Alcohol and Crime

How is alcohol connected with crime? How can you protect yourself from alcohol-induced violent behavior? Answers here.

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ARTICLE SUMMARY: Alcohol triggers violent and aggressive behavior in some people. We explain how alcohol is connected to crime and review current national statistics on alcohol-related crimes in this article.


The Relationship Between Alcohol and Crime

For many decades, substance abuse has been connected with violent and destructive behavior.
But researchers have found that there are two ways in which violence occurs when combined with drugs or alcohol. [1] The two main types of violence include:

  1. Violence committed under the influence of substance.
  2. Violence induced from sale of a substance.

However, the link between alcoholism and violence exists in many domains. It affects public health, domestic relationships, and individual psychology.

First, alcohol abuse can increase the possibility that an individual may commit crime. In fact, 75% of people who were admitted to alcohol rehab reported having committed various crimes such as mugging, physical assault, or use of a weapon. [2] Moreover, a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs examined the rate of violence among people who enrolled into addiction treatment. [3] The medical journal article found that:

  • 72% of men in rehab have committed some sort of violent act.
  • 50% of women in rehab have committed some sort of violent act.

Furthermore, family members often refer a loved one into treatment because of aggressive and violent behavior when while under influence. One review has shown that acute alcohol intoxication might be responsible for approximately half of all crimes. [4]

Finally, a 2010 study found out that the risk for violence increases with alcohol intoxication mostly among individuals who suppressed their feelings of anger while they are sober. [5] People who didn’t work of their anger issues were more likely to drink excessively, and while drunk to engage into violent behavior.

How Excessive Drinking Changes People

Drinking in huge amounts changes people. Alcohol causes them to make the wrong decisions for themselves. Alcohol directly affects the brain’s pathways that changes the way how brain works. [6] These disturbances can lead to:

  • Behavior changes
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Mood swings
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of coordination

The more you drink, the bigger is the effect of alcohol on your brain. You can lose control, experience black out, or engage into risky behaviors. Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increases the risk of many harmful health conditions. [7]. This includes conditions such as:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Accidental injuries like motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns
  • Violence toward self or others
  • Risky sexual behaviors

Even though these conditions can be avoided, excessive drinking makes the chances that these could happen more likely. Also, all of these conditions may leave permanent scars on an individual’s life, which may lead to personality changes.

Aggressive Behavior and Drinking

The World Health Organization has reported that alcohol use is associated with aggressive behavior more than any other substance. What’s the relation between alcohol use and aggression?

According to Graham’s disinhibition hypothesis, alcohol affects the function of the areas of the brain that are associated with inhibition and behavior control. [8] In fact, there is increasing evidence that high levels of impulsiveness and low stress tolerance can reinforce the inclination to be aggressive when drinking.

So, researchers believe that alcohol causes aggression by affecting:

  • Attention
  • Decision making
  • Information processing
  • Self-regulation

Alcohol-Specific Crimes


Driving when drunk is very dangerous… not only for the driver, but also for others. The bottom line is that if you drink and drive, you can end up dead. Or, you can kill or injure someone else. One-third of all traffic fatalities involves a drunk driver. [10]

In the U.S., it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, of 0.8 g/dL. Your BAC needs to lower than this limit if you drive. If it’s higher, you are going to be considered “alcohol-impaired”.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 million Americans reported that they has at least one episode of drunk driving in 2010 [9], while the FBI found that more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence in 2016. [11]

Open Container Laws

Open container laws ban the presence of any type of unsealed container that contains or contained an alcoholic drink. [12] This can include drinks such as:

  • Bottles
  • Cans
  • Flasks

…or other types of containers that hold alcoholic beverages.

The main differences in this law from state-to-state is whether a state has a complete ban on alcohol in the vehicle, or a partial ban. Partial alcohol bans allow passengers to have open containers in a car, but not the drivers. At the moment, 40 states and the District of Columbia have a total ban on the possession and consumption of any open alcoholic container for everyone in a motor vehicle, while remaining states have a partial ban.

Public Intoxication

Public intoxication, also known as ‘drunk in public’ and ‘drunk and disorderly’, is a summary offence when a person is visibly drunk or under the influence of drugs in public. Usually, it is misdemeanor crime under state and local law. The main purpose of these laws is to prevent people from disturbing others in public.

A public intoxication charge must meet all of these three elements:

  1. You appear drunk or intoxicated.
  2. You seem to be drunk or intoxicated.
  3. You are in public.

Underage Drinking

The U.S. faces a huge public health problem because of the underage drinking.  According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 7.4 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 reported current alcohol consummation despite the fact that drinking alcohol is illegal for them. [13]

Moreover, there are zero tolerance law for alcohol consumption for minors that drive across all states. However, 1 in 10 teens in high school drinks and drives, while 1 in 5 teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had some alcohol in their system in 2010. [14] One recent CDC report found that excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year. [15] Recent statistics include:

  • 1,580 deaths from motor vehicle crashes
  • 1,269 deaths from homicides
  • 245 deaths from alcohol poisoning, falls, burns, and drowning
  • 492 deaths from suicides

Violent Crimes and Alcohol Abuse


Since alcohol leads to impaired judgment, a person who is aggressive when under the influence can easily become violent after heavy drinking. This behavior can lead to assault, including an aggravated assault. Assault means causing serious injury, such as harm to another person, while aggravated assault means that a weapon was involved.

