The Goldstein Drug and Violence Nexus

The Goldstein Drug and Violence Nexus

Paul J. Goldstein, an academic and subject-matter expert in the field of narcotics and drug research, presented a model that contributes to the current understanding of the relationship between psychoactive drugs and crime in his 1985 paper published in the Journal of Drug Issues.

Labeled as the Drug and Violence Nexus or the Tripartite Conceptual Framework, he proposed three ways that drugs and violence or crimes can be linked, thus presenting three models explaining the drug-crime relationship. These are the psychopharmacological model, economic compulsive model, and the systemic violence model.

Tripartite Conceptual Framework: Drug and Violence Nexus

Remember that the framework developed by Goldstein includes three separate models or theories. Each theory explains how drug use or the prevalence of psychoactive drugs in a given community can promote the incidents of crime or lead to criminal behavior.

Psychopharmacological Model

Psychoactive drugs induce neurochemical changes in the body or alter the cognitive and subsequent reasoning capabilities of an individual. The psychopharmacological model asserts that drug use increases the tendency of a person to commit crimes.

A study carried out by the Australian government suggested that the association between drugs and crimes is partly due to the overinflated feelings of invulnerability or superiority. Other studies draw an association between poor judgment and drug abuse.

One of the most popular stories that caught the attention of the global media in 2012 was a man in Miami who ate the flesh of a random man in a roadway. Laboratory results revealed that the perpetrator was intoxicated with cannabis.

Nonetheless, there are other studies and countless media reports documenting the psychological effects of drug abuse and how their mental condition became one of the primary factors in explaining their tendency toward criminal or violent behaviors.

Economic Compulsive Model

The Tripartite Conceptual Framework also suggests that drug dependence also compels people to commit a crime. More specifically, the need to access or consume illegal substances encourages impoverished individuals to resort to all means possible.

Note that certain classes of drugs such as opiates, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines can be expensive for economically challenged end-users. Thus, because addiction prompts dependent users to consume, they often resort to crimes as a means to support their habit.

Some common examples of crimes committed by drug-dependent individuals include violent activities such as theft or robbery that use intimidation or non-violent ones such as shoplifting, petty theft, and burglary, among others.

Systemic Violence Model

Another theory proposed by Goldstein is the systemic violence model of the drug-crime relationship. He argued that crime and other forms of violence are inherent in the entire underground system of drug production and distribution.

Systemic violence is fundamentally commonplace in communities in which drug trade and drug use are 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.

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.

Another report published by The Guardian in 2020 chronicled the enduring sociocultural problem in the Mexican State of Guerrero characterized by conflicts among groups involved in the drug trade. These groups have subjected villages in waves of terrors to maintain control and influence over desired territories.

Criticisms of the Goldstein Drug and Violence Nexus

The Tripartite Conceptual Framework or the Drug and Violence Nexus of Goldstein remains a popular reference for researchers, policymakers, and those in the academe. However, explaining the relationship between psychoactive drugs and crime remains at the center of a longstanding debate within the fields of criminology and sociology.

In a review study, S. Rolando et al. referenced other studies done by other researchers that provide other models or theories that attempt to explore the drug-crime relation. For example, T. Bennet and K. Holloway argued that the Goldstein framework fails to take into account the cultural context.

They specifically noted that the causal relationship between drugs and crime likely varies by cultural context, location or geographical factors, time variations, and even the type of drugs. There is also an argument asserting that a criminal lifestyle leads to drug use and abuse.

S. Rolando et al. proposed the lifestyle mechanisms model, which asserts that the drug-crime relationship transpires in two ways: drug use can lead to crime, and criminal activity can lead to drug use. The income generated from criminal activities and the pressure that tag along with a criminal lifestyle encourages the use of psychoactive drugs.


  • 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
  • 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: 10.1177/002204268501500406
  • 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