that means violence.

Basically, anyone who’s done any research on drunken behaviour will be completely unsurprised by Dr Fox’s research paper because, well, it just confirms everything that every other anthropological study on the topic says. They all reach the same conclusion: alcohol doesn’t cause violence.

Public health professionals all cringe when such papers are published because, like I said at the start, they’re coming from a position of ALCOHOL BAD and anything that says drinking alcohol can be a completely pleasant and uncontroversial experience for all involved is tantamount to heresy in that academic field.

A One News report had slammed Fox’s report in Lion’s research suggesting booze has little relation to violence slammed by academics

The report was funded by booze company Lion and took just seven weeks of research, suggesting alcohol has little to do with violent behaviour.

Gristle picked up on this:

7 weeks to undertake research and write a report is pretty good going. My guess is there was no research but reinterpretation of other people’s research. I doubt the report went through the normal peer reviewing by suitable qualified people.

this sounds like the “tobacco research” where the industry purposely created dubious research and skilfully placed it in the media to create the impression that the science was not settled and no regulation was required. This same approach has occurred with lead in petrol, car safety, CFCs, global warming.

The media is being played. It is a fundamental failing of the media not to have developed skills and methods to handle scientific debate and the role of self interested corporates and their supporting institutions and funded science.

It seems to me that the media can be played by different sides of the debate.

Psycho Milt addressed the 7 week diss.

The 7 weeks involved a team of researchers looking specifically at the Aus/NZ environment. There’d already been an extensive literature review, not to mention the 20 years she’d spent researching alcohol use in non-Aus/NZ situations. Writing the report took a further year.

The report states: Fieldwork commencing in July 2013. The paper was finalised in January 2015.

That’s 18 months rather than 7 weeks.


Of course one of the tests of research is to see how often it is referenced by leading researchers in the field. Unfortunately this process takes years.

And it is more likely to be referenced by researchers who agree with the behavioural approach to the problem rather than those who have a health perspective.


this sounds like the “tobacco research” where the industry purposely created dubious research and skilfully placed it in the media to create the impression that the science was not settled and no regulation was required

No, it pretty much just confirms what every other anthropological study of the subject has concluded. It’s an entirely uncontroversial paper containing no real surprises.


There is nothing in the Fox Report to indicate that it has undergone anything like a peer-review. There are many assertions that are not backed up with literature citations but simply rely on her personal beliefs and experience and are subjectively worded.

”Elsewhere in this paper I acknowledge that alcohol has a very real physiological effect, but based on decades of research in the field, I am convinced that these physiological effects in no way determine a behavioural response.” [p# 15]

”As an anthropologist who has spent thousands of hours observing drunken behaviour, I can confidently assert that it is as predictable as any other ritually governed human behaviour.” [p# 16]


This is a pretty good metasummary of the current understanding of drunken behaviour, drawing on the conclusions of hundreds of peer-reviewed papers:

TLDR? Everyone concludes the same thing as Dr Fox.


Looks interesting, thank you; will read later if you don’t mind. I do note, in passing, that the Foreword is dated 1998.

Who’s “Everyone”? Am I supposed to take this literally, in which case it is clearly incorrect?

The debate on alcohol and violence will no doubt continue, as will research.

Some questions I have from all of this:

  • If alcohol causes violence why are most people who drink alcohol not violent when drinking?
  • If alcohol causes violence are do some people only violent some times when they are drinking alcohol?
  • Why are people who are violent when drinking alcohol also violent when they are not drinking alcohol?
  • Were humans non-violent before alcohol use began (thought to be about 9,000 years ago).
  • Were Maori and other native populations non-violent before alcohol was introduced by Europeans?
  • If we had alcohol prohibition would violence reduce?

I have never become violent or felt like being violent when drinking alcohol.

Fox’s study report: Understanding behaviour in the Australian and New Zealand night-time economies

Frequently asked questions on alcohol use at CDC.


  1. Pete Brian

     /  18th January 2016

    The Alcohol industry clearly paid Fox to disassociate violence from their products because the industry is feeling the heat from the public. It’s a public relations stunt. It reminds me of the stuff Timberlands were doing in Nicky Hagers book.

    • Pantsdownbrown

       /  18th January 2016

      That’s right – shoot the messenger rather than the message………

  2. Kevin

     /  18th January 2016

    * If alcohol causes violence why are most people who drink alcohol not violent when drinking?

    Because most people are not violent.

    * If alcohol causes violence are do some people only violent some times when they are drinking alcohol?

    Because alcohol doesn’t make people violent but affects judgement and self-control. Different situations means that someone who is violent may not be violent in one situation but violent in another.

    * Why are people who are violent when drinking alcohol also violent when they are not drinking alcohol?

    Because they’re assholes when and when they are not drinking.

    *Were humans non-violent before alcohol use began (thought to be about 9,000 years ago).

    Of course. We all lived in harmony together just like the Maori, American Indians, and Australian Aborigines, in a Marxist paradise.

    *Were Maori and other native populations non-violent before alcohol was introduced by Europeans?

