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Do Drugs And Alcohol Cause Violent Behaviors?

Since drug and alcohol use can weaken self-control, it’s not uncommon to see people who are under the influence engaging in behavior they usually wouldn’t if they were sober. The effects of substance use on behavior lead many to believe that there is a strong correlation between acts of violence and drug or alcohol use—and research agrees.

A study published in 1995 in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved found that violent behaviors and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand. The article described the connection between addiction and violence as a relationship between “cause and consequence.”

According to an article published in Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, more than 75 percent of people who seek treatment for drug addiction report having performed acts of violence, including mugging, physical assault and using a weapon to attack another person.

Another study released in 2010 found that people who suppress negative feelings like anger or frustration are more likely to drink to the point of intoxication and exhibit violent behaviors. Researchers involved in the study suggest that those with pent-up rage might act violently because drinking alcohol can result in loss of self-control and make someone more likely to act on their anger.

Several other studies have reported a cyclical and disturbing relationship between violence and addiction. While using drugs or alcohol does not always produce violent behaviors, it can in certain situations and in particular people. Researchers and medical professionals continue to strengthen their understanding of how substance abuse and violent behaviors work together—and why.

Stimulant Drugs and Aggression

Drugs like meth and cocaine can bring out violent behaviors in people who use them. Displays of aggression, belligerence, and violence are not uncommon when using stimulant drugs, partially due to loss of impulse control and feelings of paranoia—a volatile phase known as tweaking.

Although tweaking does not always involve violent behaviors, they are often a part of the process. Hallucinations while tweaking can feel so vivid that it causes people to act violently toward themselves and others.

Alcohol, Drugs And Violent Sex Crimes

Substance abuse can lead to an increase in aggressive behaviors, particularly violent sex crimes. According to a study performed by the University of Amsterdam, 50 percent of incarcerated sex offenders have a history of substance abuse, and 25-50 percent were under the influence at the time of the offense. This suggests a connection between addiction and violent sex crimes.

Drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine can lead to heightened feelings of arousal. When hyperarousal is combined with low impulse control, those who are under the influence of meth or cocaine are more likely to act on these urges. They may engage in high-risk, violent or aggressive sexual acts, including rape and sexual assault.

Alcohol and Sexual Assault

Alcohol can also cause people to act sexually aggressive toward others. According to a paper published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 25 percent of women have been sexually assaulted, and half of those assaults involved alcohol.

This percentage is even higher for women in college, where alcohol use is more widespread. Research shows that 50 percent of college women have experienced some form of aggressive sexual assault, and half of those assaults also involved alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim or both.

However, when alcohol is a factor in a sexual assault, it isn’t always that the alcohol led to the assault. For instance, the pre-existing desire to commit a sexual assault can lead to alcohol consumption.

The results of these studies make one thing abundantly clear: the presence of substance abuse increases the likelihood of violent sexual acts.

Addiction And Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is one of the most common behaviors influenced by drug and alcohol addiction. Domestic abuse can include hitting, punching, hair pulling, slapping, and sexual abuse, but it’s not limited to these physical actions. Domestic violence also encompasses emotional and physiological abuse. These behaviors can include:

  • Blackmail
  • Physical threats
  • Gaslighting
  • Attacks on a person’s self-worth
  • Intimidation
  • Stalking
  • Name-calling
  • Withholding resources and necessities
  • Excluding a person from meaningful events or activities
  • Blaming the victim

While these actions are not physically aggressive, they are considered a violent attack on the mind. The target is often left unable to defend themselves or fight back.

While there is not yet a consensus on the exact nature of the connection between addiction and domestic violence, researchers have noted an unmistakable relationship between excessive alcohol use and domestic violence. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, substance abuse is a factor in 40-60 percent of domestic violence incidents.

Can Violence and Trauma Lead To Addiction?

Being a victim of violence and violent behaviors can be a precursor to addiction because of the way traumatic events affect the brain. Trauma makes the mind work in overdrive, causing near-constant fear, anxiety, and stress. A person who survives a traumatic experience may constantly function in a fight-or-flight survival mode. The brain may even continuously replay the memory of the traumatic experience, forcing the person to involuntarily relive the event.

Experiencing these feelings all the time can be overwhelming and incredibly distressing for someone trying to recover from a violent crime or abusive relationship. Many survivors of trauma turn to drugs or alcohol to find relief.

The longer a person goes without addressing their experience of violence or trauma, the worse their emotional pain will become. This can lead people to self-medicate with even higher doses of drugs and alcohol.

Unfortunately, if trauma survivors continue to rely on substance use to cope with these negative emotions, their body and brain will become dependent on drugs or alcohol in order to function normally. If they continue to use drugs to cope, it can quickly spiral out of control and into addiction.

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