For those that study self-defense, alcohol will never be too far away from the topics of discussion. For people that deal with security, alcohol is another word for "trouble". The stuff is responsible for so many acts of stupidity, that it simply boggles the mind. It's not going anywhere, unfortunately. It's been around for as long as recorded history.
What makes it so dangerous? Why do people continue to consume the stuff? What is it? The most common type is ethanol, or C2H5OH, a combination of Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen. Its affect on the human body is a central nervous system depressant, and enters the blood stream through the stomach and intestines. The affects happen fairly quickly as the alcohol is distributed throughout the body. The degree of affect depends on the blood-alcohol level, and follows a set of stages:
|Euphoria||A general sense of euphoria, where sociability, talkativeness, self-confidence increase and inhibitions decrease. Initial stages of loss of motor control and judgment.|
|Excitement||Reduced inhibitions and emotional stability and increase of irrationality. Pronounced loss of motor control and sensory awareness. The initial stages of drowsiness. Judgement is markedly reduced. At this stage, the level of potential violence is greatly increased.|
|Uncertainty||Disorientation and extreme stages of motor-cordination degradation (i.e. difficulty walking). Marked by unpredictable emotional stages, blurred vision. This stage has a marked increase in pain threshold (this is extremely important to know for self defense!)|
|Stupor||Stage where almost all semblance of control have been lost with fading consciousness. Vomiting and incontinence. Motor coordination to the point where walking is extremely difficult or impossible. No reliable judgment faculties remain.|
|Coma||Unconsciousness. Complete loss of stimulus-response.|
|Death||Respiratory system shutdown.|
Considering this list, it is a wonder that alcohol is actually a legal drug. The merits of alcohol have been debated for centuries, but this debate is irrelevant in self-defense. We are merely concerned with the dark side of this nefarious drug. As many police will attest, a lot of domestic violence is caused by alcohol. Rational people will do irrational things when intoxicated. Domestic violence often has causes that are outside of its domain, but how people deal with problems is directly affected by alcohol. It should not be assumed, however, that alcohol causes domestic violence. In fact, there is only a weak link between the two. This is not a defense of alcohol, though. Individuals that are intoxicated are more likely to cause greater injury in cases of domestic violence, and when judgment is impaired, anything is possible.
It isn't the purpose of this text to condemn alcohol (after all, it makes a great disinfectant), but it has direct ties to critical thinking. Since martial artists should always be aware of the potential for violence, they should be especially aware when alcohol is present. In the previous section, one of the questions that you should ask yourself is "Does anything indicate the person or situation may be dangerous?" When this person is drunk, then the answer to that question is yes. Notice that it does not ask if he or she is dangerous. It asks if this person may be dangerous. By asking this question and convincing yourself that the answer is yes, then this awareness may alter how you deal with them. You may prevent a fight by simply knowing that the potential exists.
From a self-defense standpoint, someone who is drunk poses several challenges. The severity of the affects depends on how drunk the person is, of course. That is a good gauge for how "on guard" you should be.
The first and most likely affect is that the individual is less likely to respond to rational argument. Think of alcohol as a reality distortion device, where simple rules of logic no longer apply. This decouples the individual's ability to see cause and affect, which means that he or she will probably not consider the consequences of what they are doing. Besides the "happy" affects, alcohol is a depressant, which slows down the body's processes. This includes the brain, and someone who is drunk will not be able to concentrate on complex mental tasks (like driving). Your best bet is to try simple arguments, knowing that you may not be able to "get through."
Many individuals experience increased self-confidence when drunk. From a self-defense standpoint, the opponent is much more likely to think he is going to win an engagement. This and the loss of inhibitions are like dry kindling in a steel mill. Because of the increased self-confidence, any show of force on your part is only more likely to make the opponent want to fight. Most fights start with a fury of violent emotions. Be calm. That is usually the greatest sign of self-confidence that you can project in that kind of a situation. Even if you aren't calm, try to act calm.
Even people who are mildly drunk can exhibit a state of hyperactive emotions. You've probably seen a group of people who have been drinking and laughing hysterically. Generally, the joke doesn't even have to be funny to set them off. This sensitivity to emotions is probably one of the draws of alcohol, and it can provide an elevated state of positive emotions for a few hours. (Likewise, it is also possible to amplify negative emotions, which seems to counter-intuitive because most people that drink to "forget about" bad situations have to pass through the hyper-sensitivity before they get to the truly mentally incapacitated stage.) However, the problem is that the hyperactive emotion could just as easy be anger as laughter. It's unpredictable, so you really don't know what will come next. Like the dry kindling in a steel mill, this is a volatile mixture. If you see people who are generally having a good time drinking, that's fine. As a martial artist, you should keep in mind that the emotional character could change at any time. As the level of alcohol in the blood goes up, the predictability goes down.
Anyone who is very drunk will experience a markedly higher pain threshold. Things that would normally cause great levels of discomfort (pressure points, locks), may not even be felt by a really drunk person. You should definitely keep this in mind if forced to face someone drunk. Pain is the body's inhibitor. Most anyone will stop doing something if it hurts enough, but a drunk that does not experience the pain could be difficult to control. For example, a technique that restrains the wrist might fail because the person pushes through the lock and breaks his own wrist doing it.
There are a few positives, though. The reason that makes a drunk a danger behind the wheel of a car is an advantage to you. The individual's reflexes will be slower. They may not even see a punch (well, they'll see it, but their mind won't perceive it) from you until after you have landed it. The decreased balance can be used to your advantage because it will amplify techniques that involve redirection.
As far as a martial artist is concerned, alcohol is just about all bad news. You should always be on your guard when alcohol is present, because of the extreme unpredictability involved. It should just be one of those things you include in your Operational Security repertoire.
- Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_alcohol_on_the_body: July 11, 2006
- Effects of Alcohol Intoxication: http://www.indiana.edu/~adic/effects.html: August 27, 2006
- How Stuff Works: How Alcohol Works: http://home.howstuffworks.com/alcohol5.htm: August 29, 2006
- Medline Plus: Alcohol Use: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001944.htm: August 29, 2006