The exact extent of the role that drugs and alcohol play in the commission of crimes in the United States is probably impossible to determine, but it is obviously significant according to data from a variety of government sources.
Although victims of crimes report that they believe the offender was under the influence of alcohol or drugs is less than half of the violent crimes, drug tests from those who are actually arrested for crimes show a much higher percentage drug usage.
Sometimes drugs and alcohol play a role in criminal activity even when the offender is not under the influence at the time the crime is committed. Many offenders commit crimes in order to get money to obtain drugs.2
When you add up the crimes committed because of the influence of alcohol or drugs, drug-related criminal offenses, and crimes in which illegal possession of the drug itself is the crime, the role of alcohol and drugs in crime is extensive.
Victims’ Perception of Offenders’ Drug and Alcohol Use
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) collects data from victims of violent crimes about whether the victims think that the offender was using drugs or alcohol during the crime. According to the perceptions of the victims, offenders were under the influence during the commission of these crimes:
- Crime of violence, 24.2 percent
- Rapes or sexual assaults, 30.0 percent
- Robbery, 23.3 percent
- Assault, 24.1 percent
- Aggravated assault, 26.2 percent
- Simple assault, 23.5 percent
Among American Indians, victims reported alcohol use by offenders 62 percent of the time, compared to 42 percent of the general population. In violent crimes against American Indians in which substance use was determined 48 percent were using alcohol, 9 percent using drugs, and 14 percent were using both.
Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Data
Information collected by the National Institute of Justice through its Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM II) program tells a different story of drug use among offenders.
The ADAM II program collected urine samples from male arrestees at 10 locations in five counties across the U.S.: Atlanta, GA (Fulton County); Chicago, IL (Cook County); Denver, CO (Denver County); New York, NY (Borough of Manhattan); and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento County).
Arrestees were tested for 10 drugs: marijuana, cocaine metabolites, opiates, amphetamine/methamphetamine, barbiturates, benzodiazepine, buprenorphine, methadone, PCP, and oxycodone.
The ADAM II data provided objective, biological measures of drug use along with the self-reported use among those arrested and charged with crimes and provided a method to monitor trends in drug use among offenders.
Highlights From ADAM II Results
Here are some of the highlights from the 2013 ADAM II data collection:4
- Those arrestees who tested positive for drugs ranged from 63 percent in Atlanta to 83 percent in Chicago and Sacramento
- Those with multiple drugs in their system ranged from 12 percent in Atlanta to 50 percent in Sacramento
- Marijuana was the most commonly used drug among arrestees, from 34 percent in Atlanta to 59 percent in Sacramento.
- The use of cocaine continued a significant decline in all locations.
- The self-reported use of crack cocaine increased only in New York but declined in other locations.
- The continued trend in increased use of opiates (heroin, morphine, synthetic opiates) was significant at all locations
- Denver and Sacramento both saw significant increases in the use of opiates and methamphetamine from 2000 to 2013.
- The availability of heroin was stable in all locations but New York where the difficulty in purchasing the drug (a failed buy) went from 77 percent in 2007 to only 35 percent in 2013.
Committing Crimes to Obtain Drugs
In response to a 2004 BJS survey, an estimated 17 percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal inmatesreported that they committed the crimes that they are currently incarcerated to obtain money to buy drugs.2
Those who do commit crimes to obtain money for drugs are more likely to commit property crimes and drug offenses (trafficking) than they are violent crimes and public order offenses.
Among jail inmates charged with property crimes, these percentages of arrestees reported being under the influence of drugs at the time of the crime:
- Robbery 56%
- Weapons violations 56%
- Burglary 55%
- Motor vehicle theft 55%
Officials estimate that 1.5 million drivers per year are arrested for driving under the influence in the United States.That translates to 1,250 arrests for every 100,000 drivers.
Drivers are legally alcohol-impaired when their blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) are .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
A fatal crash involving a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher is considered to be an alcohol-impaired-driving crash, and fatalities occurring in those crashes are considered to be alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Within NHTSA reports, the term “alcohol-impaired” does not indicate that a crash or a fatality was caused by alcohol impairment, only that an alcohol-impaired driver was involved in the crash.
The 10,847 people who died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in 2017 included:7
- 7,368 drivers with a BAC .08 or more
- 1,492 passengers riding with a drunk driver
- 1,583 occupants of other vehicles
- 1,181 nonoccupants (pedestrians, etc.)