Alcohol-Related Crime

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Crime

Crime is one of the most pressing concerns facing society today, and the number, type, and severity of crimes committed are dramatically impacted by alcohol. There are three primary ways in which alcohol impacts crime. Being intoxicated in inappropriate circumstances can be a crime, such as drunk in public and driving under the influence (DUI).  Alcohol abuse can increase the likelihood that individuals will commit certain crimes such as assault or homicide either by reducing their inhibitions or judgment or by increasing their agitation and anger. Finally, being the victim of certain types of crimes such as child or sexual abuse makes it considerably more likely that some individuals will develop alcohol abuse disorders later in life.

Intoxication as a Crime

Alcohol can severely impact an individual’s judgement, response time, actions, and aggression level. As a result, an intoxicated individual can put themselves and others in extreme danger of physical and emotional trauma. To protect everyone, all jurisdictions in the United States make it a crime to be intoxicated under certain circumstances. The most common include:

Driving while intoxicated (DUI)/Driving while intoxicated (DWI)

Driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is extremely dangerous and often fatal. Drunk drivers are not capable of reacting quickly enough, and they often make bad decisions. The penalties associated with DUI are generally the most severe of any intoxication crime, and can lead to serious financial, professional, and personal difficulties, and possibly even jail time.

Public intoxication/drunk in public

Intoxication can make an individual loud, aggressive, belligerent, and disruptive. This can seriously disturb others and put them in danger. In order to limit damage, most jurisdictions want to limit alcohol use to designated areas, such as restaurants, bars, and homes. They therefore make it illegal to be visibly intoxicated in public places. Public intoxication is often problematic to prove from a legal perspective, and many jurisdictions use this crime primarily to remove belligerent drunks from public places and sequester them in a jail cell until they sober up.

Open Container

Because public intoxication can be difficult to prove legally and to effectively prevent anyone from becoming intoxicated in public, many jurisdictions make it illegal to have an open alcohol container (that an individual could be drinking out of actively) a crime. Open container laws generally have the least severe penalties of intoxication crimes.

Crimes Commonly Associated with Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol severely impairs an intoxicated person’s judgment, causing them to take risks and commit actions that they never would have otherwise. It also makes them more likely to be talked into something that they otherwise wouldn’t. Alcohol also makes many people belligerent, angry, and prone to violence. These effects are often magnified when other intoxicated people are present, who often egg each other on or antagonize each other. This combination of factors makes it more likely that crimes will be committed. However, in no way does alcohol excuse illegal behavior, it just makes it more likely. Some of the most common crimes that are more likely to happen under the context of alcohol include:


An assault is either a threat of attack backed up by the ability to follow through with the attack or a physical or verbal attack. Perhaps no crime is more associated with alcohol than assault. Alcohol increases anger levels and irritability, making it more likely that individuals will want to commit violence against someone else. Alcohol also reduces impulse control, making it more likely that an intoxicated individual will follow through. Studies have shown that between 25 and 50% of assaults involve alcohol.