What Drugs Make a Person Violent?

fist-up-in-the-air-to-represent-a-violent-person

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

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Drugs change the writing of neurotransmitters in your brain, which can lead to aggression or mood swings.

These affected neurotransmitters, such as GABA, dopamine, and norepinephrine, will cause drug-dependent individuals to be more aggressive than usual because of how the drug’s ingredients interact with their brains.

This article discusses how drugs and violence go hand in hand and how their ingredients alter your mood and thinking patterns.

The Neurobiology of Violence and Drugs

The complex connection between drugs and violence is deeply ingrained in the neurobiology of the human brain.

When certain drugs are consumed, they can cause significant changes in brain function.

These substances often affect neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells.

For example, drugs can increase the production of certain neurotransmitters, block them, or mimic their effects.

These neurotransmitter imbalances, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which are crucial for regulating mood and behavior, can contribute to increased aggression and violent tendencies.

Therefore, changes in neurotransmitter activity caused by drug use can trigger behaviors that may not be exhibited in a drug-free state.

Neurotransmitter Description
Dopamine Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter produced in various parts of the brain. It’s often referred to as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter because of its significant role in pleasure and reward systems. Additionally, dopamine plays a vital role in motor control, motivation, arousal, and reinforcement. Dysregulation or imbalances in dopamine levels are linked to various conditions like Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and drug addiction.
Serotonin Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that mainly regulates mood, appetite, sleep, and social behavior. It’s sometimes called the “mood stabilizer” due to its ability to help produce feelings of well-being and happiness. An imbalance in serotonin levels can contribute to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Most modern antidepressants, known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), work by increasing serotonin availability in the brain.
Norepinephrine Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, functions both as a hormone and a neurotransmitter. It plays a pivotal role in the “fight or flight” stress response, helping to prepare the body to respond to perceived threats. In the brain, norepinephrine increases alertness, arousal, and attention. It also plays a role in mood regulation. An imbalance in norepinephrine levels is thought to contribute to conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression.

What Are the Signs That Drugs Are Making Someone Violent?

There are many signs that drugs are making someone violent.

The main sign is that their mood accelerates and decelerates.

One moment, they seem normal and happy, but then the next minute, they are agitated and aggressive.

For someone who is normally laid back, the person now seems on edge all the time.

Drugs and violence go hand-in-hand as 75% of drug-dependent individuals seeking medical treatment say that they have committed a violent crime such as an assault or a mugging.

Because of these astonishing statistics, it is imperative to look out for other signs that drugs are making someone violent including:

  • Youth and males have a higher likelihood of being aggressive
  • Little things, such as a misunderstanding or a change in plans, are making the person highly upset and angry.
  • The person is highly anxious or agitated in unrelated time frames.
  • He or she seems depressed, but with a bout of anger mixed in.
  • A lack of inhibitions means a person may speak more freely as if they are sociable, but they will also turn into a different mood quickly.

A List of Drugs That Can Make a Person Violent ‘

These anger-inducing drugs cause aggression that is either predatory or impulsive.

Predatory aggression may be one person stalking another individual or animal to scare, assault, kill, or do any combination of these harmful actions.

Drugs and violence are dangerous, no matter the type of aggression involved.

Impulsive aggression is when someone is angry or violent in situations that do not involve such an intense reaction.

These behaviors may include yelling, belittling, or getting too close to someone’s personal space to attempt to emphasize a point.

The most common anger or violence-inducing drugs are:

 
Drug TypePotential for Violence
MethamphetamineHigh potential for violence due to increased paranoia and aggression.
CocaineMay induce aggressive behavior and impair judgment.
AlcoholKnown to lower inhibitions and may lead to aggressive behavior.
Anabolic SteroidsCan cause mood swings, irritability, and aggressive behavior.
OpioidsWhile traditionally sedating, withdrawal or mixed use with other substances may lead to aggressive behavior.
Hallucinogens such as PCP and LSDCan induce paranoia, hallucinations, and unpredictable behavior potentially leading to violence.
Prescription MedicationsCertain medications may have side effects like agitation, aggressive behavior or psychosis when misused.

An In-depth Look at Each Drug

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine causes what medical professionals call meth rage.

Consuming meth regularly decreases your inhibitions and makes you engage in actions you may not normally do in a normal situation.

If the person using meth already had anger and temper issues in the past or another pre-existing condition such as depression, the meth rage can escalate even further for this individual.

Meth-dependent individuals only have one mission: to find their next hit.

This means that they will not reason, and if anything stands in the way of securing more meth if they run out, it could turn into aggression towards whoever or whatever the threat may be.

