Drugs and Violence

Arguably the best theoretical conceptualization of the drugs-violence relationship is Goldstein’s (1985) tripartite framework. Goldstein classified drug-related violence into three major categories: psychopharmacological violence, economic compulsive violence, and systemic violence. Psychopharmacological violence is caused by chemical properties of the drug itself. Goldstein explains that “... some individuals, as a result of short- or long-term ingestion of specific substances, may become excitable, irrational, and may exhibit violent behavior” (p. 494). In other words, drug use alters a person’s biochemistry and state of consciousness in such a way that it increases his or her likelihood of engaging in violent behavior. This is the view we have implied so far and the one that is implicit in most of the research, but according to Goldstein, psychopharmacological violence accounted for only

3% of crack-related homicides in his study of drug-related murder in New York City (Goldstein, Brownstein, Ryan, & Bellucci, 1989).

Goldstein also introduces the importance of economic compulsive violence, primarily robbery, which is caused by the need for money to finance addictive consumption. Most economic-compulsive crime is nonviolent, but some drug users may rob or even kill in their effort to obtain drugs. Thus, this form of violence is not caused by drugs, per se, but by their high cost. Goldstein and colleagues (1989) attributed 7% of the crack-related homicides committed in New York City in 1988 to economic-compulsive motivations.

Finally, “systemic violence" also unrelated to the pharmacological properties of the drugs themselves, results from the exigencies of the black market. The inability to call upon legal sources of social control in order to mediate business disputes causes dealers to use violence to protect their enterprise. Because of the illegality of drugs and the risk inherent in the business, prices of drugs remain high, making drugs a valuable commodity to steal, which induces violent conflict over territory and markets. In New York City in 1988, the approximate height of the crack epidemic, it is believed that approximately 85% of crack-related homicides could be categorized as “systemic” (Goldstein et al., 1989).

In Chapter 11, we will examine the association between alcohol, drug use and violence. These studies imply a pharmacological basis for violent behavior. Unfortunately, the number of studies that delineate economic-compulsive crime and systemic crime is too small to review for present purposes. As the reader can see from this discussion, important drug-related causes of violence may be missed when using the narrower operationalization.


In Chapters 2 and 3, we have presented a brief overview of theory and empirical findings about the various developmental and environmental factors that are related to aggression and crime. We also began to explain why we believe that some of these factors are differentially related to violence (above and beyond their effects on nonviolent crime), but we noted that limitations in extant data and research design limit scholars’ ability to separate the etiology of violence from the etiology of general offending. It is our task in the rest of this book to extract existing work that overcomes these limitations in the scholarly literature and use it to come to an understanding about what is already known about the differential etiology of violence.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >