- Written by Marcel Gemme C.C.D.C
Relationship between alcohol and crime
Extensive information is available that demonstrate a strong relationship between alcohol and crime - particularly violent crime. In the past two decades, study has discovered mechanisms and effects strongly suggesting that alcohol consumption plays a material, causal role in violent behaviors.
Using Goldstein's tripartite model, alcohol relates well to the psychopharmacological model. Serotonin is a chemical by which nerve cells communicate with one another, and it controls several chemical processes in the brain. Alcohol raises brain serotonin function temporarily, but thereafter, serotonin levels decrease below normal levels (Pihl and Peterson 1993). This decrease in brain serotonin function is "related with heightened vulnerability to depression, increased risk of violent suicide, propensity to exhibit aggressive or impulsive behavior, and susceptibility to alcohol abuse" (Pihl and Peterson 1993). These properties are strongly indicative of a causal relation between alcohol abuse and violence (therefore, crimes), even though alcohol is only one factor among several that have been found to contribute to violence and aggressive behavior.
Many researchers have discovered that "problem drinkers, alcohol abusers, and alcoholics appear to be over-represented among adults convicted of violent crimes, and individuals convicted of violent crime often report alcohol consumption immediately prior to their crime" (White et al. 1993). Furthermore, study indicates that the degree of aggressive response is proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed (Taylor 1993). Empirical information on jail and prison inmates suggests that alcohol consumption also appears to be related with violence. Incarcerated individuals are more likely to have been under the influence of alcohol prior to a violent crime than for an economic crime or other types of crime, except for alcohol-defined violations. Still, other theories suggest that these patterns only represent relation, not causation.
Conversely, alcohol does not fit within the economic compulsive model that Goldstein proposes. Alcohol is relatively inexpensive, and economic crimes, like robbery or theft, would not be necessary for individuals to acquire quantities of alcohol. Furthermore, alcohol is legitimate, easily accessible, and available (for individuals 21 and older) and thus does not fit the systemic component of Goldstein's model. (Nonetheless, during Prohibition, alcohol was illegitimate, and violence was related to its production and distribution.)