Recently, after having had a drink at a restaurant, and realizing that I was feeling a bit woozy from it, I found myself pondering what exactly would be the best approach if I did get someone picking a fight when I've been out after a few drinks. Fortunately, I've never been in that scenario before, having been in few actual fights, none intoxicated, with the closest cases I've been in involving de-escalating situations by offering to buy spilled drinks with my best act of contrition, but I'm well aware that it only takes a few drinks before one's reflexes suffer, you're more likely to injure yourself by missing cues your body gives you to avoid movements that will damage your muscles, tendons, and joints, and you're likely to miss the cues for your opponent's reactions.

That said, it feels like this is probably something which has been addressed in the texts of thousands of years of people studying martial arts, and I'm curious as to what solid advice has been rendered. I'm well aware that the various "drunken" kung fu styles involve no actual drinking, just seemingly uncoordinated movement that's actually carefully planned. Is it recommended that one go on the offensive since your reflexes are likely shot? Begin retreating in hopes that something else will end the fight like having a bouncer intervene? How should I modify my self-defense strategy if I know I am impaired?

This question could be considered a bit of a flip-side to Attacks against intoxicated individual with high pain tolerance, although I don't believe the answers there are directly applicable.


1 Answer 1


If you are intoxicated to the point at which your physical ability is significantly compromised, there's a good chance your cognitive abilities are also impaired, and that your behaviour might be different than usual.

Consider if, when you're drinking, you become more aggressive, or perhaps a little too laid-back. What happens to your impulse control? Are you likely to become more reckless? Do you become verbally provocative? Ask your friends what what kind of drunk you are, as you may not possess the most reliable self-insight. Do you have a tendency to want to show off your abilities? Are you prone to reacting poorly when your ego is threatened?

With practice, and by incorporating mindfulness techniques, you can become more aware of how your psychological processes change as you drink. By developing this 'real-time' awareness of the process of intoxication, you become better equipped to stop drinking when necessary and to identify/deescalate/avoid any potentially problematic social dynamics that might be present in your environment.

If you are forced into a physical confrontation, simple, direct, well-rehearsed, easy-to-execute, compact techniques will likely be most useful; techniques requiring a minimum of balance and coordination. Short, rapid bursts to overwhelm followed by a long sprint will often be the best option. Just remember that the drunker you are, the less likely you and your opponent will act according to notions of 'reasonable force'. The potential consequences of alcohol-fuelled conflict are often increased due to increased pain-tolerance and poor emotional regulation. People can fall badly and die or suffer permanent brain damage. Disinhibition can lead to grossly excessive use of force. Who wants to be part of that?

As far as strategy goes, one of the dangers of alcohol consumption is the way in which it can impair more complex thought processes and problem-solving capacity. Pre-emptive strategy is therefore advisable. Seat selection (back to wall, environmental scope, proximity to multiple exits, barriers), water consumption throughout the evening, choice of venue, choice of alcohol, environmental familiarity, choice of footwear/clothing etc might help should things turn bad.

Actual fight strategy will be determined by many factors, including environment, level of intoxication, number of opponents, number of capable/vulnerable allies, use/availability of weapons/implements. As you recognised in your question, deescalation via tactical communication and rapport-building can be the difference between a good night and a very bad night.

As you're no doubt aware, alcohol consumption often leads otherwise reasonable people to do unreasonable things. Alcohol is responsible for an enormous amount of violence-related injury. With a bit of foresight and common sense, you will be able to avoid conflict. If you find yourself routinely getting drunk to a point at which you become especially vulnerable to attack, or if you tend to invite the wrong kind of attention when drunk, consider whether you need to drink as much as you do, or whether you're better off drinking in safer places.

Don't wait for bouncers to intervene. Ask for their assistance, the earlier the better. And remember your phone. If things look as though they're about to go crazy, call the police. Better to waste their time than to not have them when you need them.

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