Alcohol and Crime

Alcohol and Crime

Alcohol and Crime

Alcohol and Crime


Alcohol is massively associated with crime. Evidence from the British Medical Association found that alcohol use is associated with 60-70 per cent of murders, 70 per cent of stabbings, 50 per cent of fights or assaults in the home. For non-violent offences the association is very strong as well: 88 per cent of those arrested for criminal damage, 83 per cent for breach of the peace, 41 per cent for theft and 26 per cent for burglary, had drunk in the four hours prior to their arrest. At the same time there has been intense concern about public drunkenness in town and city centres, especially on the part of young people, and the cost and damage this causes.

This book seeks to understand the nature of the connection between alcohol and crime, and the way the criminal justice system responds to the problem, providing a clear and accessible account and analysis of the subject. It draws upon a wide range of sources and research findings, and also sets the subject within a broader comparative context. It takes an interdisciplinary approach, and includes a sociological account of the role of alcohol in British society, a criminological analysis of the link between alcohol and crime and a philosophical consideration of individual responsibility for harm caused whilst intoxicated, and a legal analysis of different approaches that can be adopted as a response to alcohol-related offending.


This work arose out of a belief that there was a need for a book which introduced readers to the debate about the relationship between alcohol and crime and the way in which the criminal justice system responds to those who offend after consuming alcohol. To many people, the link between alcohol and crime is self-evident. However, research (see Chapters 2 and 3) suggests that the link is far more complicated than is assumed both in popular discourse and in the official response to offences committed after the offender had been drinking. Consequently it is difficult to determine what the appropriate legal response should be. In England and Wales, as in other jurisdictions, the current legal position is controversial and appears in part to be based on assumptions that require, and lack, empirical verification (Dingwall 2003).

It is not the case that there has been a lack of research on the topic. As the references demonstrate, there is no shortage of valuable research but much of it is narrow in focus. What this work seeks to do is critically review this literature and then consider the policy implications that arise from it. The book therefore is not just an overview of existing research. Based on the available evidence, it suggests a principled approach to responding to those who offend after drinking alcohol. Given the variety of attitudes that people have towards drinking, this approach will no doubt lack universal approval. Nonetheless, if the book poses some difficult questions about the current approach and raises the issues that need more careful consideration then it will have served a valuable function.

Certainly, there could not be a more opportune time to consider alcohol and crime. Few could have anticipated the degree of political and media attention that has been devoted to the issue in the past two years. This attention is welcome for, as the next chapter demonstrates, there certainly appears to be a serious problem of alcohol-related crime in this . . .

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