Explore a link between aggressive behaviour, and the consumption of alcohol

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Last updated: March 31, 2019

There are many different areas of life that impact on my work as an informal educator that I have little or no control over. Not only that, but I also have a limited understanding of key areas that I feel I should be more knowledgeable about. With this in mind I am using this essay as an opportunity to explore one of these areas. I am currently working with a group of young men who have anger management issues. Since I have been working with them, through conversation and various incidents, I have seen a link between their behaviour, which is aggressive, and the consumption of alcohol.I have no knowledge of this area so therefore within the context of this essay I am going to explore this issue and relate it to key theories to ascertain whether there is indeed a link. Myself and a colleague work with a group of six young men, who have all been referred from the Youth Offending Team because of their lack of control over their aggressive and violent behaviour.

One of the young men for example was referred to the project because his anger lead to the stage where he physically assaulted a teacher and due to this was expelled.Since then all other schools in the borough have refused to accept him and so he has been left with nothing to fill his days. I believe that as a result of this his behaviour has deteriorated and he has been involved in several other incidents in which his actions have resulted in physical violence. The other young men in the group all have similar stories and they are caught in a negative cycle they are not able to break unassisted.When I began to work with the group I focused on the triggers that the young men themselves gave me for their behaviour and from here, with the assistance of an anger management tutor, we worked through different techniques to help the young men. However as time went on and more information was shared about their aggressive outbursts I suspected that a lot of these outbursts happened under the influence of alcohol. Then six weeks into the project two of the young men arrived intoxicated.

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They were not in a suitable state to participate in the programme and so I asked them to leave and return the following week.These two young men had always been polite and respectful in previous sessions but in this instance they became verbally aggressive and came and stood within inches of me. The male member of staff very quickly came over and we managed to get them to leave before the situation progressed any further. I was shocked and upset when they left but when I had composed myself I began to think again about the link between these young men and alcohol. As a sub-issue I was also reassured by how effectively I had worked with my co-worker in this situation: we had supported each other and defused a situation effectively.

We had managed to get the two young men to leave the building while they were, as Kaplan and Wheeler (1983) would describe, in phase A. As this diagram highlights there is a window of opportunity where you are able to diffuse a situation before the crisis and recovery stage is entered. This is where the young people would have been unworkable with and Kaplan and Wheeler believe this to be a ninety minute stage. This stage can also be a continual cycle which the two young people could have continued to re-enter.Although my co-worker and I managed to instinctively react in a swift manner to prevent this happening, the fact that I now know the importance of this means that I will in future continue to work with the young people to attempt to insure phase C is not entered. It is especially beneficial for me to be aware of Kaplan and Wheeler’s (1983) theory because a group such as this has a high probability that a similar incident will happen again. The two of us used our de-brief to explore how we had worked together and how we both felt on an emotional level about the situation.This was a positive side of the situation although what it did highlight to us what that we had not previously ascertained where we stood on the issue of young people arriving at the sessions either intoxicated or high on illicit drugs.

Since this event we have therefore decided as a team on a zero tolerance policy and informed the young people of this, so that the boundaries have been set and there can be no confusion in the future. I contacted the two young men and encouraged them to come and see me and my co-worker before the next session to discuss what had happened.Apart from an awkward apology they had very little to say except “we had been drinking”, as if by saying this it was an explanation for their behaviour. Although when I pushed them on this explanation they didn’t know what they actually meant by saying this. We discussed with them the impact their actions had both on us and also the group, and how we could move forward from here to continue to have a positive and effective relationship.

I feel it is important at this stage to clarify my understanding of violent and aggressive behaviour.Violence may be defined as behaviour that intentionally inflicts, or attempts to inflict, physical harm. Violence falls within the broader category of aggression, which also includes behaviours that are threatening, hostile, or damaging in a non-physical way. As I have already explained, the young men in question came to be working with me because they frequently displayed this behaviour. Until I can begin to understand why they behave as they do, and more importantly what triggers them to act like this, I am unable to truly help them.

By educating myself I hope in turn to be able to educate them and help them to break the cycle they are in. Rogers (1994) states that; The facilitative aspect of the relationship is empathetic understanding. This means that the therapist senses accurately the feelings and personal meaning that the client is experiencing and communicates this acceptant understanding to the client. (Rogers,C.

1994:136) Although Rogers is talking about a therapeutic relationship here I feel that it is directly transferable.Without researching this area I do not feel that I would be understanding and empathetic towards the young people I am working with because it is an area that I have no knowledge of. As Rogers states, by having this I will be able to facilitate the young people’s learning. Also by understanding this and therefore positively working to do something about it I hope that I am moving closer to Doyle’s (2001) explanation of education. Doyle explains that; Our job is to work so that people learn. We need to know about learning and how it comes about if we are to be able to work so that it happens.It is fairly obvious that if someone has no knowledge of learning, they cannot be an educator.

