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michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture
The Booze and Drugs Effect?

How much will booze and drugs influence a fight's outcome?  For instance if your enemy/opponent is tanked up on whiskey or has a nose full of cocaine and is feeling no pain, how will this effect your techniques and chances for survival? None whatsoever? A lot? Or, you never consider it in your training?

Inquiring minds want to know!



Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I don't know for certain. really.good question.

Only thing I can state emphatically is that I don't put any reliance whatsoever on "pain compliance" or pressure point use, not saying it doesn't work ever, but it's sure as heck alot less reliable than something like blunt head trauma and shocking the central nervous system.

It's the same with 'grappling' application, stuff that forces someone to move, and stuff that makes someone move simply because it's physically uncomfrotable are different things.

JWT's picture

A good question Mike, and one too often ignored.

Obviously the effect of any drug is going to vary from person to person depending on the drug concentration, the manner in which it enters the bloodstream, the size of the person, the efficiency of their liver etc etc.  

I think the easiest way to look at this when designing training responses is to envisage a series of graphs.  In the first lets make x=sensitivity to pain, y=numbers of people - on this we could plot lines for normal behaviour, behaviour under the influence of adrenaline, and behaviour under the influence of drugs.  If we imagine a standard bell curve for the first, we'll see higher shallower curves for the effects of adrenaline and drugs.  If we take a graph showing the ability of perform complex motor skills against levels of drug toxicity then we'd expect to see that ability to decline as intoxication increases.

Personally this is why I focus on techniques that work due to biomechanics rather than due to pain.  In other words a kick or leg shunt and moves the body because of how the force effects the posture.  Strikes that work because they knock a person over, or wind them, or cause unconciousness rather than causing pain.  Controls that work through muscle recruitment and isolation more than through the pain caused by resisting them.  

John Titchen

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

As well as increasing pain thresholds, it should also be remembered that drink and certain drugs can also reduce awareness, decision making and physical coordination. It should also be remembered that this can work both ways too. If you get drunk in a public space you are a more attractive target and the reduced awareness and physical coordination make is much less likely that you will be able to keep yourself free from harm.

In Geoff Thompson’ “Dead or Alive” book there is a good appendix on this by Mo Teague. If memory serves me right, Mo tells of tests he has done with students where half the group have a couple of beers and then are asked to complete various drills and tests. Generally they feel that have done OK … until a video of their performance is played back to them. We therefore need to be aware that even small amounts of alcohol can affect performance, awareness and decision making. If you are having a glass of wine with a good meal in a nice restaurant, then that’s unlikely to be a problem. If you are getting “wasted” in an area with a reputation for violence, then you need to know that you are taking a risk that your training is unlikely to be able to mitigate.

I also recall being at a very good self-defence seminar around 20 years ago where one of the participants asked, “Will this stuff still work when I’m drunk?”. He was more than a little disappointed when the instructor replied that it would not be anywhere near as effective as it would be if he remained sober. There is an inescapable personal responsibility here.

Keeping away from places where people drink heavily (and engage in the abuse of other substances) is obviously the smart thing to do. Alcohol and violence go hand in hand in many parts of the world. Here in the UK, the hospitals fill up with the victims of drink related violence every Friday and Saturday night.

The point is we do need to ask why we came into contact with violent people who were under the influence in the first place? There are personal security, awareness and lifestyle issues here which need to be addressed and, in my view, that should trump any questions on which techniques are most valid. That said, “even monkeys can fall out of trees” (but hopefully not because they are “wasted” :-).

When it comes to technique, I agree with much of what has already been said. It’s physical incapacitation or escape we should be aiming for and not anything which relies on “pain” or the enemy losing the will to continue. I think that’s true regardless though as the “fight or flight response” also greatly increases a person’s pain threshold.

All the best,


PS While writing about alcohol and performance, I was reminded of this sketch from Mitchell and Webb. A valid point made in a comic way: “It does not make athletes perform better, but it makes them think they are performing better”

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Iain, I can't help but agree with everything you've said..

