Alcohol can ruin the body and ravage the mind. But, unfortunately, the consequences are not limited to an individual. There are a number of crimes that are directly or indirectly related to the consumption of alcohol. And when those crimes occur, the consequences affect the offender, their family, and often the public in general.
Alcohol lowers one’s inhibition and impairs one’s judgment. For those reasons there is a close link between alcohol and criminal behaviors. According to the Department of Justice there are 2 million convicted criminals currently in jail. Of those, 37% report that they were drinking at the time of their arrest. The data also shows that alcohol plays a role in 40% of all violent crimes.
Exploring alcohol related crimes is important for understanding the full impact of alcohol on individuals and society at large. Criminality may not be the first symptom that people associate with problematic drinking, but it’s a significant symptom nonetheless.
An Overview of Alcohol Related Crimes
Some crimes are directly related to a person’s blood-alcohol level, driving under the influence for example. Others are related to the impaired state of mind that alcohol induces. In either case there are strict legal ramifications, severe financial penalties, and life-long personal consequences to contend with if found guilty. Here is an overview of the most common alcohol related crimes:
Driving Under the Influence
This entry is at the top of the list for a reason. There are 29 people who die every day because of alcohol-impaired crashes, which totals more than 10,000 people every year or one death every 50 minutes. Sadly, fatalities are so common because drunk driving is a ubiquitous crime. In 2014 alone over 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence, and millions more were never caught. Driving after drinking any amount of alcohol is dangerous. Driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit is grounds for arrest.
A drunk person in public is a danger to themselves, others, and property too. And, at the very least, they are often an annoyance to everyone around them. It may be legal to drink and be intoxicated in some public places – bars or concerts for example. But in most other public places it is illegal to be visibly drunk. Offenders are often arrested and held until they sober up, but the relatively light sentence does not mean this is a minor crime. People who are drunk in public are one bad decision away from becoming harder criminals.
Minor in Possession
All of the worst consequences related to alcohol consumption are multiplied when the drinker is a teenager. That is why there is a legal drinking age, and why there are tougher penalties when minors are caught with alcohol. Offenders are typically charged a fee and then required to complete community service or participate in an alcohol awareness program. A minor in possession charge is often used to teach rather than punish, but there are harsher penalties for repeat offenders. Plus, minors can still be charged with more severe alcohol-related crimes like assault or vehicular homicide.
There are a number of reasons that alcohol could lead someone to steal. Drunkeness often causes people to covet things they do not have and disrespect the rights and boundaries of others. Furthermore, drinking is an expensive habit that makes earning and saving money difficult. Not all drunks are compelled to steal, but some are, which is why robbery is a common alcohol-related crime. The penalties differ depending on the nature of the robbery and the value of the stolen goods. But, in most cases, robbery is considered a felony and carries strict penalties including potential jail time.
Intimate Partner Violence
An intimate partner is a spouse, live-in partner, or anyone closely-linked to the offender. Violence includes physical attacks as well as sexual assaults, stalking, or psychological aggression. According to the World Health Organization, up to 55% of the victims believe their attacker was under the influence of alcohol. Since drinking often happens with or around an intimate partner, these partners often suffer through the worst consequences of alcohol related crimes. These include direct attacks but also difficult parenting arrangements, strained financial circumstances, domestic instability, and more.
The same factors that lead some who is drunk to assault others can lead them to abuse children. Abuse includes physical violence as well as neglect, maltreatment, and verbal/emotional abuse. Data from the World Health Organization shows that in the US, 35% of people arrested for child abuse consumed alcohol at the time of the incident. Convictions for child abuse come with heavy penalties, but the victims themselves suffer the worst consequences. They often struggle with issues related to addiction or abuse as a result of the mistreatment they experience early in life.
Alcohol is able to amplify emotions, which is why it plays a role in so many homicides. People are enticed to violence, and once they arrive at that heightened state they carry their actions further than the would normally. This is part of why 40% of murderers were found to be drinking when they committed their crimes – more than any other substance including heroin or cocaine. The penalty for any kind of homicide is sweeping, but in the worst instances it can be life in prison or even death.
This type of assault could be related to child abuse or intimate partner violence, or it could be perpetrated on a stranger. Rape is the most extreme form of sexual violence, but the term applies to any form of unwanted touching, intimacy, or attention. Alcohol plays a role in many sexual assaults, and it could be either the victim or the offender who is drunk. The offender is often compelled to perpetrate a horrendous act because of booze. Conversely, alcohol is often used to lower the defenses of the victim. Anyone convicted of sexual assault should expect significant legal penalties that continue even after an offender is released from prison.
How Alcohol Related Crime Affects Victims
Not everyone who drinks will commit a crime. However, there is a clear and fairly obvious link between drinking, poor decision making, criminal behavior, and legal consequences. That is why so many people currently behind bars or living with a criminal record have a history of problematic drinking.
Understanding what kinds of criminal behaviors common and what kinds of penalties they carry is important. However, selfishness is another consequence of drinking. And to ignore or obscure how alcohol related crimes affect victims is a way to excuse the offenders and overlook the complete consequences of alcohol on families, neighborhoods, communities, and society at large.
Victims of crimes grapple with many serious and confusing emotions. It is not an exaggeration to call what they are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of PTSD are deep, disruptive, and often occur repeatedly over the long-term. Medical care and counseling can help, but victims may not have access to resources or the will to seek them out.
Ironically, one way that victims often cope with PTSD is with alcohol. That means the victims of alcohol related crimes may be at higher risk of committing one themselves. Problematic drinking has many, many negative consequences. It can’t be overlooked that one of the worst is passing on the same problematic habits to others.
Alcohol abuse rarely has only one victim, and the consequences are rarely short lived. Alcohol related crime could cause the offender to lose some money or freedom. But, more importantly, those crimes could also have lifelong consequences for friends, family members, or even total strangers. The problem may be centered on one person, but the consequences radiate to everyone in their proximity.
Stats on Alcohol Related Crimes
It comes as little surprise that people who are impaired by alcohol are involved in crimes more often. But the extent of this link only becomes clear once you take a hard look at the data. Consider some eye-opening statistics that reveal the full impact of this problem:
Ending Addiction and Reducing Crime
Drinking alcohol does not cause a person to become a criminal. Similarly, abstaining from alcohol does not exempt a person from criminal behavior. But there is enough research at this point to conclude that criminal behavior and the consumption of alcohol are closely related. It is also undeniable that the legal, social, and familial consequences of drinking are as severe as anything that can happen to the mind or body. Seeking out treatment for addiction to alcohol or problematic drinking is the surest way to avoid the worst possible outcomes.