No one is surprised by the complex interconnections among drugs, alcohol, violence, and criminal behavior. Statistics repeatedly bear out the strong association between substance abuse and crime, some of which is violent in nature. Of course, drug abuse and drinking can also lead to violent behavior that is not reported and never makes it into the criminal justice system.

Alcohol and drug abuse can both lead to criminal behavior and can be used as a coping mechanism by those who have a history of crime. In other words, they are interwoven, but that does not mean there are no solutions to drug-related crime and violence.

Alcohol Abuse and Crime

Since alcohol is legal and readily available, it has an especially strong connection with crime and violence. Forty percent of all crimes today are associated with alcohol use and approximately 37 percent of offenders serving in jail report drinking at the time they were arrested.

In fact, alcohol was found to be associated with violent crimes (murder, rape, assault, spousal abuse, and child abuse) more than any illegal drug. In about half of all homicides and assaults, the offender, the victim, or both parties were reported to have been drinking. Alcohol is also a major factor in violence between people who know each other. Around two-thirds of victims attacked by a current or former spouse or significant other reported the involvement of alcohol, compared to only 31 percent of stranger-related violence victims.

Drug Abuse and Crime

Sixty percent of people arrested test positive for illegal drugs upon arrest, and a study from 2004 found that around one-third of state prisoners and one-fourth of federal prisoners admitted to committing crimes while under the influence of illegal substances. Exactly which types of illegal substances are involved varies, but there are clear trends.

In San Diego, for example, methamphetamine is the drug most commonly found in offenders, with 55 percent of men and 58 percent of women testing positive for meth. Among arrestees testing positive for multiple drugs, 91 percent tested positive for meth along with other substances.

In other parts of the US, however, opioid use is at crisis levels. Even though meth is more prevalent in San Diego, opioids are still a problem there, particularly among young offenders. Among arrestees testing positive for heroin, around one-third said they started out taking prescription drugs, and then switched to heroin because it was easier to obtain and cheaper.

The Types of Offenses Resulting from Alcohol and Drug Abuse

There are three main types of crime associated with alcohol and drug abuse: use-related crime, economic-related crime, and system-related crime. The first, use-related crime, occurs when criminal acts result from people ingesting drugs and then committing crimes under the influence of those drugs.

Economic-related crime is the type of crime that people commit in order to have money to continue their drug addiction. Theft and prostitution are the most common types of economic-related drug crimes.

System-related crimes are those that result from how drugs are sold and how the criminal justice system deals with drug dealers. These crimes include things like manufacturing drugs, transporting them, selling them, as well as violence that results from these activities (like turf wars where drug use is rampant).

Addiction Treatment: The Key to Breaking the Cycle

The one thing that all these types of crimes and substances have in common is that the key to interrupting the cycle of drug dependence and crime is effective addiction treatment. Yet even though a high percentage of jail and prison inmates qualify as having a substance abuse disorder, few are able to access any sort of addiction treatment while incarcerated. Drug offenders who complete their sentences and are released without having undergone addiction treatment are almost certain to resume alcohol or drug abuse and are highly likely to re-offend on another drug-related charge.

Addiction treatment is more complicated than incarceration, but it has been shown to produce a positive return on investment. Every dollar spent on addiction treatment saves nearly six dollars because of fewer arrests and incarcerations, as well as lower medical, child welfare, and public benefit costs.

Alcohol and drug use are closely intertwined with a crime. Incarceration may take someone out of the environment that allows him or her to use, but the real key to breaking the link between drugs and crime is professional addiction treatment. Fortunately, there are people and organizations ready to help. If you have an alcohol or drug abuse problem, please contact us today. Reaching out is step one to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.