Alcohol and violence and the possible role of serotonin

Crim Behav Ment Health. 2003;13(1):31-44. doi: 10.1002/cbm.529.


Background: There is undisputed evidence linking alcohol consumption and violence and other forms of aggressive behaviour, and also linking aggression with dysfunction of the brain indolylamine serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT). Alcohol consumption also causes major disturbances in the metabolism of brain serotonin. In particular, acute alcohol intake depletes brain serotonin levels in normal (non-alcohol-dependent) subjects. On the basis of the above statements, it is suggested that, at the biological level, alcohol may induce aggressive behaviour in susceptible individuals, at least in part, by inducing a strong depletion of brain serotonin levels.

Aims: In this article, evidence supporting these interrelationships and interactions will be summarized and discussed, the alcohol serotonin aggression hypothesis will be reiterated, and potential intervention strategies will be proposed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / complications*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects*
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Serotonin Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Tryptophan / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Violence / psychology*


  • Serotonin Antagonists
  • Ethanol
  • Tryptophan