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Are Alcohol and Violence Linked?

According to the CDC, “Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions.” These health effects are often caused by binge drinking, or drinking a specifically high amount in a short time span, and involve injuries, dangerous sexual behavior, and the issue of “violence including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.”

While there is often concern about the connection between alcohol and violence, many individuals do not realize how deeply intertwined these two issues are. There is, in fact, a strong link between these dangerous behaviors, and the issue is still being researched in order to find a better way to keep both problems from occurring as often.

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Statistics of Alcohol and Violence

There have been a number of studies linking violent crimes with alcohol abuse; an extremely high proportion of these studies have found strong evidence that those who commit these crimes were drinking beforehand. Several prominent statistics linking violence and alcohol include:

  • “On an average day in 1996, corrections authorities supervised an estimated 5.3 million convicted offenders. Nearly 2 million (about 36%) had been drinking alcohol when they committed their conviction offense” (BJS).
  • “Two-thirds of victims who suffered violence by an intimate (a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend) reported that alcohol had been a factor.”
  • Another two-thirds of “alcohol-involved crimes” from the same report “were characterized as simple assaults.”
  • According to the VPC of Los Angeles, “Almost four in 10 violent crimes involve alcohol, according to the crime victim. And about four in 10 criminal offenders report that they were using alcohol at the time of their offense.”
  • Availability of the substance even affects the number of crimes committed, according to the study. “Communities and neighborhoods that have more bars and liquor stores per capita experience more assaults.”
  • This also includes child abuse. “Alcohol and other drug abuse by a parent or guardian is involved in 7 out of 10 cases of child abuse and neglect; 90 percent of child welfare professionals cite alcohol as the drug of choice in these cases.”
  • Of course this is not just an issue in the United States. According to a recent Australian study, “13 percent” of those questioned admitted to being “made to feel fearful by someone under the influence of alcohol.” In addition, the same study found “the rates of physical and verbal abuse by a person affected by alcohol were more than twice the rate for other drug types.”

    alcohol dangers

    Alcohol can increase aggression and lead to all kinds of violence.

The BJS states that “about 3 million violent crimes occur each year” in which the victim “perceives the offender to have been drinking at the time of the offense.” These statistics show that, not only is there a strong connection between heavy drinking and violent behavior, but that the likelihood of committing domestic abuse and child abuse is higher among those who drink than those who do not. The link between these two issues is clear, and the potential for committing violent crimes just becomes higher when higher amounts of alcohol are consumed.

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Why is There Such a Strong Link Between These Two Issues?

There are several reasons why the link between violence and alcohol is so clear in these statistics. For one, the connection not only goes one way but both. Yes, alcohol abuse can more easily lead to violent behavior, but “victimization may lead to excessive alcohol consumption” (NIAAA). This means that individual who is a victim of violence is also more likely to abuse alcohol and develop other mental disorders as well as depression, PTSD, and anxiety, which can all possibly lead to higher quantities of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol also directly affects the brain in a way that weakens its natural inhibitors and causes an individual to be more prone to aggression, anger, and other behaviors that tend to breed violence. In addition, alcohol causes those who abuse it to be more likely to misread social cues or feel threatened in a situation that is otherwise nonthreatening, causing them to be more prone to violence. “Simultaneously, a narrowing of attention may lead to an inaccurate assessment of acting on an immediate violent impulse.”

There have even been studies that have shown that individuals expect alcohol consumption to cause violence, therefore it is more likely to. When a person feels that their violent thoughts or feelings are justified by their alcohol consumption, they are often more likely to act on them.

In addition, two chemicals in the body, testosterone and serotonin, can lead to higher levels of aggression in different ways. Studies have shown that the abuse of alcohol is often tied with the level of these chemicals in the body.

  • Rhesus macaque monkeys, on which the effects of alcohol consumption have been studied, were found to ingest more alcohol if they had lower serotonin in the body. These low levels of serotonin are often associated with “increased impulsivity and aggressiveness” as serotonin is known as the behavioral inhibitor of the brain.
  • Testosterone levels often even out as men reach old age, but during youth, they can be high. It has been found that younger males, especially those who already exhibit a large amount of aggression, are more likely to consume alcohol and, thus, engage in violent behavior, a tendency that drops as they grow older. This has also been studied in rhesus macaque monkeys.

There are many ways in which these two issues can become intertwined and individuals who experience one will be more likely to experience the other. Alcohol and violence create a two-way street of dangerous effects for both the individual involved and anyone in their life.

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According to the NIAAA, “Understanding the nature of these associations is essential to breaking the cycle of misuse and violence.” While it does seem that this connection is extremely strong, there are ways in which these behaviors can be modified for the better and individuals can learn to cope with their issues through treatment, eventually minimizing their likelihood for violence or alcohol abuse. But the link must be understood and the reasons for it as well before we can start to make a change, even on an individual level.

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