The Truth About Crime & Substance Abuse

Man in handcuffs sitting at a table

Jana van der Linde June 24, 2020

Conversations on the link between addiction and criminal behavior are tricky. We explored this connection between crime and substance abuse through some commonly asked questions. Does drug use incite crime? Does addiction lead to more violent crime? What do the statistics on crime and substance abuse say?

Here are straightforward answers on this contentious topic. 

How Are Drugs and Crime Connected?

The connection between drugs and crime manifests in different ways, such as: 

  • Using, supplying, or making illegal drugs; 
  • Commit theft or fraud for money to buy drugs;
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
  • Violent offenses while intoxicated from drugs or alcohol;
  • Drug dealers being violent against drug users owing money, or rival dealers. 

Dr. Serge Broch, a psychologist experienced in correctional services, addiction rehabilitation, and criminology, argues that it is nearly impossible to separate drug use from a criminal context. This raises the question: does substance abuse lead to criminal behavior?

Does Addiction Guarantee Criminal Behavior?

Substance abuse regularly lands people on the wrong side of the law. Most substances of abuse are illegal (or regulated) and possession, use, or distribution of these drugs have legal consequences. The effects of using illicit substances are known to lead to irrational actions and a loss of impulse control, often resulting in unlawful behavior.

Alcohol consumption may be legal from the age of 21 but alcoholism results in intoxication, setting the stage for a range of illegal behaviors. A recent study collating research on the connection between drugs, alcohol, and violence concluded that there is a strong link between addiction and violent crime. 

Does this mean drug abuse makes a person prone to violent crime, more so than those who aren’t suffering addiction? Although this varies from person to person, out-of-character violent and agitated behavior is associated, especially, with the use of stimulant drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine

It’s also important to keep in mind that violence resulting from addiction also includes suicide, or as defined by the World Health Organisation, self-directed violence. 

Research makes it clear that drug abuse can lead to different types and intensities of criminal and violent behavior. The drug-crime connection is a public health and safety concern but equally troubling is the stereotyping of addiction as a sign of a criminal personality. This buys into the long-standing stigma vilifying addiction illnesses. In the words of Dr. Joseph Shrand: “Addiction is not a crime but can lead to them. But, the real stolen jewels are the people robbed from us by addiction.”

Elevating the way society thinks and talks about addiction is crucial to stop the effects of addiction stigma and in turn, combat some of the common drug-related crimes.

Curbing criminal behavior connected to addiction goes hand in hand with uncuffing it from stigma. Elevating the way society thinks and talks about addiction is crucial to stop the effects of addiction stigma and in turn, combat some of the common drug-related crimes.

Man selling drugs to another man on the street

What Is the Most Common Drug-Related Crime?

Possession of illegal substances is the most common crime related to drugs. In legal terms, this is a drug-defined offense, and statistics show the amount of drug possession arrests in America per year currently exceeds 1 million. 

What Percentage of Crimes Are Drug-Related?

Statistics suggest that 1 out of every 5 incarcerated people committed a drug-related crime. Looking at the statistics from another perspective, surveys indicate that more than 50% of prison and jail inmates meet the criteria for substance dependency or abuse. 

Medical research advocating for improved public health as a means to improved public safety highlighted the need for wider recognition of addiction as a treatable brain disease. This paved the way for providing offenders with access to addiction treatment, rather one-dimensional prosecution.

How Has the Criminal Justice System Responded?

The drug-crime connection remains an influential driver of criminal justice policies. Drug treatments were integrated into the justice system since the 1990s and contemporary research findings are incorporated into the principles that guide addiction treatment from a criminal justice point of view

Law enforcement language summarizes the relationship between drugs and criminal behavior in three categories:

  1. Drug-defined offenses pertains to possession, distribution, use, or manufacturing of illegal substances.
  2. Drug-related offenses is when the pharmacologic effects of a substance contribute to an offense, or a person’s need for money to support their continued use is the motivation for the offense. 
  3. Drug-using lifestyle refers to offenses occurring from a person’s delinquent lifestyle wherein drug use and crime are commonplace. 

In a recent article, the National Institute of Justice stated its drugs and crime portfolio has, over the last decade, shifted its focus towards reducing crime rates by studying prevention and intervention strategies for drug-related crimes. Despite this significant progress, addiction remains a stigmatized illness, and the penal policies of the criminal justice system can still stifle efforts challenging this perception. 

Looking for IOP in Southern California? 

At Silicon Beach Treatment Center, we believe getting treatment is the first step in rebuilding a life destroyed by addiction. Our intensive outpatient program (IOP) is a great starting point for sobriety – we help you kick your addiction while you’re working to restore your life. 

Want to find out more about addiction treatment options? Speak to a recovery professional today.  

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