Although legal and easy to obtain, alcohol is still an intoxicating and addictive substance that can have negative effects on the human mind and body. Alcohol reduces inhibitions and damages a person’s capacity to make rational decisions, and that has helped make it the number one cause of aggressive or reckless criminal behavior.
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How Common are Alcohol-Related Crimes?
Alcohol and crime have a strong causal connection.
Drunk driving (DUI) is the most common alcohol-related crime in the United States. Each year, more than 1.1 million Americans are arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI), and more than half of these arrests end in convictions. Incredibly, this number represents only about one arrest for every 100 actual incidents of drunk driving that take place, as reported by drivers themselves.
Meanwhile, on an annual basis, there are more than three million cases of violent crime traceable to alcohol use and abuse in the U.S. For several specific types of crime (homicide, sexual assault, domestic violence), alcohol is involved in the majority of incidents.
Driving Under the Alcohol Influence
On average, drivers under the influence of alcohol take more than 300,000 trips on American roads and highways every day.
Given this statistic, it is hardly surprising that more than 13,000 people lose their lives in the U.S. each year in traffic accidents caused by alcohol-impaired driving. This represents 40 percent of the country’s annual roadway death toll, and in addition to the fatalities, there are more than 250,000 people injured in alcohol-fueled automobile wrecks.
Over $100 billion is lost every year repairing the damage caused to property by drunk driving incidents. But the psychological and emotional damage caused by involvement in alcohol-related crimes like these (and crimes is what they are) is incalculable.
Alcohol and Violence
Since alcohol consumption reduces inhibition, violent crimes are often perpetrated while the criminal is under the influence. Alcohol-related crime statistics show high rates of homicide, assault, domestic and stranger violence, child abuse, and rape and sexual abuse perpetrated by individuals who’ve been drinking and are legally intoxicated—and crime victims often find themselves in harm’s way because of their alcohol consumption as well.
Alcohol-related crime statistics reveal a close, intimate connection between alcohol and violence. On average, in any given year:
- 86 percent of homicides will be committed by individuals
under the influence.
- 40 percent of child abuse incidents will be connected to alcohol use or abuse, and 70 percent of these abusive individuals (parents or guardians) will suffer from a substance use disorder.
- 37 percent of rapes and sexual assaults will involve offenders under the influence, and that number jumps to 90 percent when the abuses occur on college campuses.
- 15 percent of robberies, 27 percent of aggravated assaults, and 25 percent of simple assaults will be carried out by individuals who’ve been drinking and are likely under the influence. This amounts to more than 2.5 million incidents of alcohol-related violence.
- 65 percent of intimate partner violence incidents will be carried out by perpetrators who’ve been drinking. This equates to more than 450,000 such incidents annually.
- 20 percent of intimate partner violence incidents involving alcohol will include the use of a gun, knife, or other potentially lethal weapons.
- 95 percent of violent crimes committed on college campuses will involve alcohol, and the total number of such assaults will be greater than 600,000.
- 118,000 incidents of family violence (spouses and partners excluded) will be linked to excessive drinking, as will 744,000 incidents of violence that involve acquaintances.
- Nearly 60 percent of violent crime victims will end up with injuries, with men being twice as likely to sustain major injuries as women.
- Overall, about 40 percent of all violent crimes will be alcohol-related.
The association between alcohol and rape, domestic violence, homicide, and violence of all types isn’t just limited to the perpetrators. Victims of these crimes are often under the influence of alcohol at the time of their victimization, their intoxication making them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Not all violent crimes need an attacker and a victim. People suffering from severe depression, and who have participated in binge drinking, have a higher likelihood of experiencing suicidal thoughts and are more prone to harming themselves than people who abstain when they are depressed.
Alcohol-Related Crime Convictions
The relationship between alcohol and crime is reflected in incarceration statistics. Among all criminal convictions that occur within a single year, 40 percent will be related to alcohol abuse, meaning the offender was either under the influence of alcohol while committing the crime or had turned to crime to sustain their alcohol dependency.
Among inmate populations, 80 percent have a history of abusing drugs or alcohol, and about half are clinically addicted to one or both. The percentages are the same among juvenile offenders, which shows that the problematic association between criminal behavior and drinking tends to develop early in life.
Alcohol-Related Crime Prevention Methods
There is no surefire way to prevent any alcohol-related crimes. However, there are preventive measures that will likely reduce their rate of occurrence:
- Proper education that raises awareness about the actual risks of alcohol abuse should be the first step in any harm prevention strategy—and that education must begin early.
- While banning alcohol altogether is an improbable scenario, creating curfews for alcohol serving and consumption that target the specific periods when alcohol-related crimes are the most prominent can have a positive impact.
- Creating a more affordable and accessible rehabilitation system for those addicted to alcohol can help those with chemical dependency make a successful transition back into society, eliminating their need to depend on criminal activity to sustain their addictions.
Facing the Consequences of Alcohol Abuse
Regardless of the specific crime, alcohol abuse and dependency frequently play a critical instigating role.
Due to the neurological and psychological effects of alcohol, people under the influence have a difficult time making logical decisions and, as such are more likely to resort to criminal activity. Alcohol abuse and its consequences are the price of ignorance, and that makes investing in alcoholism awareness and prevention is one of the best ways to cut down on the alcohol-related crime rate.
- Eckhardt CI, Parrott DJ, Sprunger JG. Mechanisms of Alcohol-Facilitated Intimate Partner Violence. Violence Against Women. 2015 Aug;21(8):939-57. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4795825/
- Gorman DM, Speer PW, Gruenewald PJ, Labouvie EW. Spatial dynamics of alcohol availability, neighborhood structure and violent crime. J Stud Alcohol. 2001 Sep;62(5):628-36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11702802
- Proescholdt MG, Walter M, Wiesbeck GA. [Alcohol and violence: a current review]. Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr. 2012 Aug;80(8):441-9. https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-0031-1282018