Your subcortical systems suffer an imbalance when meth plagues your body.

Aggression is more likely because the person acts before thinking about the consequences of their actions.

Hence, meth users do not become violent outright from using the drug.

Other factors, such as the current environment, any possible cravings, or feelings of paranoia or anxiety, are violent behavior triggers.

Everyone is different in how they react to different situations when meth-dependent.

Because of how meth messes with your memory patterns and emotional responses, you may be more apt to feel aggression because your feelings are not as regulated.

Meth essentially deregulates the normal bobbing and weaving of emotions in different situations.

Instead, you may feel aggression in a sad situation or have that emotion if plans change.

One study performed in 2010 showed that people dependent on meth eventually experience a diminished inferior frontal gyrus, a part of the prefrontal cortex.

This means that meth-dependent participants were more likely to respond aggressively to different situations than those who do not use meth.

 

Cocaine

Cocaine is a drug that can cause violent behavior in individuals.

The high, euphoric feeling may feel fun after a while, but being cocaine-dependent has long-term repercussions.

Let’s evaluate the types of cocaine to see their addictive properties.

Crack is more intense than cocaine hydrochloride because inhaling it causes a faster reaction than snorting.

Its chemical makeup limits how long the euphoria lasts, and the aftermath of inhaling it feels much more intense than snorting cocaine hydrochloride.

Unlike alcohol, cocaine is a stimulant.

You will feel more anxious, paranoid, and sometimes even impossible happiness, which can turn into anger or depression later in the day.

Aggression is likely for cocaine users because they may overthink or become suspicious that people are out to get them.

They may formulate conspiracy theories in their head that are not true, which will make them act aggressively and irrationally.

As your brain continually experiences more cocaine doses, you will not feel the same high as a prior hit.

Hence, cocaine-dependent users increase the dose to feel an even better euphoric and high experience.

Increasing doses over time can lead to accidental overdose, which can be fatal if the patient does not seek medical attention immediately.

More cocaine in your body can do more than cause aggression, such as:

  • Heart issues.
  • Stomach conditions.
  • Lung problems.
  • Contracting HIV or Hepatitis if you inject cocaine with used needles.
  • Mood swings.
  • Libido problems.
  • Seizures.

 

Alcohol

While alcohol is a beverage, it has the damaging effects of pills and drugs, which is why we highlight this on our list.

Alcohol is a depressant, which affects your brain and motor responses.

It will inhibit your impulse control, which means you may overreact to what you may believe is a threat when it is not.

Your brain cannot process information as well as it usually can without alcohol.

The cerebral cortex is the main part of your brain that intakes, processes and interprets new information.

With impaired thought processes, you may misjudge a situation and react in a way that should not have happened.

For example, a change in plans could set off an alcohol-dependent person’s aggression because they were not ready for the unexpected delay in something happening or receiving something.

If a person were to threaten you while you were drunk, rather than think clearly, the alcohol’s depressant qualities might have you stand up to the occasion like you are macho instead.

While women can become violent while under the influence of alcohol, men are more apt to have a temper when drunk.

Hence, women are more at risk of being harmed if they are at the mercy of a drunk male.

Approximately 70% of violent acts linked to alcohol happen within the home.

Around 20% of these episodes utilize a weapon beyond hands, fists, or feet.

It’s believed that strangers are the victims of about 1.4 million alcohol-associated violent occurrences annually.

 

Anabolic Steroids and Aggression

Anabolic steroids contain androgens with synthetic testosterone, which acts like the real hormone in our bodies.

Some teenagers take anabolic steroids if they are experiencing delayed puberty.

Those enduring muscle loss from different diseases may take anabolic steroids to restore their muscles over time.

Bodybuilders sometimes misuse this manufactured testosterone to improve their gain and athletic performance so they can bench press more weight at once.

While anybody prescribed anabolic steroids can become addicted to them, bodybuilders have a higher likelihood of addiction because their body relies on them to maintain athletic performance and for their bodies to function overall.

Bodybuilders who stop taking anabolic steroids may experience appetite loss, feeling restless, rise and fall in mood, and desire more steroids.

Bodybuilders usually take the steroid in higher doses so they can make faster gains, which causes their bodies to build dependence.

The restlessness could turn into aggression whether the person is withdrawing from the steroids or taking high doses.

Like other anger-inducing drugs on this list, anabolic steroids interact with the neurotransmitter’s response for impulse control.

When your impulse control is impaired, the presence of steroids can make it so that you are more aggressive to the people around you.

 

Opioids

Opioids are one drug that, in some cases, can cause violent outbursts.