Every year the victims of approximately 3 million violent assaults report that the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol. [8]

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence references one report that 27% of aggravated assaults are committed by individuals who were drinking, while more than 600,000 students between the ages of 18 to 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. [16]

Child abuse and neglect

Alcoholism has an impact on family members. 1 in 3 families in U.S. is affected by this disease. It is estimated that 9% of American children live with at least one parent who drinks or uses other substances. [17] And child abuse is a consequence of parental drinking.

Many studies have shown that children of addicted parents are more likely to experience abuse and/or neglect than children in non-substance abusing households.

Also, current research has shown that between one-third and two-thirds of child maltreatment cases involve substance abuse…and a whopping 85% of all states reported that substance abuse was one of the two major problems exhibited by families in which maltreatment was suspected. [17]

Domestic violence

Alcohol use is a factor in domestic violence cases. Being in a relationship with a partner who is a heavy drinker can lead to serious hardships such as child care problems, financial distress, infidelity, or worse.

Half a million incidents of violence between intimates involve offenders who have been drinking, while 118,000 incidents of family violence involve alcohol.

Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, is violent behavior within an intimate relationship that cause physical, emotional, mental, and/or sexual harm to one of the partners in the relationship. Two-thirds of these victims were attacked by an intimate partner such as current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. [18]


Alcohol also plays a key role in approximately 32% of all murders in the USA. It is the most commonly reported substance used by homicide offenders.

Each year, there are 7,756 homicides attributed to excessive alcohol use. 1,269 of these yearly homicides happen to youngsters younger than 21 years old. [19] Moreover, a meta-analytic review found out that 48% of homicide offenders reported that they were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crime, while 37% were alcohol intoxicated. [20]

Sexual Assault

A sexual assault is any forced, unwelcome, and/or non-consensual sexual act. Rape in the most extreme type of sexual assault, but under sexual assault comes unwanted touching, intimacy, or attention. Even though, this type of crime is mostly commuted by men against women, any person no matter the gender can be a victim or a perpetrator.

Based on victim reports, each year about 183,000, or 37%, of rapes and sexual assaults involve alcohol use by the offender. [18] Most sexual assault occurs on college campus where 90% of rape and other sexual assaults involve the use of alcohol by the perpetrator, victim, or both. [16]

Drinking by Victims

Victims of crime may struggle with serious and confusing emotions. Many of them may deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. To cope, they turn to alcohol.

But it’s not just them. People who were victims of certain crimes or were abused or neglected as children are more likely to turn to alcohol as a way of coping with their trauma. And the friends and families of the offender live with the consequences that their loved one committed. They can also start drinking in order to deal with all that negative hardship.

Alcohol does not resolve anything. Drinking delays true healing. Call us to learn how to quit drinking for good. We can help you find the path to recovery. Medical care and counseling is the key to your problems.

Set Drinking Limits to Prevent Injury

Drinking in moderation can help you prevent injury not only to yourself, but also to the others.
Moderate drinking is considered no more than 4 standard drinks for men on any day, or no more than 3 standard drinks on any day for women. Moderate drinking is also considered no more than 14 standard drinks weekly for men, or no more than 7 standard drinks weekly for women. [21]

One standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol which is found in:

  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of regular beer

Here is a list of few tips that can help you limit your drinking.

  1.  Set a fixed drinking goal. Set a drinking goal in the frames of low-risk drinking mentioned before. Also, set alcohol-free days during the week. Write down your goal, and keep it in sight.
  2. Own a drinking diary. If you want to reach a drinking goal, you keep a record of your drinking. The diary will show you how much you drink and how much money you spent on alcohol in a week or a month.
  3. Drink slowly. Sip your drink slowly. Don’t drink fast. Also, you could take a break between drinks. During the break, drink water or other non-alcoholic beverages.
  4. Create an alcohol-free home. It is easier to stop drinking if there is no alcohol around you.
  5. Take a day-off drinking. Choose a day or more when you will not drink alcohol at all.

Get Help Now

Alcohol abuse increases the risk of becoming aggressive, as well as committing violent crime.

So, don’t let alcohol change your personality! Reach out for help, call us to discuss your treatment options. We are here for you…

Still got questions? Post them in the comments section at the end. We are eager to answer to our readers’ inquiries personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: [1] NCBI: Substance abuse and violence: cause and consequence
[2] Psychiatric Times: The Link Between Substance Abuse, Violence, and Suicide
[3] NCBI: Psychological Aggression, Physical Aggression, and Injury in Nonpartner Relationships Among Men and Women in Treatment for Substance-Use Disorders
[4] NCBI: The toxicology of homicide offenders and victims: A review
[5] Live Science: People Who Suppress Anger Become Violent When Drunk
[6] NIAAA: Alcohol’s Effects of the Body
[7] CDC: Fact Sheets: Alcohol Use and Your Health
[8] NCBI: Alcohol-Related Aggression—Social and Neurobiological Factors
[9] CDC: Vital Signs: Alcohol-Impaired Driving Among Adults — United States, 2010
[10] NHTSA: Drunk Driving
[11] FBI: Estimated Number of Arrests
[12] NHTSA: Open Container Law Conformance Criteria
[13] SHAMSA: NSDUH 2017
[14] CDC: Teen Drinking and Driving
[15] CDC: Fact Sheets – Underage Drinking
[16] NCADD: Alcohol, Drugs, and Crime
[17] Child Welfare: Substance Abuse and Child Maltreatment
[18] NCADD: The Role of Alcohol in Crime Victimization
[19] CDC: Alcohol and Public Health: Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI)
[20] Sage Journal: The Prevalence of Alcohol-Involved Homicide Offending: A Meta-Analytic
[21] NIH: Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and your health
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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