(Doyle,M. 2001:7) Therefore, as discussed, I hope that by being aware that the young people in question need to learn, and working to ensure that I have equipped myself so that I am in the best position to facilitate this, I am making positive moves in my role as an informal educator. Scientists and non-scientists alike have long recognised a two-way association between alcohol consumption and violent or aggressive behaviour.Extensive research has been carried out in this area in an effort to discover the association.

When I began to examine some of this research, I discovered some recurring themes and theories. I have therefore chosen two theories that I feel best complement each other but also give a wide view on this issue. The first theory I will look at is the pharmacological theory. This theory attributes alcohol’s effects on aggression solely to alcohol and how it interacts with the human body. The second theory is the attention-based theory.It states that when using alcohol, a person’s cognitive resources are reduced.

This causes a person to concentrate on only a few things, including emotion at the time, and pretty much block everything else out. This could lead to a person focusing in on anger and having a heightened level of aggressive behaviour. I believe that the two theories I have chosen to focus on are of the more prevalent and plausible. The pharmacological theory hypothesises that aggressive behaviour is directly caused by the consumption of alcohol. Several studies can be found to support this theory.Of these, most were a variation on a study originally done by Stuart Taylor (1976).

The basic method in these experiments was the same. There were approximately forty subjects in every study I examined. Subjects selected were categorised into two groups according to their responses to a set questionnaire; one that expected alcohol to increase aggression, and one that expected alcohol to decrease aggression.

These groups were then randomly assigned to two equally sized groups of which one would receive a placebo drink and the other an alcoholic drink.The participants would take the alcohol or placebo on an empty stomach, fill out a questionnaire on their mood, and proceed to play a competition game with a fictitious competitor. The game was based on reaction time where the participants would try to have a faster reaction time than their competitor. The loser of the game would receive an electric shock from their opponent at a level set by their opponent. As the reaction time competition takes place the shock level the participant sets for his opponent is recorded, as is the level of aggression.The results showed that those who consumed alcohol were more aggressive when provoked than those who consumed the placebo. The various studies all had similar conclusions; that alcohol has an effect on aggression when someone is being provoked, and that expectancy only came into play when someone is being heavily provoked to respond aggressively, has consumed a large quantity of alcohol, or expected their aggression level to increase because of the alcohol.

In conclusion as Taylor (1976) states; The general finding was that higher doses of alcohol were linked with higher levels of shock setting than were lower doses of alcohol.The evidence from shock setting tends to support the view that alcohol is causally related to aggression. (Taylor,S. 1976:49-50) Though such experiments seem to have produced hard evidence for the pharmacological theory, there are several factors that I believe make the argument fallible.

First, having someone report on how they believe alcohol effects their aggression levels is in my opinion not an effective way to gather valid data, although I am aware that many researchers would disagree with me.Aggression means different things to different people and there are also possibilities of people not being honest in order to make themselves look more favourable (more favourable because they are not aggressive people). Also the participants were only given one way to respond in the competitions, aggressively. The studies could have been better served if another response was available to the participants. Even having the participants reporting on their mood during the games could have better gauged the amount of aggression displayed.However I still found the findings extremely interesting and very beneficial for me. If I had been in possession of this information before the session where the two young men turned up intoxicated, perhaps I would have behaved differently. On the day in question I was very busy and when I spoke to the young men, although I perceived myself to be calm and fair in my approach, I am sure that because I was feeling pressured that would have come across in the way I spoke to them.

Although I was not provoking them as this study describes, I know that I was rushed and distracted. In the future I will now be more aware that my actions can act as triggers to the young people and what would have been a perfectly acceptable conversation if the young people were sober can lead to entirely different reactions when they are intoxicated. Having said this, it will be rare that the two young men will come into contact with people through their life that are in possession of this knowledge.It is therefore important that I work with the young men to get them to see that their reaction to the situation was inappropriate and by doing this I hope to educate them on the negative effect that alcohol has on them. The attention based theory offers an explanation that I feel is definitely more applicable to the situation in question.

Pernanen (1976, 1991) has shown that alcohol consumption interferes with primary cognitive ability by reducing the perceptual field. Steele and Joseph (1990) use the term ‘alcohol myopia’.In other words: when intoxicated, we cannot ‘take in’ as much information from our surroundings and social context as we can when we are not intoxicated. The information we use to guide our responses is increasingly limited in inverse proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed. As intoxication increases, we begin to focus on small parts of the situation, one at a time, because our ability to perceive the situation as a whole is impaired. This in turn results in unstable, fluctuating perceptions and reactions, depending on which narrow aspect of our surroundings we are paying attention to.There is, therefore, an increased risk of misunderstandings and misinterpretations, which can in some contexts lead to aggressive responses.