However, in many cases, the violent outbursts result from the withdrawal process rather than the use.

These drugs interact with dopamine levels much like other anger-inducing drugs.

Your body builds a dependence the more that you take opioids.

The heightened dopamine levels being more than normal can lead to regular aggression.

Those who use opioids will feel anxiety and an intense craving for the drug when they cannot obtain it.

Their sole mission would be to seek more opioids to maintain their feel-good reward system, as is what dopamine does for your body.

These irregularly high dopamine levels do not bode well for your body besides causing aggressive outbursts.

You may become more dishonest and have issues with family, friends, and co-workers as you may lie about your opioid dependence or other manners to secure more opioids in your possession to fuel your daily dependence.

 

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens are psychoactive drugs that put people in a psychedelic state and can trigger aggressive behavior.

Hallucinogen-dependent individuals may feel that they are not in the real world.

Essentially, they are experiencing different states of consciousness, which can alter their thoughts and feelings and be wackier than usual.

The two main types of hallucinogens are PCP and LSD. PCP can either be an anesthetic or a stimulant, but it depends on the dose that you take of it.

Just like PCP, LSD can be a depressant and also a stimulant.

 

PCP

Phenylcyclohexyl piperidine, or phencyclidine, is the technical term for PCP.

It’s a dissociative hallucinogen drug that can induce violence and make your mind think different things that are not in tune with reality.

Because it interacts with the neurotransmitters responsible for emotion, you will not be able to regulate what you feel as well as you would without PCP in your body.

Hence, this could lead to more aggressive outbursts towards family members, friends, co-workers, and even innocent bystanders who have nothing to do with what you are experiencing.

You will feel detached from the world the more that you take PCP. As a Schedule II substance, you will feel depression, anxiety, and aggression as you withdraw from PCP.

Current studies associate PCP with predominantly violent and aggressive actions like self-harm and severe criminal activities like assaults and homicide.

This connection may arise from a mix of the drug’s immediate and long-term effects.

 

LSD

Lysergic acid diethylamide is the technical name for LSD.

The streets may also refer to LSD as LAD, LSD-25, or more simply as acid.

While you can experience more visual hallucinations from LSD, you may also have auditory ones.

It’s classified as a Schedule I substance, along with MDMA and heroin.

This means these three drugs do not have a true medical need and are more likely to be abused amongst drug-dependent individuals.

Sometimes people need an escape from real life.

When LSD-dependent people try the drug for the first time, they may like how relaxed it makes them feel and the different hallucinations they experience.

They may see it as a way to evade responsibilities or forget everything weighing down their minds temporarily.

No matter their reason for using LSD, it can have long-term repercussions.

Besides hallucinations, you may experience seizures, compromised heartbeat, difficulty staying coordinated, restlessness, and spikes and drops in blood pressure amongst other issues.

 

Prescription Medications

Although prescription medications are designed to improve health, they can sometimes result in adverse side effects, such as increased aggression or violent tendencies in specific individuals.

Changes in brain chemistry, hormonal imbalances, or disruptions to mood-regulating neurotransmitters cause these behaviors.

For instance, some antidepressants, particularly those that affect serotonin levels, like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), have been associated with an increased risk of aggressive behavior in rare cases.

Likewise, drugs like Chantix used to quit smoking, can cause mood swings and violent urges.

Benzodiazepines, commonly prescribed for anxiety, can also trigger sudden outbursts of aggression if misused or abused.

It’s important to note that while these side effects are possible, they are not experienced by everyone who takes the medication.

It’s always wise to discuss potential side effects with a healthcare provider and monitor any changes in behavior when starting a new medication.

Factors that Enhance the Link between Drugs and Violence

While drug use alone can predispose individuals to violent behavior, it’s the interplay of various factors—ranging from co-use of substances and pre-existing mental conditions to the surrounding environment and the challenges of withdrawal—that can magnify the risk.

 

Polysubstance Use

The concurrent use of multiple drugs, known as polysubstance use, can amplify the adverse effects of each drug, leading to unpredictable behavior.

The combination can cause intensified reactions, sometimes culminating in violent outbursts.

For instance, mixing depressants and stimulants, such as alcohol and cocaine, can offset their effects, leading users to consume more.

As a result, this can push the individual into a state of heightened aggression or paranoia.

 

Pre-Existing Mental Health Conditions

Individuals with pre-existing mental health disorders might experience an exacerbation of their symptoms when they consume drugs.

For instance, someone with an underlying mood disorder might experience severe mood swings when on narcotics.

If such individuals are not treated or are unaware of their underlying condition, drug use can act as a catalyst, potentially triggering violent tendencies or aggressive behavior.