If you'llpermit me to play devil's advocate a bit though: for some people getting harassed, and even attacked by drunks is harder to avoid than others, i'm sure alot of people will poo poo this notion and claim it can all be avoided/de escalated, in any event it's true that non-physical skills should play the primary role here (how many have taken classes on talking down drunks lol, I know I haven't). If you grow up in the right city or neighborhood (I lived in a place like this as a kid and teenager), encountering a belligerent, and sometimes perhaps even violent drunk can be as simple as taking a walk in your neighborhood.

As a teenager I actually had two guys driving drunk follow my friend and I, pull over to the side of the road, and attack us. Being all of fifteen years old and scared out of our wits, we basically tried to avoid injury and ran. I had a number of encounters like this growing up, nowhere near a bar. The point is, while I agree that the physical skills here are only a small bit of the consideration...it is not possible for everyone to avoid the possibility of alcohol induced  violence to the same degree, sometimes it takes more than just staying away from bars, and for some it might be right outside the door. In the city I live in now I can't even imagine something like this happening, then again in the city I live in now people don't walk down the street while drinking a six pack, in the one I grew up in, they did!

PS love the Mitchell and Webb clip!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Zach,

Zach Zinn wrote:
Iain, I can't help but agree with everything you've said..

If you'll permit me to play devil's advocate a bit though: for some people getting harassed, and even attacked by drunks is harder to avoid than others, i'm sure alot of people will poo poo this notion and claim it can all be avoided/de escalated …

I agree. I’m not saying all situations can be avoided. What I am saying is that avoidance always needs to be first and foremost. When martial artists teach self-defence they tend to have a bad habit of focusing only on the physical (because that is where there expertise is). I know all in this thread fully understand that (because I know them all well :-) but I wanted to make that point explicit for readers.

As regards de-escalating drunks, that can be very difficult. As Peter Consterdine says, “You can’t reason with the unreasonable”. The angry drunk who has lost control of their emotions and ability to reason is unlikely to respond to verbal de-escalation. That’s another factor that needs to be kept in mind with regards to dealing with those under the influence of drink and drugs.

One other point I feel the need to make is that UK self-defence law permits people to rely on their honestly held beliefs (even if that belief is unreasonable so long as it can be shown to be honestly held) with the exception of beliefs resulting from “voluntary intoxication”. If a person is therefore drunk when they defend themselves they will potentially have a harder time navigating the legal process afterward as their beliefs about the situation can be called into question. For example, if you acted pre-emptively in the belief you were about to be attacked that would be legally sound if you could demonstrate that belief was honestly held. However, if you were drunk at the time your ability to accurately judge the situation could be called into question and hence you would not be able to rely on that “honestly held belief”.

Lots of factors to consider with regards to drink and drugs from both perspectives. I’m sure we will explore them all as this thread develops.

All the best,


Zach Zinn wrote:
PS love the Mitchell and Webb clip!

It is funny isn’t it :-)

Tau's picture

An anecdote from a seminar with Tony Pillage a couple of years ago that again backs up comments above. Tony endeavoured to show us the affect of intoxication on our capacity to defend ourselves. He put a grilled head guard on us one at a time and wore a 14oz boxing glove. The attack with be a straight punch to the face... but first we had to look at a point on the ceiling and spin around ten times. This certainly replicates a few drinking games that I've partaken in. I stress that we even knew what attack was coming. The results -

Every single one of us got hit and went down even when we were smart enough to try to get a guard up. On vital difference was coloured belts and black belts. The coloured belts were smart enough to stay down. The black belts took the hit, went down and got straight back up... only to get hit right back down again!

michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

I thought this might interst you guys.  It concerns the pain killing effects narcotics can have on the human body: " Other things I've heard said they would use prescription drugs and basically anything they could get to help get their courage up.  You could see that sometimes when you shot them.  Some could take several bullets without seeming to feel it."  Chris Kyle p. 147 American Sniper.

Hum,  wonder what would have happened if he'd, or we'd been fighting them hand to hand. If a Mk-11 rifle wouldn't stop someone doped up, I wonder what effect an empty-hand strike would have?


