Kevin Swartout does not speak Mandarin. He does not speak Mandarin when he’s sober, and he certainly doesn’t speak it when he’s been drinking.
Because alcohol does not cause people to do things that they’re not already disposed to do when they’re sober, he said.
Swartout, an assistant professor at Georgia State University who spoke during a panel at Emory University Tuesday, said his Mandarin example is simplistic but ultimately true.
“Guys who become aggressive when they drink already have those hostile tendencies,” he said.
The panel was arranged as part of National Public Health Week, which this year seeks to promote the small steps people can take to improve their health and the health of their communities. Panel members Linda Degutis, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Regional Administrator Terry Schiavone discussed the role of drugs and alcohol in violence. They said there are some surprising gaps in what the literature says regarding alcohol and injuries and violence.
The speakers noted that while it is widely known that drugs and alcohol play a role in injuries, it is less clear what role they play, and so it can be difficult to find ways to mitigate their effects.
“We don’t necessarily have the data to understand how drugs are involved in injury events,” Degutis said. “Because hospitals don’t always test for drug use with injury patients.”
Likewise, Swartout said, more research is needed to examine the social component of the role of alcohol in violence. People don’t generally become violent when they drink alone, he noted, but they are much more likely to become violent in a bar or when with others.
He pointed to one study that found that when subjects were deceived into thinking they were drinking alcohol, they became more violent than subjects who were not drinking.
“If they think they’re drinking, they become more hostile, even if they’re not actually drinking.”
Degutis, a former APHA president, said she would like for there to be a better understanding of the risks people are taking when they drink.
“There are risks when people drink in some ways,” she said. “People who binge drink are not necessarily alcoholics, but they do put themselves at risk.”
She said doctors in particular can do a better job of helping people know what risky drinking is by asking about the amount and type of alcohol consumed.