 

Environmental Factors

The environment in which drugs are consumed can significantly influence behavior.

For instance, a user in a hostile or unstable environment may be more prone to violence compared to someone in a safer, more controlled setting.

Peer influences also play a critical role.

If drug use is coupled with peer encouragement of aggressive behaviors or if the drug-taking setting itself is contentious, the likelihood of violent outbursts increases.

Moreover, socio-economic factors, such as poverty and lack of access to resources, can intertwine with drug use and intensify feelings of frustration, leading to aggression.

 

Withdrawal and Dependence

Dependence on drugs and the subsequent withdrawal process can be physically and mentally taxing.

As the body becomes reliant on a substance, the absence of it can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms.

Among these symptoms, irritability, anxiety, and agitation stand out, and they can escalate to violent behaviors if not addressed.

The process of quitting, especially without proper medical supervision, can push individuals into a state where their threshold for aggression is significantly reduced.

Counter Arguments and Misconceptions

It is important to clarify some common misunderstandings regarding the connection between drugs and violence.

Firstly, it is not accurate to assume that all drug users exhibit violent behavior.

The effects of drugs can differ significantly based on factors such as one’s physical and mental health, as well as the context in which the drug is used.

Secondly, violence is a complex issue that can be influenced by various factors beyond drug use, including socioeconomic conditions, upbringing, personal traumas, and peer pressure.

Blaming violent tendencies solely on drug use oversimplifies a multifaceted problem.

Lastly, perpetuating the belief that drug use inevitably leads to violence can stigmatize drug users, making it more challenging for them to seek help or rehabilitation.

It is crucial to approach this topic with nuance and compassion to promote understanding and effective solutions.

What if Drugs are Making Me Violent?

If you are using drugs known to induce violence, you should get help immediately.

Especially if you notice that you are repeatedly getting violent with others, the fact that you have this self-awareness is great!

You recognize that you are not yourself and need help to turn your life around.

We are here for you whenever you may need treatment from us.

Give us a call or text, whatever mode of contact you prefer.

Representatives are standing by 24/7 to help answer your questions about our programs, insurance coverage, amenities, and more.

Take the first step in admitting you have a problem and reach out for help.

If you are the person that is getting violent, here are some do’s and don’ts to follow as you go about seeking help:

 

 

DO:

  • Decide to get help.
  • Call a drug and alcohol treatment center to get help.
  • Give yourself grace through the process.
  • Try to give yourself positive affirmations even if all seems hopeless.
  • Call or text our facility when you feel you are ready.
  • Have someone (or yourself) bring you to the facility when prepared.
  • Find a hobby or an activity that calms you down, so you can relax as you seek help.
 
 

DON’T:

  • Wait until you seriously hurt someone or have legal consequences for getting help.
  • Fight the process of recovery.
 

What If Someone I Love Is Using Drugs and Being Violent?

If someone you love is being violent because of drugs, do not hesitate to contact us on our call/text line.

While you cannot force your loved ones into seeking treatment, even if you know they truly need it, we have other options to explore, such as intervention.

If you are having trouble taking the first steps in discussing addiction treatment, contact us for pointers.

When trying to encourage your loved one to seek medical help, here are some do’s and don’ts so you can go about the process properly:

 

 

DO:

  • In situations of extreme violence, where your life has been threatened, reach out to a professional to create a plan to leave or have your loved one removed from your home.
  • Establish strong boundaries.
  • Involve another friend or family member to protect you from further acts of violence.
  • Bring in a professional to talk to your loved one about getting help for their addiction.
 
 

DON’T:

  • Enable them because you are afraid
  • Stay in the same house if you fear for your life.
  • Hope that they will get sober on their own (people rarely do without professional or legal intervention)
  • Act aggressively with them as it can trigger the same behavior from them.

 

Sources:

[1] Don’t Blame Amygdala for Meth Users’ Aggression

[2] How Drugs & Alcohol Can Fuel Violent Behaviors

 

Published: 9/14/2022

Updated: 9/22/2023

Contributor: Susana Spiegel 

Editor: Julie Miller 

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RECOVERY WRITER & ADVOCATE

Susana is a recovery, mental health, and addiction education enthusiast with 8 years of experience in addiction recovery herself. Susana holds a Bachelor of Arts from the GCU College of Theology. She is anti-addiction stigma and believes accurate and factual information is essential to beginning the recovery process.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director

LIONEL ESTRADA

CLINICAL DIRECTOR & REVIEWER

Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach to addiction.

Articles written prior to August 2023 were also clinically reviewed by Karen Williams, LPC 

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