Studies: Link Between Drugs and Violent Crimes

Studies: Link Between Drugs and Violent Crimes

There are more than 200 million people around the world hooked on illegal drugs. At the individual level, abuse of psychoactive drugs is detrimental to health and wellbeing. However, at the macro level, there is a relationship between the prevalence of drug abuse in a given community and violent crime incidence. Hence, as drug use prevails, so does crime.

Prevalence of Illegal Drugs and the Incidents of Violent Crimes According to Media Reports and Depictions

Stories from numerous media outlets have cited drug use with the occurrence of crimes. For example, in 2012, The New York Times reported that the city of Marseille in France experienced one of the most violent waves of gang war in history that left 20 people. Conflicts among drug traders and dealers were the root cause of the incident.

Furthermore, The Guardian also published a report in 2020 that chronicled the longstanding conflict in the Mexican State of Guerrero. Apart from clashes between factions involved in drug trade, these groups have been subjecting villages in waves of terrors to maintain control and sociopolitical influence over desired territories.

The relationship between drugs and violent crimes can also be understood at the individual level. In Miami in 2012, a bizarre incident landed on the front-pages of major news outlets in the United States and other parts of the world. Accordingly, a man intoxicated in marijuana ate the flesh of a random guy in a roadway.

Non-news media, to include works of fiction, have used plot devices centered on drug-related crimes to drive their narratives. Some notable examples include the crime novel “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo that depicts a fictional Mafia family in New York, and the more recent “Narcos” television series, which centered on Mexican drug cartels.

The Relationship Between Drug Use and Abuse with Incidents of Violent Crimes According to Studies

The drug-crime relationship can be understood by factors that influence criminal behavior and incidents associated with drug prevalence. According to a tripartite framework proposed by Paul J. Goldstein in 1985, crimes associated with drugs occur due to one of the three models: the economic compulsive, the psychopharmacological, and the systemic models.

Goldstein Drug-Crime Models

The economic compulsive model pertains to the monetary issues involving access to drugs, while the psychopharmacological model assumes that criminality is a consequence of impairment in cognitive function due to the effects of psychoactive drugs. Meanwhile, the systemic model centers on violence associated with drug supply and distribution.

Accessing drugs can compel certain individuals to commit a crime. Certain classes of drugs such as opiates, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines can be expensive for economically challenged or impoverished end-users. Hence, because addiction prompts dependent users to consume, they often resort to crimes as a means to access drugs.

Then there is the psychological effect of drug abuse. The Australian government carried out a study on drug-related crime. Results revealed that the association between drugs and crimes is partly due to the overinflated feelings of invulnerability or superiority, which are usually evident among individuals abusing psychoactive drugs.

Systemic violence is also prevalent in communities where drug use is prevalent. In several instances, conflicts between and among rival drug cartels, groups of drug traders, and smaller groups of dealers are commonplace due to organizational issues, territorial claims, and heated market competition in the underground economy.

Other models from other researchers provide deeper insight regarding the link between drugs and violent crimes. For example, T. Bennet and K. Holloway argued that the Goldstein Drug-Crime Models do not take into account the cultural context. Based on their analysis, the causal relationship between drugs and crime likely varies by cultural context, location or geographical factors, time variations, and even the type of drugs.

Exploring Other Drug-Crime Models

A notable example is the aforesaid study conducted by the Australian government. Part of the findings revealed that when compared to users of opiates, benzodiazepine users are more likely to be violent, more likely to have been in contact with the police, and more likely to have been charged with criminal behavior.

Some individuals use psychoactive drugs as a tool to perpetrate crime. Sexual offenders have used date rape drugs such as benzodiazepines and gamma-hydroxybutyrate to render vulnerable individuals incapacitated. Psychoactive can also facilitate ongoing criminal activities such as robbery and petty crimes.

Drug use is also associated with a criminal lifestyle. The so-called lifestyle mechanisms model mentioned by Sara Rolando et al. argues that the drug-crime relationship transpires in two ways: drug use can lead to crime, and criminal activity can lead to drug use. In other words, the consumption of psychoactive drugs is also an inherent part of a criminal lifestyle.

Consumer capitalism and economic inequality might also explain the relationship between drugs and crime. K. Irwin-Rogers explained that the prevalence of consumerism alongside high levels of inequality creates a great sense of frustration that compels young individuals to distribute and consume illegal drugs.

A framework based on consumerism and inequality synthesizes the economic, psychopharmacological, and systemic models of drug-crime relationship. For example, underprivileged people might use drugs as a distraction. Accessing these drugs substances would require them to resort to crimes. Addiction can promote criminal behavior.

There is also an emerging position that forms part of the overall argument for legalizing or decriminalizing the use of illicit drugs. For example, one of the arguments for legalizing recreational marijuana centers on the notion that decriminalization would remove or reduce the social costs and other sociopolitical issues that come from producing, trading, distributing, and consuming marijuana-based products.

A Final Note on the Link Between Drugs and Violent Crimes

The relationship between drugs and crime is undeniable. However, the fact remains that establishing a causal link between the two has remained at the center of a longstanding debate within the fields of criminology and sociology. The models proposed by Goldstein remain a popular reference for researchers, policymakers, and those in the academe. However, newer models have recently emerged to explore further the complexity within the drug-crime relationship.


  • Associated Press. 2012. “Miami Face-eating Man Not High on Bat Salts, Laboratory Test Shows.” Herald Sun. Available online
  • Baume, M. 2020. “Marseille Journal: In a City Plagued by Violence, a Spike in Crime Opens Eyes Nationwide.” The New York Times. Available online
  • Bennett, T. and Holloway, K. 2009. “The Causal Connection Between Drug Misuse and Crime.” The British Journal of Criminology. 49(4): 513–531. DOI: 1093/bjc/azp014
  • Fry, C., S., Bronwyn, Bruno, R., O’Keefe, B., and Miller, P. 2007. Benzodiazepine and Pharmaceutical Opioid Misuse and their Relationship to Crime: An Examination of Illicit Prescription Drug Markets in Melbourne, Hobart and Darwin – National Overview Report. NDLERF Monograph No. 21. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Available online
  • Goldstein, P. J. 1985. “The Drug/Violence Nexus: A Tripartite Conceptual Framework.” Journal of Drug Issues. 15(4): 493-506. DOI: 1177/002204268501500406
  • Irwin-Rogers, K. 2019. “Illicit Drug Markets, Consumer Capitalism and the Rise of Social Media: A Toxic Trap for Young People. Critical Criminology.” 27(4): 591-520. DOI: 1007/s10612-019-09476-2
  • Malkin, E. 2020. “Guerrero at War: Chronicling Southern Mexico’s Forgotten Conflict—Photo Essay.” The Guardian. Available online
  • Rolando, S., Asmussen Frank, V., Duke, K., Kahlert, R., Pisarska, A., Graf, N., and. Beccaria, F. 2020. “‘I Like Money, I Like Many Things’. The Relationship Between Drugs and Crime from the Perspective of Young People in Contact with Criminal Justice Systems.” Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy. 1-10. DOI: 1080/09687637.2020.1754339