Alcohol Abuse/Heavy Use

Another important research question is whether it is heavy use of alcohol that differentially predicts violence. One might speculate that low levels of alcohol use would not cause violence, which means that a summary of studies at all levels of alcohol consumption would be inappropriate. Two correlational studies have provided mixed evidence on this point. A subset of the studies in the alcohol consumption category operationalized alcohol consumption with indicators of heavy use or abuse. Richardson and Budd (2003) found that those who reported binge drinking were more likely than others to get into fights, have heated arguments, and break things. Komro et al. (1999) reported, too, that the effects of any alcohol use and binge drinking were approximately the same in magnitude and had a similar impact on violent and delinquent behaviors a year later.

As it happens, authors of existing offender studies typically operationalize alcohol use as heavy use, abuse, or as an alcohol disorder, so we have a good number of studies of this kind to look at this issue. Unfortunately, the findings are mixed among offender studies as well. Three studies are decidedly favorable. Sacks et al. (2009) report that alcohol frequency and average quantity were significantly higher among violent parolees than nonviolent ones. In a sample of 71 juvenile murderers and controls matched on age, race, sex, and socioeconomic status, Zagar et al. (1990) report that alcohol abuse was higher among the murderers (38% vs. 23.9%).

In other studies, the findings are weak or in the opposite direction. In a sample of arrestees in Texas, violent offenders were slightly less likely to report frequent use of alcohol than nonviolent offenders (Valdez, Yin, & Kaplan, 1997). Haapasalo and Hamalainen (1996) report that alcohol abuse and dependence were not significantly lower among property than violent offenders in their sample, ages 1622. In a sample of minority adolescents in the Netherlands, Colins et al. (2009) report that property offenders had a much higher prevalence of both alcohol and drug use disorders than violent offenders.

Independent

Variable

Total

Studies

(k)

Violent PoC X (k)

%

X

Alcohol

Consumption

Violent

Nonviolent

Violent vs. Nonviolent

  • 28
  • 28
  • 11
  • 16
  • 13
  • 3
  • 57.1%
  • 46.4%
  • 27.3%

Alcohol Intoxication

Violent

Nonviolent

Violent vs. Nonviolent

  • 3
  • 3
  • 12
  • 3
  • 2
  • 9
  • 100%
  • 66.7%
  • 75%

Alcohol Availability

Violent

Nonviolent

Violent vs. Nonviolent

  • 5
  • 5

n/a

  • 4
  • 4
  • 80%
  • 80%

Undifferentiated1 Illegal Drug

Violent

Nonviolent

Violent vs. Nonviolent

  • 20
  • 20
  • 12
  • 5
  • 14
  • 7
  • 25%
  • 70%
  • 58.3%

Marijuana

Consumption

Violent

Nonviolent

Violent vs. Nonviolent

  • 14
  • 14
  • 5
  • 5
  • 8
  • 2
  • 35.7%
  • 57.1%
  • 40%

Cocaine

Consumption

Violent

Nonviolent

Violent vs. Nonviolent2

  • 9
  • 9
  • 2
  • 3
  • 2
  • 1
  • 33.3%
  • 22.2%
  • 50%

Crack Cocaine

Violent

Nonviolent

  • 3
  • 3
  • 2
  • 2
  • 66.7%
  • 66.7%

Heroin, Opiates, “Narcotics”

Violent

Nonviolent

Violent vs. Nonviolent

  • 11
  • 11
  • 1
  • 3
  • 6
  • 1
  • 27.3%
  • 54.5%
  • 100%

Other Illegal Drug3 Consumption

Violent

Nonviolent

Violent vs. Nonviolent

  • 6
  • 6
  • 2
  • 2
  • 3
  • 1
  • 33.3%
  • 50%
  • 50%

“Substance Use” (Combined Alcohol and Drug)

Violent

Nonviolent

Violent vs. Nonviolent

  • 6
  • 6

n/a

  • 4
  • 5
  • 66.7%
  • 83.3%

PoC X The preponderance of comparisons (PoC) reported in the study are in favor of the predicted hypothesis

  • 1 Authors did not distinguish between drugs
  • 2 Includes both cocaine and “crack” cocaine
  • 3 Includes other drug categories not listed here such as amphetamines and benzodiazepines

In spite of the fact that we anticipated that this operationalization of alcohol use would differentiate violent from nonviolent offenders more than other categories, this expectation was not fulfilled.

 
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