Wallace Smedley
Wallace Smedley's picture

Awesome topic! I had a blog post on this subject in the works and somehow never finished it....

I look at the topic from two perspectives, Self and Other.

For Self, me, I do not drink at all ever away from home. I do this for many reasons but the main reason being that If anything even starts to go wrong, I want all of my faculties available to me. I don't need alcohol  making things worse by interfering with my judgement. So, that is a personal rule, and even though driving everyone home is no fun at all, watching their behavior is sometimes entertaining and more than makes up for anything I might be "missing out on". Cloudy judgement is best avoided. My brother held the exact opposite opinion, by the way, and of the two of us (my brother and I) who do you suppose has never been to prison?

For Other; a drunk person is not easily de-escalated, but they can be tricked, they might fall for a change of subject, and they will have a harder time following complex thought processes. These work in your favor unless he thinks you are making fun of him. Drunks are tricky, but avoidable.

Drugs throw a whole new level of danger into the situation. The clouded judgement is there still, and the pain tolerance under some drugs is through the roof. As far as the original question on how it would change or what effect would it have on my techniques, it changes simple restraint to disable. Obviously, this is going to be after the first two levels of self-defense have failed; avoidance and de-escalation.

ky0han's picture

Hi everyone,

from my experience there are three types of wasted totally boozed up persons.

Type one is not that dangerous because they tend to get sleepy and crash everywhere they are. Type two is always getting cuddly, trying to hug you and showing their love or some kind of that. Type three is always getting touchy and kind of aggressive. Types two and three are those who I have major issues with. Thats why I don't attend any kind of events anymore where I know those folks hang arround. Back to the topic.

After soccer games there are often some kind of hooligan activities. I was told by someone who works as a riot policeman that some of those friends of the third half taking pain killers in advance so they are prepared for their upcoming spare time enjoyment. He witnessed a case were some dude had both arms allready broken and was still attacking police forces. I think thats kind of insane.

When adrenaline alone is not doing the trick, drugs will definitely do.

Regards Holger

Tau's picture

Wallace Smedley wrote:
For Self, me, I do not drink at all ever away from home. I do this for many reasons but the main reason being that If anything even starts to go wrong, I want all of my faculties available to me. I don't need alcohol  making things worse by interfering with my judgement. So, that is a personal rule, and even though driving everyone home is no fun at all, watching their behavior is sometimes entertaining and more than makes up for anything I might be "missing out on". Cloudy judgement is best avoided.

Just to add to that, I drink typically once a week at home - I like a can of lager after Wednesday night class. I rarely (I will never say "never" drink away from home. I while ago I had a mini revelation that there are three things that I do (theoretically at least) whilst I'm not under the influence of alcohol:

1. Drive

2. Defend myself

3. Do first aid (I've saved a life on the side of the road - this isn't hypothetical)

All of these are potentially life-saving. Surely that's an important part of Martial Arts practice in the broader context?

BRITON55's picture

Just to throw a spanner in the works...has anyone who has been involved with a confrontation with a drunk seen the sober up quickly effect happen and suddenly they have become a real threat?

I have personally been in perhaps too many physical and verbal encounters with men and women under the influence of toxic substances...sometimes when I have been under the influence too!

Not being a violent by nature person I take a bit to get going...but I have witnessed placid persons change into fire breathing demons with the attitudes of extreme fighters whilst under the influence of whatever and seem to gain the confidence to take on persons they would normally shy away from.

I have times when I have been confronted by persons not fully under the influence but enough to be confrontational...and a couple of painful slaps and locks later sober up and become apologetic...so I tend to think there is a threshold where there is no going back from a stupor to just enough to be obnoxious and daring which they can come back from given the right kind of motivation to the opposite zone of ...dont know what they are doing and feel no remorse or sorrow until the effects wear off and reality comes back.

Personally I have been fortunate enough to survive such encounters even after having been stabbed and slashed kicked and beaten on different occasions and managed to take control enough to be here to post this comment. A very interesting topic as it spans all societies around the world....one other note is how different cultures react under the influence of intoxicating substances in different ways.