3 Reasons Why Drugs and Alcohol Can Increase Violence

Substance use disorders have been proven to dramatically increase the risk of violence. For nearly a hundred years, researchers have studied how psychoactive substances can increase aggressive behavior in some people. Goldstein’s etiological framework developed in 1985 is still used today to describe three main types of drug-violence connections:

1. Psychopharmacological link

Psychoactive substances cause physiological effects that impact physical and cognitive function, reduce self-control, affect judgement, increase impulsivity and distort reality and social cues.  Drug use may lead to a volatile, unrestrained state that precipitates a violent act.

Pharmalogical effects will vary depending on the drug and some drugs such as alcohol and anabolic steroids, are more likely to increase the risk of violent behavior. Alcohol is the drug with the strongest association to violence and, in cases of homicide. Alcohol is the substance most frequently implicated and associated with pharmacological violence. 

In cases of psychopharmacological violence, the drug user is not always the perpetrator – they may also be the victim or both.    

2. Economic-compulsive link

People who struggle with addiction often commit violent acts (e.g. robberies) in order to obtain money or resources to get drugs and alcohol. About 1 in 4 convicted property and drug offenders in local jails have committed their crimes to get money for drugs.

3. Systemic link

The world of drug use and distribution is violent in itself. The profit opportunities perceived by the various players in the illicit drug market and the aggressive competition among them encourages involvement in crime. One example of this is the constant violence among rival drug dealers and cartels that often make news headlines and inspire TV shows and films.

Victims and Perpetrators of Violence

Surprisingly, research has found that victims of violence have the same three characteristics we just described. People with substance abuse issues are often easier targets of violence due to impaired judgment and communication signals and unpredictable behavior. Moreover, if they’re involved in criminal behavior, such as drug dealing, they may carry large amounts of cash, which makes them more likely to be targeted for violence. 

“Drug abusers may become involved in the criminal justice system because of the pharmacological effects of drugs, due to economically necessitated behavior, or as a result of drug distribution or sales.” (Oser et al., 2009)

The relationship between drugs and violence is complex. Goldstein’s framework has shed light on the subject and helped us gain a clearer understanding of three types of violence that occur among drug abusers. Goldstein’s framework tells us that those who abuse drugs may become involved in the violent and criminal behavior because of the pharmacological effects of drugs, due to financial need, or as a result of selling or distributing drugs.