The link between drugs and crime has been well established. The causal chain of that connection gets debated like the chicken and the egg. Do drugs cause violent behavior or does the illegality of drugs force otherwise peaceful people into a criminal environment already fraught with violence? Researchers continue to gather more information to help better define the link between drugs and crime. Presumably with more information, political leaders at the local, state, and federal levels will make better decisions regarding drug laws. As lobbies from different groups fight for their voices to be heard, police continue to make arrests. But, just how connected are drugs and crime?

According to numbers from, over 80 percent of arrests made for drug law violations were for possession of a controlled substance, while less than 20 percent were for selling or manufacturing of controlled substance. These percentages remained consistent from 2007 through 2014. This leads one to think the people on the front lines of the war on drugs are attempting to curb the drug economy by targeting the demand side of the equation and arresting customers in that economy. Drug enforcement officials presumably also believe these arrests will act as a deterrent to other potential customers. On the flip side, according to these numbers, the supply side of the ledger seems to receive much less attention.

What do those numbers mean? They don’t add a lot of clarity to the debate. Are the people getting arrested for possession breaking any other laws by having drugs, or is possessing the drug the only crime he or she is committing? Maybe some other numbers will help shed some light on the subject.

According to The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), among people committing offenses which lead to incarceration, 80 percent abuse drugs or alcohol. Those offenses include domestic violence, property offences, public-order offences, and driving while intoxicated. This seems to point to drugs and/or alcohol causing the criminal behavior. However, the “offenses leading to incarceration” category also included drug offences, which means much of that 80 percent could be from solely drug related offences, which clouds the issue again. We can’t know more without more detailed information.

The NCADD also says nearly half of all jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted, but it doesn’t specify how many were addicts before being incarcerated and how many didn’t start using or abusing until after being incarcerated.

Perhaps the most enlightening figure from NCADD is about 60 percent of people who get arrested test positive for illegal drugs at the time they get arrested. That suggests drug use is higher among people who get arrested than it is among people who don’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean drugs cause criminal behavior, only that individuals who tend to participate in criminal behavior, also tend to use illegal drugs.

Another study from the Department of Justice (DOJ) found one in four convicted violent offenders committed their crimes while under the influence of drugs. This weakens the argument that drugs cause violent behavior, because if the drugs were the real cause you would expect the rate of convicted violent offenders using drugs while committing their crimes to be much higher.

Approximately 3.9 percent of homicides are drug related. That number comes from a 2007 study by the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR), part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and from Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR). A National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) conducted in 2007, found 26 percent of victims of violent crime thought the offender was using drugs or alcohol at the time of the offense.

The numbers on studies about the correlation between the abuse of drugs or alcohol and domestic violence vary greatly. A study in Memphis put the rate at about 92 percent, meaning 92 percent of people arrested for assaults used drugs or alcohol on the day of the assault. The same study found about half of people arrested for assault were described as daily substance abusers by their families.

A California study found drugs and/or alcohol involved in 38 percent of domestic violence arrests. A Seattle study found 24.1 percent of all police incidents involved drugs and/or alcohol. In North Carolina that number was found to be 45 percent. New Mexico found drugs and/or alcohol present in 65 percent of domestic violence homicides. Chicago’s domestic violence court found 60.7 percent of defendants have had an alcohol or drug problem.

Such variation in numbers makes drawing definitive conclusions difficult. Not only do the studies show widely different rates, but they all were designed to research slightly different questions which makes analyzing them for any kind of pattern problematic.

While most of these studies point to a strong correlation between alcohol abuse and domestic violence, a more comprehensive and standardized method of research could be useful in eliminating confounding variables, accounting for regional differences, and establishing a pattern of behavior.

The link between drug abuse, alcohol, and crime clearly exists, but more research is needed to determine the root cause of the link. Determining that cause could be the key to understanding the best way to address the problems individually and collectively.

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Arrests and Substance Abuse