Trusted Content

Alcohol-Related Crimes

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 26, 2019

Alcohol is a powerful drug that plays a large part in criminal behavior. Alcohol-related crime has significant consequences, including court appearances, legal fees, jail time, and death.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug in the U.S., and is considered a major factor in dangerous crimes. Nearly 40 percent of violent crimes involve alcohol, and these situations can have lasting impacts on a person’s health, family, and community.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can cause people to make risky or harmful decisions. In addition to compromised personal safety, heavy drinking can cause accidents that result in hefty court commitments and expensive legal fees.

Alcohol-related crime is an issue across the country, as this drug lowers inhibitions and increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior. While not all criminal behavior involves alcohol, it’s estimated that substances are involved in 80 percent of criminal offenses.

Types Of Crime That Involve Alcohol

Although some people treat alcohol abuse like a punchline, or joke about the choices they made while intoxicated, there is a clear link between alcohol and serious crime. Some of the crimes commonly associated with alcohol include driving under the influence, sexual assault, robbery, and homicide.

Alcohol dulls a person’s awareness, and can create the illusion that individuals won’t have to deal with the consequences of their choices. Someone suffering from alcohol abuse may think “This isn’t a big deal,” or “I was just drunk,” in order to justify crimes committed while under the influence. Unfortunately, it often takes a legal charge or serious injury for someone to realize the effects of their drinking.

Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault occurs when someone causes serious bodily harm or injury to another person. Someone suffering from alcohol addiction may display extreme mood swings and aggressive behavior, both of which can lead to aggravated assault.

One in five people serving time for a violent crime were using alcohol when the crime occurred. When individuals rely on alcohol to deal with their feelings, they aren’t able to process everyday emotions in a healthy way. This can result in someone having a short emotional fuse or an explosive temper, even in individuals that aren’t typically violent.

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Sexual Assault

Sexual assault refers to any unwanted sexual act, including touching, groping, kissing, or intercourse. Sexual assault occurs anytime sexual activity is non-consensual – meaning that the person has not been granted consent, or permission, for the sexual act they are attempting.
Alcohol does not cause sexual assault, but can be a frequent contributing factor. Drinking can blur the lines between sexual behavior that is wanted or unwanted; one study found that 61 percent of perpetrators drank before committing sexual assault.

Alcohol can contribute to sexual assault in several ways:

Loss of Inhibition

If a perpetrator is drinking, they are more likely to use physical force during sex. Being under the influence may cause a person to push or pressure for sex even if they are being told no.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that, “Alcohol may increase sexual arousal … and aggression among perpetrators. Perpetrators might also use alcohol as a means to justify their behavior or diminish the level of responsibility.” Each of these aggressive behaviors render alcohol a major factor in sexual assault.

Victim Intoxication

In order to give legal consent, a person has to be over a certain age and also be in a sober state of mind. If a victim is intoxicated, they are unable to give legal consent for sex. This does not mean that victims put themselves in the position to experience sexual assault, but rather that “the presence of alcohol increases a person’s susceptibility for experiencing a sexual assault.”

Both men and women can experience sexual assault. Perpetrators may frequent bars, parties, or other alcohol-centric locations in order to locate vulnerable individuals.


Theft, robbery, and property-related crime have increased across the country, and alcohol abuse is involved in many of these offenses. Some people use alcohol to lower their inhibitions before robbing someone, while others struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction may steal in order to fund their drinking habit.

In 2004, more than 17 percent of state and federal inmates said they committed an offense in order to pay for drugs or alcohol. Theft is a serious crime that can involve legal consequences like jail, court fees, and permanent criminal charges on your record.

Child Abuse And Neglect

One of the most heartbreaking crimes associated with alcohol is the abuse or neglect of a child. Children are a vulnerable population, and can be deeply affected by caregivers that suffer from alcohol abuse and addiction.

Even though parents or guardians may not mean any intentional harm, their excessive alcohol use can be dangerous to the well-being of a child. This maltreatment can show itself in various forms of child abuse and/or neglect.

Examples of child abuse and neglect include:

  • leaving young children without proper supervision
  • keeping children in a home without access to water or proper nutrition
  • having children in a home that is unsanitary
  • yelling or screaming at a child
  • demeaning or humiliation of a child
  • hitting, pushing, kicking, burning, or any other type of physical harm to a child
  • sexual molestation or sexual abuse of a child

If you are concerned for the safety of a child, please call 911 or the National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-422-4453) immediately.


When it comes to violent crimes like homicide, alcohol is the most frequently involved substance. Homicide, or murder, is an extremely serious crime that could result in a lifelong prison sentence. About half of all homicides are committed when the offender, victim, or both have been drinking.

While the short-term causes of alcohol can cause poor judgment, there are long-term effects that also contribute to decreased mental stability. Long-term alcohol use can impair a person’s ability to think clearly, even when they are not intoxicated.

Intimate Partner Violence

Alcohol is involved in two-thirds of all intimate partner violence, which includes current or former spouse, partner, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Experiencing or witnessing intimate partner violence can also contribute to a victim’s increased substance use.

Women that experienced physical violence were much more likely to report drug or alcohol problems, and children who witness abuse of a female caregiver were 50 percent more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Alcohol Abuse And Addiction Treatment

Because alcohol and crime are so directly linked, it’s vital that our nation addresses this issue at its root. Alcoholism is a progressive disease that affects more than 15 million Americans, and although there is no cure for alcohol addiction, recovery is possible through substance abuse treatment.

The National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that “treatment offers the best alternative for interrupting the criminal justice cycle.” Research proves that when substance abuse rates decrease, so does criminal behavior.

There are several types of alcohol rehab programs, including inpatient and outpatient treatment options. Treatment types range from the residential style with 24-hour supervision, to flexibly scheduled evening sessions, for those with full-time jobs or family commitments.

For more information on the link between alcohol-related crime, or to learn more about treatment options, connect with one of our specialists today.

Child Welfare Information Gateway - What Is Child Abuse and Neglect? Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth - Alcohol and Violence

National Institutes of Health: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Facts and Statistics

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Sexual Assault And Alcohol: What The Research Evidence Tells Us

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