Should being drunk in public from alcohol intoxication be a crime?

Laws that try to control consumption of alcohol by punishing the effects of alcohol differ by country and jurisdiction within the same country. But should being drunk in public necessarily be a crime? We discuss here.

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What is legal alcohol intoxication?

Legal alcohol intoxication is a definition that varies across cities, states and countries.  In fact, tere is no common way that legal jurisdications define what it means to be intoxicated by alcohol in public.  This makes is hard to define what it actually MEANS to be intoxicated by alcohol in public.

What’s more, doctors even have problems diagnosing intoxication, because specfic blood alcohol content or alcohol consumption in and of themselves do not define intoxication.  Instead, medical definitions of alcohol intoxication are linked to displays of impairment.  As are legal definitions.

As a result, alcohol intoxication is rarely legally defined using scientific terms that are precise (except for blood alcohol levels that define use of a motor vehicle).  This makes intoxication in public very subjective to define.  In other words, law enforcement officers can and do base their decisions on whether a person is drunk or not on the BEHAVIORS associated with intoxication.  This is how laws can become subject to interpretation in the hands of the police.


Docile vs. disruptive drunks

People who are drunk in public can be either docile or cause disruption.  In disruptive cases, drunk people distrub the peace by being loud, causing fights, destruction of property, etc.  And in these cases, it seems pretty clear that disruptive drunks break social code by comitting anti-social acts.  But what about the docile drunks?  Is the mere POTENTIAL for disorderly conduct and the ASSUMPTION that drunks in public will disturb the peace enough to arrest and charge someone for intoxication?

Is drunkenness itself a crime?

Laws exist to protect the public.  But docile drunks seem to do harm to no one but themselves.  So should we really punish people who are harming themselves?

Laws about being drunk enforce moral judgments

The degree to which a society can accept another person’s personal choice is the degree to which that society shows tolerance.  When being drunk in public becomes a crime, simply for the sheer moral judgment that drunkenness (not the behavior associated with intoxication) is not acceptable, a society declares that it does not respect personal choice and that it will control the behavior of its people through governance.  Do you endorse this?  Why or why not?  Your comments are welcomed and invited here!

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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