Marlatt and Gordon (1985) have a very interesting response to this; The development of cognitive-behavioural models of problem drinking behaviours identified specific elements required to maximise the effectiveness of interventions with clients. In particular, it should substitute maladaptive patterns with alternative behaviours which achieve gratification and seek to promote generalised coping skills in new situations. Marlatt and Gordon, 1985:68-69) Although this is from the point of view of a social worker, I can see how such an approach would have benefits in my work with this group. To work with the group to seek alternative ways of coping with situations, especially new ones that they enter, would hopefully start to plant seeds that they may draw on in situations where they would normally become aggressive or violent. For example, the young man described earlier who attacked his teacher, falls into a pattern of aggression with figures of authority.I believe that when he is intimidated he does not possess the skills to effectively and rationally challenge and if I worked with him to obtain such skills he would have an alternative option. I can see that it could be viewed as a slightly idealistic view that just by working with the young man to gain these skills it would result in him not resorting to violence in a similar situation. I am aware that this may well not be the case but I am also sure that it would be a step in the right direction and it hopefully would benefit him.

I also do not believe that there is anything to lose from attempting this approach. Research has also identified secondary cognitive effects of alcohol on intellectual and linguistic ability (Pernanen, 1976, 1991; Gibbs, 1986). Quite simply, people who have consumed substantial amounts of alcohol have greater difficulty in thinking rationally and speaking clearly – making it harder for them to exercise sound judgement and substitute more acceptable behaviours, such as calm argument, for inarticulate aggressive responses.In some social contexts, it is easy to see how the combination of primary and secondary cognitive impairment – reduced ability to ‘read’ situations and behaviour and to respond rationally – could increase the potential for aggression and even violence.

I believe it is also important to remind ourselves at this point that this impaired ability to negotiate interpersonal relations does not inevitably, or even frequently, result in aggression or violence. The vast majority of people drink alcohol without becoming aggressive, and aggression and violence regularly occur in the absence of alcohol consumption.However in this incident I do believe that alcohol had a negative impact on the young people’s behaviour. I can also relate to this theory because the two young men appeared to be unaware of many aspects of their immediate environment: the other people at the centre, that my phone was ringing, the fact that I was meant to be starting the session, and finally that I was in the middle of talking to someone when they arrived and that they interrupted my conversation.

Also, and probably most importantly, I was visibly shocked by the way that they were talking to me and, as I have explained, another member of staff had to intervene, yet the two men did not react to my emotions. If this theory is to be believed then the fact that they were unable to take in their surroundings and the social context it meant that they were unable to react accordingly. Prior to this incident I would have described the young men as emotionally sensitive to other people and aware of the impact of their actions on others and their surroundings.Because this wasn’t the case in this situation an explanation is needed and this theory seems to offer that.

Having this knowledge would not have changed the way that I dealt with the situation because other than, for example, pointing out to the young men that what they were saying was upsetting me, I am not sure how I could have used this information. However, I am planning to hold a discussion with the whole anger management group to talk to them about what they are aware of when they are intoxicated, and how they would act differently if they could go back and relive an incident when they were sober.I will make sure that I do not mention the incident I have described in front of the group as I believe this would be both unprofessional and would also have a negative impact on my relationship with the young men. Also as the secondary cognitive theory explains, I believe the young men had greater difficulty in thinking rationally and they therefore over reacted to the situation. I believe that it would also be of a benefit to discuss with the group how it is possible to over react to a situation when intoxicated and encourage them to look at times when they feel they have over reacted.Again I hope this will show them the negative side of alcohol consumption. The incident with the two young men, and the subsequent reflection it has caused, has had nothing but a positive effect on my practice and my role as an informal educator.

I hope that it is not only myself that will learn from this event but the work that I am now intending to do with the group will also promote learning. I intend to move forward with the group and turn what has happened into something positive and therefore make the outcome of this a beneficial one.Both alcohol use and violence are common in our society, and there are many associations between the two. Understanding the nature of these associations, including the environmental and biological antecedents of each and the ways in which they may be related, is essential to developing effective strategies to prevent alcohol-related violence.

Because no area of science stands apart from another, understanding more about alcohol-related violence also will shed light on violence in general and produce information that may be useful to reducing it, which in turn would be of benefit to young people such as the ones I am working with.

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