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NIDA. (2017, November 27). Addicted to Aggression?. Retrieved from

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The NIDA Blog Team
November 27 2017

Aggressive behavior can be physical (shoving or hitting somebody) or verbal (yelling at someone or saying something mean to them). What does a person who exhibits behavior like that have in common with someone who has a substance use disorder?

Your first guess may be, “Nothing!” They seem like completely separate problems. However, research is finding that’s not totally true.

What’s the link?

Scientists who study the brain and behavior have discovered that those who tend to be aggressive and hostile and those with substance use disorders are alike in two ways:

  1. Both groups are likely to engage in behaviors that could hurt others or themselves—even when they know the result could be harmful.
  2. If they stop doing those harmful behaviors, both groups can relapse (engage in the behaviors again), even if they haven’t done them for a long time.

What’s going on here?

Scientists think that some people are more likely than others to develop “compulsive” (uncontrollable) aggression—and that this involves some of the same brain activity that gets disrupted with a substance use disorder. Further research into the brain could reveal why some people are more inclined than others to use drugs or to act aggressively.

Addiction is a disease

If you or someone you know or love is struggling with an addiction, the best thing you can do for them (and yourself) is to ask for help. 

One place to start is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You don’t have to be thinking about suicide to call the Lifeline—anyone with a problem can call. It’s free, private, and confidential. 

Learn more: nine tips to help you cope with stress.