Criminality and substance abuse have long been linked. Criminal acts can range from activities such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, domestic violence, robberies, assaults, prostitution and rape. The manufacturing or distribution of illegal drugs such as methamphetamine or cannabis and the use of such drugs are also serious acts punishable by the law.
The relationship between drug and alcohol use and crime is a difficult one to establish, however. Do drugs or alcohol lead to criminal activities or is it the other way around? Will an individual who is not using drugs or alcohol engage in behaviors such as assault or robberies without the influence of other substances? Statistics show that the majority of drug or alcohol users do not become addicts. The majority of users can manage their drug or alcohol use and will ‘grow out’ of any harmful drinking or drug taking. However, there are a number of individuals who do use to excess and do commit crimes and the two factors are linked.
Researchers have suggested that there is a strong link between severe drug and alcohol use and criminal behavior. This may be because the user has a decreased perception of social support and decreased social network. Other sociological factors are also important in understanding why someone turns to drugs or alcohol or engages in criminal behaviors. These include living conditions, family, employment, marital status and mental health.
Alcohol is a key factor in many violent crimes. Statistics reveal that in the UK, 1 in 5 people arrested by the police test positive for alcohol. Alcohol is a factor in over 60 per cent of homicides, 75 per cent of stabbings, 70 per cent of beatings, and 50 per cent of fights and domestic assaults. One third of offenders had a current problem with alcohol use, or had a problem with binge drinking. Nearly half had misused alcohol in the past and a third had violent behavior linked to their alcohol use. Nearly half of these people were alcohol dependent. Alcoholism is also a factor in incarcerated individuals. One study revealed that 25 per cent of prisoners in the United States tested positive on alcoholism and alcohol dependency tests.
The use of illegal drugs is considered a criminal act in nearly all countries around the world, and drug use is almost automatically associated with criminal behavior. This act alone means that there is a link between drugs and crime. Research does suggest, however, that the majority of illegal drug users will not go on to commit other crimes such as robberies or assault. In other words, drug use does not necessarily lead to an increase in crime, even among people who are regular users or who have developed an addiction.
Of those individuals who do commit crimes, there is some link between drug use and crime. Robberies are often committed to support drug habits; assaults, rapes and violent crimes are often linked to drug use. But there is some gray area in understanding why some users will commit these crimes and others do not. Poverty, personality disorders, social and cultural factors, association with other users and previous incarceration or drug use are all factors. These issues all have an important role in understanding the risk of criminality and drug use.
Drug use is intrinsically linked to prostitution, especially street prostitutes. Estimates reveal that between 40 and 85 per cent of all prostitutes are drug users. Many prostitutes, men and women, are selling sex to support their drug habits. Prostitutes are often the victim of violent crimes, rapes, assaults and other serious crimes; but, because of their lifestyle and the work they do, they are unreported crimes. Research has suggested that over 80 per cent of prostitutes had been physically assaulted, threatened with a weapon and were currently or previously homeless. Nearly 70 per cent had been the victim of rape.
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