The Relationship Between Alcohol and Crime
Crime is one of the most pressing concerns facing society today, and the number, type, and severity of crimes committed are dramatically impacted by alcohol. There are three primary ways in which alcohol impacts crime. Being intoxicated in inappropriate circumstances can be a crime, such as drunk in public and driving under the influence (DUI). Alcohol abuse can increase the likelihood that individuals will commit certain crimes such as assault or homicide either by reducing their inhibitions or judgment or by increasing their agitation and anger. Finally, being the victim of certain types of crimes such as child or sexual abuse makes it considerably more likely that some individuals will develop alcohol abuse disorders later in life.
Intoxication as a Crime
Alcohol can severely impact an individual’s judgement, response time, actions, and aggression level. As a result, an intoxicated individual can put themselves and others in extreme danger of physical and emotional trauma. To protect everyone, all jurisdictions in the United States make it a crime to be intoxicated under certain circumstances. The most common include:
Driving While Intoxicated (DUI)/Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)
Driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is extremely dangerous and often fatal. Drunk drivers are not capable of reacting quickly enough, and they often make bad decisions. The penalties associated with DUI are generally the most severe of any intoxication crime, and can lead to serious financial, professional, and personal difficulties, and possibly even jail time.
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Minor in Possession (MIP)
Alcohol can negatively impact developing brains, leading to lifelong problems. Also, children and teenagers do not have the mental, emotional, or physical maturity to handle intoxication or its effects. For this reason, the legal drinking age across most of the United States is 21 (other than a few jurisdictions where it is 18), and it is a crime for anyone younger than this to possess alcohol. MIP offenses are especially common in college towns.
Public Intoxication/Drunk in Public
Intoxication can make an individual loud, aggressive, belligerent, and disruptive. This can seriously disturb others and put them in danger. In order to limit damage, most jurisdictions want to limit alcohol use to designated areas, such as restaurants, bars, and homes. They therefore make it illegal to be visibly intoxicated in public places. Public intoxication is often problematic to prove from a legal perspective, and many jurisdictions use this crime primarily to remove belligerent drunks from public places and sequester them in a jail cell until they sober up.
Because public intoxication can be difficult to prove legally and to effectively prevent anyone from becoming intoxicated in public, many jurisdictions make it illegal to have an open alcohol container (that an individual could be drinking out of actively) a crime. Open container laws generally have the least severe penalties of intoxication crimes.
Crimes Commonly Associated With Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol severely impairs an intoxicated person’s judgment, causing them to take risks and commit actions that they never would have otherwise. It also makes them more likely to be talked into something that they otherwise wouldn’t. Alcohol also makes many people belligerent, angry, and prone to violence. These effects are often magnified when other intoxicated people are present, who often egg each other on or antagonize each other. This combination of factors makes it more likely that crimes will be committed. However, in no way does alcohol excuse illegal behavior, it just makes it more likely. Some of the most common crimes that are more likely to happen under the context of alcohol include:
An assault is either a threat of attack backed up by the ability to follow through with the attack or a physical or verbal attack. Perhaps no crime is more associated with alcohol than assault. Alcohol increases anger levels and irritability, making it more likely that individuals will want to commit violence against someone else. Alcohol also reduces impulse control, making it more likely that an intoxicated individual will follow through. Studies have shown that between 25 and 50% of assaults involve alcohol.
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Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)
Intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence, is behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, emotional, mental, or sexual harm to someone else in the relationship. The same factors that cause alcohol use to increase the likelihood of assault also come into play with intimate partner violence. Numerous studies have shown that there is an especially close relationship between alcohol abuse and intimate partner violence. A very high percentage of perpetrators of intimate partner violence have alcohol dependence or abuse issues in general. The level of alcohol abuse by the perpetrator also correlates with the frequency, severity, and timing of the abuse. Many perpetrators of intimate partner violence use alcohol as an excuse or justification for their actions, and promise their victims that their violence was the result of alcohol and not their own actions. It is common for them to falsely promise that the abuse won’t happen again.
Child Abuse and Neglect
Alcohol abuse leads to child abuse in a number of ways. As is the case with assault and intimate partner violence, alcohol abuse makes it more likely that an individual will commit acts of child abuse. Roughly 40% of child abusers admit to being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the abuse. Alcohol abuse also distracts parents from their children, and causes them to ignore and neglect them. The high costs of sustaining an alcohol addiction combined with the professional damage such as job loss that alcoholism can cause also lead to neglect. Parents distracted by alcoholism issues also leave their children at risk of being abused by others. In particular, there is a strong connection between child sexual abuse by non-family members (and by family members) and alcoholic parents.
No substance is involved in more homicides than alcohol. Roughly 40% of convicted murderers were under the influence of alcohol when they took someone else’s life. Not only does alcohol make it more likely that an individual will commit violent acts, it also escalates the severity of those acts. A person who may have stopped an incident at aggravated assault while sober may continue the assault until it progresses to murder while drunk. Alcohol also increases carelessness and distraction, leading to negligent homicide, where a person accidentally kills another through their action or inaction. Homicide carries the most severe penalties of any crime in most jurisdictions, including the death penalty.
Any forced, unwelcome, and/or non-consensual sexual act is sexual assault, which may include touching, kissing, and intercourse, among others. Although most commonly associated as a crime committed by men against women, a person of any gender may be a perpetrator or victim of sexual assault. Between 30% and 40% of reported sexual assaults, including rapes, are committed by a perpetrator under the influence of alcohol. It is likely that this percentage is much higher for the much larger number of unreported sexual assaults. Alcohol is also used by some sexual predators to lower the inhibitions of their victims or even incapacitate them so that they are unable to resist. Sexual offenders often also use alcohol as an excuse or a defense for their actions, to convince their victims that the assault never happened or was consensual, or even to convince them that no one would believe them because they were intoxicated. Because alcohol eliminates a person’s ability to give reasonable and informed consent, it is also sexual assault to perform sexual acts on someone who is intoxicated.
Crimes That Commonly Lead to Alcoholism
Some crimes create especially powerful and long-lasting emotional and mental impacts. These impacts can deeply scar a person, cause anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and even cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Individuals who suffer from these conditions often turn to alcohol as a method of coping, forgetting, or escaping. Some crimes lead to painful and permanent physical injury. Victims may begin to take alcohol as a painkiller. If this self-medication continues or worsens, alcohol dependence can ensue. Examples of crimes that can lead to this tragic result include:
- Child abuse and neglect
- Sexual assault
- Breaking and entering
- Robbery and burglary
- Intimate partner violence
Don’t Let Yourself Be a Victim or a Perpetrator
If alcohol abuse is contributing to criminal behavior in your life or your family’s lives, it is imperative that you end the abuse now. Because criminal behavior is so common among alcoholics and their families, most treatment facilities are very experienced in dealing with the emotional, financial, and personal toll of crime and its relationship with alcohol. They know how to handle the emotional and physical toll of being both the victim and the perpetrator of a crime. You have to remember that you can take actions to change your situation and take your life back.
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