    See above.

    *If we had alcohol prohibition would violence reduce?

    Al Capone says yes.

    • David

       /  18th January 2016

      “Because they’re assholes when and when they are not drinking.”

      I think the Greek’s cracked this one a few thousand years ago;

      in vino veritas

      • kittycatkin

         /  18th January 2016

        That’s Latin, not Greek.

        • kittycatkin

           /  18th January 2016

          And it simply means that when people drink, they tell the truth. It’s impossible to translate exactly-in wine, the truth-but it does mean that. I suppose that one could stretch it to include one’s truthful or real nature coming out.

  3. Kevin

     /  18th January 2016

    On a related note PCP has a reputation for making people violent. Yet when PCP has been given to people in hospitals the rate of violence is the same as for the normal population.

    • David

       /  18th January 2016

      Not really, My understanding is simply that someone who is violent on PCP is a bloody nightmare to deal with.

      • kittycatkin

         /  18th January 2016

        I would think that a mind-altering drug is in a very different category. I have twice had adverse reactions to prescription drugs that made me hallucinate-I stopped taking them at once, of course, as it was horrible, but while the effects were there, I was helpless to do anything about them. I wasn’t violent, but if I had been, I could have done nothing to stop it.

  4. In a significant enough portion of the population to cost society untold misery, trauma and money, if we are not going to deal with the socialisation, the behaviour, we have no choice but to deal with the substance related outcomes and the substance itself.

    Logically, to prevent responsible people’s drinking rights being curtailed, we should lobby our government to re-allocate some of the funding already being spent on alcohol harm into education and behaviour modification?

    Make all the excuses for alcohol we like, the statistics tell a sorry story –

    • Pantsdownbrown

       /  18th January 2016

      PartisanZ: “In a significant enough portion of the population to cost society untold misery, trauma and money” – again this is not true, and not even supported by your link which says;

      “At least a third of all police recorded offences are committed by an offender who has consumed alcohol prior to committing the offence”

      Again this just takes into account those people who have offended in some way. Statistically taken over the total amount of people who drank some alcohol in that same day we are talking about a very ‘insignificant’ portion of the population (not the “significant enough portion of the population” you mention).

      Here’s a ‘stat’ for you – “100% of people that had police recorded vehicle offences were driving a vehicle” – a truly SIGNIFICANT number therefore we must ban all vehicles.

      • Why are we quibbling about to what extent the portion of population is “insignificant”?

        It doesn’t matter if they are statistically significant or not in a mathematical sense.

        They do the damage!

        We have to deal with and pay for the damage. The damage is extensive. We don’t deal with the socialised behaviours that cause the violence, which is often – note “often” not “always” – associated with alcohol consumption. Therefore, we must deal with the violence and alcohol related harm – at hospital EDs, police stations, inside ambulances, womens refuges etc et al ad infinitum – or deal with the substance itself, and one way to do this is by putting restraints on the consumption of alcohol.

        I’m not advocating such restraints. We have come to a bloody sorry state of discussion if simply mentioning something is construed as unequivocally supporting it. (And we have indeed arrived at such a sorry state because it happens all the goddamn time on here!)

        One approach applied to tobacco is to price it off the market with ancillary tax. That’s what eventually made me give up.

        I AM NOT ADVOCATING THIS! (Imagine feeling the need to qualify such a statement?)

    • David

       /  18th January 2016

      Where are all your statistics for all the happiness and good times that alcohol brings?

      • David – If you want to make the discussion about “the happiness and good times alcohol brings” please, by all means, go right ahead.

        It just happens that so far the topic has been about “Alcohol and Violence”.

        Those who have adopted a “defense of alcohol” position regarding the subject, declaring alcohol an insignificant or meaningless component of violence because it doesn’t “cause” it, or who’ve answered Pete’s absurd list of rhetorical “justification” questions – none of which illuminate the subject one iota – might like to join you?

        If one accepts that alcohol disinhibits violent behaviour (or the preventers of violent behaviour) these questions become largely irrelevant because no-one is arguing liquor is the cause. Liquor is the disinhibitor or facilitator.

        * Are people more likely to express their socialised violent behaviour if they consume alcohol? Yes, it certainly appears they are.

        * Were people less violent before alcohol use began? They may have been less violent if they were acculturated to violence and did not have alcohol to disinhibit the behaviour. So yes, it’s possible.

      • Pantsdownbrown

         /  18th January 2016

        That goes without saying – the large majority of people drink alcohol for social and/or personal enjoyment and do so without anything ‘bad’ occurring – to suggest otherwise is either nonsense or trolling…….

        • kittycatkin

           /  18th January 2016

          I don’t drink at all, and I still manage to have a good time when I’m out. Or if I don’t, it wouldn’t make any difference if I was drinking.

