Alcohol and Violence Research

NIAAA Studies Show Alcohol's Role in Violence

Screaming Man
Alcohol, Aggression Linked. © Getty Images

For years, alcohol use has been associated with violence in all of its many forms. Alcohol consumption has been blamed for severe and sometimes fatal health, social and economic problems each year in the United States.

Researchers have found a link between alcohol use and personal violence (such as suicide), interpersonal violence (domestic abuse, rape, homicide) and group violence (such as unruliness and riotous acts at sporting events).

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Scientists hope that better understanding the association between alcohol consumption and violence can help find new ways to reduce the frequency and consequences of violence.

The following NIAAA-funded studies are among many that have examined the association between drinking and violence:

Antisocial Personality Disorder, Alcohol, and Aggression
According to Drs. F. Gerard Moeller and Donald M. Dougherty, people with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), a psychiatric condition characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for other people's rights, often accompanied by violent behaviors, may be particularly susceptible to alcohol-related aggression.

Differences in Alcohol-Induced Aggression
Studying the mechanisms behind alcohol's link to aggressive behavior in humans is difficult. Thus, researchers have relied on animal models to better define the alcohol-aggression relationship. Dr. J. Dee Higley reviews research in animals to show how individual differences in brain chemistry predict impulsivity, aggression, and alcohol-induced aggression.

Victim And Offender Self-Reports Of Alcohol Involvement In Crime
Violent crime experienced an overall decline during the 1990s. Likewise, the number of violent crimes attributable to offenders who were drinking alcoholic beverages at the time of their offenses also decreased. Mr. Lawrence A. Greenfeld and Ms. Maureen A. Henneberg report on changes in alcohol-related violence evidenced by national surveys of crime victims and offenders.

Court Procedures for Handling Intoxicated Drivers
Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is one of the most common criminal offenses associated with alcohol consumption, and many DWI offenders continue to drive intoxicated after they have been apprehended for the first time. To reduce this recidivism and deter DWI offenses in the first place, the courts have developed numerous sanctions.

Alcohol and Sexual Assault
Approximately one-half of all cases of sexual assault and rape involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim, or both. In at least 80 percent of sexual assaults, both the perpetrator and the victim know each other.

Alcohol-involved sexual assaults often occur among strangers or people who do not know each other well.

Alcohol Abuse and Child Abuse
Researchers have investigated the role of alcohol abuse as both a cause and a consequence of child abuse. Although one might assume intuitively that parental alcohol abuse would increase a child's risk of experiencing physical or sexual abuse and neglect, the studies conducted to date do not unequivocally support this assumption. Conversely, studies consistently have found that childhood abuse and neglect frequently are associated with adult alcohol problems, at least among women.

Alcohol-Related Intimate Partner Violence
As with other forms of violence, alcohol appears to play an important role in intimate partner violence. Survey results indicate that IPV is more prevalent among ethnic minorities than among whites. Researchers have proposed several theories to explain why rates of IPV vary among ethnic groups in the United States.

Alcohol and Violence in the Lives of Gang Members
Life within a gang includes two endemic features: violence and alcohol. Yet, according to Drs. Geoffrey P. Hunt and Karen Joe Laidler, to date, most researchers of gang behavior have focused on violence and its relationship to illicit drugs, largely neglecting the importance of alcohol in gang life.

Self-Reported Alcohol Use and Abuse By Arrestees
Surveys of arrestees about their alcohol and other drug use provide valuable data that can be used to examine the relationship between substance use and violence. Dr. Susan E. Martin, Dr. Kendall Bryant, and Ms. Nora Fitzgerald present data collected in the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program for 1998.

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