From Northwestern University
Alcohol intoxication increases vulnerability to violent crime
Alcohol intoxication greatly increases an individual’s chance of becoming a victim of violent crime, according to a study from Northwestern University Medical School.
The Northwestern researchers found that while victims of violent crime are less likely to be intoxicated than are suspects – except in cases of robbery -- being intoxicated contributes to violent victimization more than to violent perpetration.
Their study, published in late February in a special supplement to The American Journal on Addictions, also found that victims of violent crime are six times more likely to be intoxicated than are victims of nonviolent crime.
There are several reasons why intoxicated persons may be more likely to be victimized, said Gary M. McClelland and Linda A. Teplin, who were co-investigators on the study.
Intoxicated persons may engage in more risk-taking behaviors; are more likely to be out at night and to frequent places where violence is likely; may not be aware of subtle cues of misbehavior and behave in provocative way; and may have reduced cognitive/problem-solving abilities that impair their abilities to deflect or avoid violence.
"In short, intoxicated people go places and do things that their sober counterparts would not," McClelland said.
Unlike previous studies of alcohol intoxication and violent crime that used samples of police reports, correctional populations (arrestees, jail detainees or convicted offenders) or community surveys, the Northwestern study was based on the results of observational data from police-citizen encounters, regardless of whether police filed a report or arrested a suspect.
Four categories of violent crime were used: homicide and nonsexual assault, sexual assault, domestic violence and robbery.
Nonviolent encounters included public order/vandalism, such as disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, loitering, vagrancy, alcohol crimes and damaging property. Other nonviolent encounters included property crimes other than arson or robbery, victimless crimes (such as prostitution) and drug crimes.
The researchers found that 34 percent of the nearly 2,400 encounters between police and citizens in the study involved alcohol; that is, the suspect was intoxicated, the victim was intoxicated or the setting and testimony of participants indicated a central role of intoxication or impairment in the incident.
Surprisingly, the rate of alcohol involvement for violent encounters was almost as high as alcohol involvement in public order/vandalism encounters – over 43 percent of violent encounters were alcohol involved.
McClelland said that, thus far, efforts to reduce overall consumption of alcohol have had a minimal impact on alcohol-related violence.
He recommended a more focused approach targeting high-risk individuals, high-risk situations (violent intimate relationships, violence-prone neighborhoods) and subcultures where violence is an acceptable consequence of drinking.
"Reduction in alcohol-involved violence may best be achieved by concentrating on individuals and groups at greatest risk of violent victimization," McClelland said.
McClelland is a research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a researcher in the Psycho-Legal Studies Program at the Medical School. Teplin is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the Psycho-Legal Studies Program.
This study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.