          I was indignant when ALAC ‘proved’ that a large % of Kiwis (33% ?) were binge drinkers-the amount of alcohol that they considered to be a binge was so small that almost all drinkers were binge drinkers by their criterion. Their standard drink was so small that I’d be embarrassed to offer it to anyone-my husband liked a glass of wine in moderation and a beer on hot days. Our former neighbour and our current one would be classed as binge drinkers, going by the tins in their recycling bins in summer (I don’t look, but I can see the box that held the tins and now has empties) but a dozen tins over a week for a hard-working man, assuming that they drank them all themselves and didn’t give any to friends, is hardly binge drinking.

  5. Brown

     /  18th January 2016

    This argument is like gun debate in relation to the US stats. Looking beneath the basic numbers indicates there may be a cultural or racial issue rather than a gun issue. We need to talk about the matter openly, in detail and look at all bases rather than scream racisssst when the facts don’t suit the narrative. Being a white middle class church going heterosexual male means its still my fault of course but I’d just like the facts to be aired so I can prepare specific apologies to all those whom I’ve oppressed.

    • LOL Brown. Could you do a “class action” apology for a whole generation of us please?

      I’m the same except not Church going and no longer middle class.
      Plenty of oppression to apologise for though.

      The problem with airing the facts is the facts themselves are in dispute.

      I don’t see how these facts are disputable though; 18% of Police Budget, 1 in 3 Violence, 1 in 2 Serious Violence, 1 in 3 Family Violence, 1 in 5 Sexual Offences … involve alcohol

      • Pantsdownbrown

         /  18th January 2016

        5 in 5 of sexual offenses involve sex – so let’s put bans on all sex then………..your ‘logic’ isn’t that logical, and your ‘facts’ not that factual…..

        • @ Pdb – Your logic would be immaculate if I had said, “put bans on alcohol”, but since at no time did I say this, you are arguing with a phantom of your own making. Your contention is entirely irrelevant to my comments. What’s more, I don’t care if mine don’t meet a philosopher’s definition of ‘logical’ because I believe what I’m saying makes sense. I’m willing to put it out there and let others decide anyhow.

          The statistic 1 in 3 Violent crimes involve alcohol means 1 in 3 Violent crimes involve alcohol. Nothing more. This, we are led to believe, and I believe, is due to acculturated violent behaviour disinhibited by alcohol.

          Therefore I contend as follows: If we do not deal with the acculturation, we shall continue having to deal with the outcomes of violent behaviour, 20% – 50% of which appears to be the result of alcohol disinhibition. And yes, I am prepared to suggest the alcohol was a significant disinhibitor in a significant number of cases.

  6. peter brian

     /  18th January 2016

    one third of reported crimes is committed by a person under the influence of Alcohol. NZ CRIME STATISTICS.

    Here are the facts;

    1. Alcohol lowers inhibitions.
    2. Inhibitions prevent sober people from doing crime.

    Here is a list of unsavory behavior by people under the influence of alcohol.
    1. Sex with a stranger.
    2. Unprotected sex with a stranger.
    3. Disorderly behavior in public.
    4. Drink driving.
    5. Urinating in public.
    6. Regretful or uncharacteristic behavior.
    7. Risk taking.

    Do you mean to tell me that people are already promiscuous or that they behave out of control normally or break the law normally. No it was the Alcohol that makes them do it, While you may not have been violent yourself whilst drinking I bet you would of down at least one of these other thing.

    • kittycatkin

       /  18th January 2016

      I think that the alcohol doesn’t so much make them do it as such, it breaks down the inhibitions that might well stop them doing these things.

      It’s odd that when every animal and human urinates, it’s unacceptable to do this in public. I do not want to see anyone doing this, and was unimpressed to see men watering car tyres in France and Belgium. They seemed like the sort of men who would not do it here !

      I can honestly say that I have never done any of these things, although I have been in a car with a driver who was almost certainly over the limit-not to the extent that they were weaving or doing anything obvious, but even so, they should not have been driving. And I should have had the guts to say that I’d take a taxi.

    • David

       /  18th January 2016

      This is just a reboot of the temperance society. A view than people’s desires are base and need to be controlled or inhibited or all hell will break loose.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  18th January 2016

      You would lose your bet. There are plenty of people who drink but do none of those things. Those who drink to excess are likely also to have tendencies to excess in other things and lack self-control.

  7. @ David – I don’t know about “all hell breaking loose” – an entirely separate issue for judgement – but are you saying you don’t think people’s desires need to be controlled or inhibited? People’s violent behaviour regards this topic specifically?

    I put it to you that in various forms all hell breaks loose in some homes, bars, clubs, public places, parties, streets, roads and highways all over New Zealand on a daily and weekly basis as a result of alcohol disinhibiting people’s behaviour.

    And, yes, many more people enjoy alcohol with no adverse societal effects on a daily and weekly basis too. However, these people don’t exact from society a terrible cost in misery, trauma and public money.

    • David

       /  18th January 2016

      “And, yes, many more people enjoy alcohol with no adverse societal effects on a daily and weekly basis too. However, these people don’t exact from society a terrible cost in misery, trauma and public money.”

      And society, in balance, seems to think that’s a fair trade.