When Alcohol Abuse Leads to Sexual Assault

The Influence of Alcohol in Sexual Assault

Lately, there have been many highly profiled stories about sex scandals.  Quite a few of these scandals involved incidences of alcohol, or prolonged histories of alcohol abuse. When alcohol and sex are involved, there can be a multitude of consequences. There are some pretty important facts to know about alcohol, sex, and sexual assault.

Alcohol Affects Decision Making

This is pretty common knowledge. However, many people don’t understand how it does so or just how little alcohol it takes to affect decision making. Your prefrontal cortex and frontal lobe regulate your impulsiveness and judgment respectively. If these areas are affected, an individual would have less inhibition about acting impulsively. Decision making would be impaired due to the fact that you have less inhibitions. You also are not considering all facts while making decisions, because you are not operating at your full mental capacity.

Memory Impairment Occurs

The hippocampus regulates memory. The hippocampus is constantly producing new neurons that have the potential to be strengthened and nourished. The hippocampus can also shrink or experience a death of neurons, which is what happens when someone abuses alcohol. Older adults who become heavily intoxicated may experience memory loss, or blackouts while drinking and have limited recall of events. Just because there is no memory of something happening during a drinking episode, does not mean it didn’t happen. If you drank over a certain level for your height, weight, and other factors, then your hippocampus may have been affected. If every moment of a night cannot be accounted for due to drinking too much, then there may be more unsavory situations in your past than you realize.

Alcohol Focuses On Instant Gratification

Instant gratification is another way to say lack of impulse control. There are all times when everyone desires instant gratification, however, some people tend to need it a majority of the time. Those who are not used to having to manage impulses or wants or those with low impulse control can have a harder time not seeking instant gratification when intoxicated. If there is a desire for sex, sexual activity, sense of right or entitlement to a person or sex, and a person is intoxicated there may be an incidence of sexual assault or rape to follow.

People Are Affected Different Ways

Many studies have been conducted and hypotheses have been constructed to explain why alcohol affects people in different ways. Aggression, a personality trait, and those who have a proclivity towards aggression when sober, tend to exhibit the same type of behavior while drinking. As for sadness, a mood or feeling, release of emotion can occur while drinking. The sparking of aggression can be particularly dangerous when in a situation where there is little impulse control, less decision making capabilities, and lowered inhibition. This could lead to less regard for the consequences of decisions especially regarding the opposite sex. 

Inability To Judge Social Cues

The direct lack of judgment extends to recognizing social cues. This is problematic in situations where members of the opposite sex are usually drinking together. Friendliness can be mistaken as flirting, and flirting can be mistaken for permission for or desire to engage in sexual activity. On the other hand, a rejection can carry much more of a sting when drinking, as well, which can spur a violent reaction from someone with lowered lowered inhibitions due to alcohol abuse.

Alcohol Can Be The Pathway

We have all heard the saying “A drunk mind speaks sober thoughts!”  Could that also be true of actions? If a perpetrator rapes someone, it has been argued that the desire or inclination has to have been present in the person beforehand. Alcohol doesn’t make a person assault another person, but it affects them to the point where their inhibitions and regulations are not operating at their prime. They are able to engage in behaviors that they may have already desired to do in the first place. The presence of alcohol allows them to feel at peace with their choices. However, the use of alcohol never makes the situation okay and does not allow the perpetrator off of the hook. Even if there is presence of alcohol, one could have previously made the decision not to engage in unwanted sexual behaviors no matter how strong the desire.

Consistent Alcohol Abuse

If an individual consistently abuses alcohol, then there may be a permanent change in brain function (among other things). Alcohol abuse could lead to brain damage in the areas that control mood, emotions, perception and judgement. Los of brain cells would in fact lead to a slower reaction time and less consideration in making decisions, as well as more difficulty with regulation all emotion. All of these things can lead to repeated sexual encounters that in turn can lead to unwanted consequences.

When alcohol is present, lack of judgment, impairment in decision making (especially if an individual is prone to aggressive behaviors), and lower impulse control can follow, and there can be disastrous consequences. While it has been argued that alcohol doesn’t commit sexual assault and rape – people do, we do know there is a correlation between sexual assault and alcohol. Whether alcohol makes it easier for men who already desire to commit these actions to do so, or it simply perpetuates a spur of the moment action, alcohol is still a factor that is present in many sexual assault cases. When drinking, both men and women want to be aware of what is going on around them, and limit the intake of alcohol to what is acceptable for their body type, height, and weight to lessen any propensity for alcohol-related sexual assault.




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