Alcohol and aggression: General population views about causation and responsibility Academic Article uri icon


  • The purpose of this paper is to explore the public's perceptions about alcohol as a causal agent in aggressive behavior, and to assess how these beliefs are associated with notions of responsibility and the excuse-function of alcohol. In a 1995 probability survey, 994 adults across Ontario (50.3% female; mean age = 41.5, SD = 5.9) were asked questions about: alcohol-aggression expectancies; alcohol as an excuse; responsibility; personal drinking behavior; alcohol-aggression victimization; and demographics. Descriptive and regression analyses were conducted. Over three-quarters of respondents believed that alcohol is associated with aggression, with females, older respondents, those with less education, and those who do not drink heavily more likely to hold this view. A majority (92%) believed that an intoxicated person is responsible for any behavior, with very little subgroup variation. Analyses showed that the perception of alcohol as a causal agent was not associated with decreased personal responsibility attributions. In fact, the stronger the belief in the alcohol-aggression link, the more likely one was to hold the view that an intoxicated person is responsible for behavior. Beliefs that alcohol causes violence do not translate into the acceptance of intoxication as an excuse. Reasons as to why intoxication does not alleviate responsibility for the drunken actor--a result inconsistent with attribution theory--are discussed. The consistency of these results with the "New Temperance" movement in the United States is also discussed.

publication date

  • January 1998