There is no doubt that substance abuse and crime go hand in hand. For one, abusing illicit substances is itself against the law. Beyond that though, substance abuse has been shown to be strongly related to committing other crimes, and is a factor in a majority of crimes committed. Substance abuse often involves degradation of one’s character, and if left untreated, can progressively lead to more degradation. When substance abusers begin committing crimes, they will tend to continue until they are caught and face legal consequences, or preferably when they receive treatment.

The statistics about crime and substance abuse are shocking, and show that they are connected in the vast majority of cases.

California: A Case Study on Substance Abuse and Crime

California has performed the most in-depth and thorough study of the correlation between substance abuse and crime within any one state.

  • According to the study by the California Drug Control Update, over 3 million Californians abuse drugs on a regular basis. Drug abuse is ranked as the number one premature killer in California, more than homicides, car accidents, suicides and gunshot wounds. Drug abuse is responsible for 11 deaths a day in California alone. 3 out of 10 fatal car accidents in California involve some kind of illegal substance use.
  • In Sacramento, 81% of people arrested test positive for some kind of illegal drug. Drugs are also a huge drain on the states resources. There are 40,000 drug-related emergency room visits every year. California spends 60 million dollars annually on housing marijuana offenders, each costing taxpayers about 45,000 dollars every year.
  • California seizes more drugs than any other state. The numbers are massive, and illegal trafficking comprises a huge share of the overall crime in California. Every year, the state seizes:
    • 413,000 lbs. of marijuana
    • 300,000 ecstacy pills
    • 18,000 lbs. of cocaine
    • 800 lbs. of heroin
    • 5,000 lbs. of methamphetamines

Partly because many substance abusers are caught up in the legal system for their crimes, 85% of substance abusers in California will never go on to receive treatment at a drug rehabilitation center.

Nationwide Substance Abuse and Crime

California is not the only state struggling with substance abuse and crime. The problem is an epidemic nationwide, so much so that an estimated 50% of all prison inmates have a clinical addiction to some substance. More than half of all inmates are in prison for drug related offenses.

There is no doubt that drugs are an incentive for crime, even if the crime is not drug related. Over 60% of criminals arrested for any crime test positive for some kind of illegal drug.

The statistics show the same trends for juvenile offenders as well. Across the U.S., out of 2.4 million juvenile arrests, 1.9 million were involved in substance abuse. Unfortunately, only 68,000 of those juveniles receive substance abuse treatment of any kind.

Domestic violence is almost always connected to substance abuse. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that two-thirds of victims of domestic violence report that the abuser had been drinking or doing drugs before or during the violence happening. There is a downstream cyclical consequence for children who witness domestic violence. A Massachusetts study found that they are 50% more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol later in life.

From these statistics, we can conclude that there is an inexorable link between substance abuse and crime. Those wishing to make an impact on the nation’s crime rate should look to reducing the nation’s substance abuse rates. If drug and alcohol abuse rates were to drop significantly, then crime rates would also drop significantly. Addressing crime on its own will not have the same effect, as we are not addressing the most common underlying issue leading to the crime. To reduce crime, we must provide prevention, education, rehabilitation, and resources to those abusing drugs and alcohol and reach those at risk before they develop issues.