Substance Abuse and the Criminal Mind


The criminal mind has many different factors that play into the creation of each individual. The same goes for how drugs and alcohol affect each person differently. To me, it seems as though certain drugs or alcohol, cause different types of criminal activity. Our lecture notes show that heroin addiction tends to have a correlation with money-producing crimes such as robberies, burglaries, shoplifting, and larceny. I can definitely understand why heroin tends to contribute to these types of crimes because heroin is one of the most addictive drugs, so most addicts need to steal to help feed their habit if they do not have it readily available to them. Our notes also point out that research shows GHB, Ketamine, and Rohypnol are linked to sexually related crimes and OxyContin is linked to pharmacy robberies, thefts, and health-care fraud. In an article by Maia Szalavita, it states “brain imaging studies of violent criminals are difficult to interpret because the most persistent among them — those who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of all crime — are not only violent but also overwhelmingly addicted to alcohol and other drugs…A new study aimed to tease out the differences by comparing four groups of volunteers: violent offenders who were addicted to drugs; the rare violent offenders who were not; nonviolent people with alcohol or other drug problems; and those who were neither violent nor addicted” (Szalavita, 2). The results of the study show that these brain scans suggest that drug misuse is correlated with reduced brain volume in areas of the cortex that are involved with self-control. In other words, these subjects showed less control and were weaker in areas such as violence, aggression, desire, craving, pleasure and motivation. 


It has been proven that criminogenic drug users often recidivate back into the system. Once they get out, it is usually in their nature to go back to drugs because of learned behavioral patterns. Now some people may ask, why should society even bother treating these “hopeless” causes or addicts if they will only be cycling back into the system? Unfortunately, many people think this way because they don’t understand an addict, their disease, and what struggles they go through every day. It is actually very important to try and find people in the system and people who have just recently been let out of the system, a way to get treatment and help for their addictions because it actually ends up saving the state money in the long run. In an article by David Deitch, he states that “along with the cost of tracking illicit sales activity, a tremendous burden rests on the taxpayer for the dollars to build and maintain prisons. This becomes exceedingly poignant as prisons are increasingly used as a way of responding to this problem. As the costs of investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating addicts mount, the highest cost comes from recidivism” (392).


Drug culture in this country does seem to have a strong correlation to criminal behavior. Now, obviously not all criminals are drug or alcohol abusers; but from the readings, it does seem to have some correlation to criminal behavior. Our text states that, “in 2004, nearly a third of state and a quarter of federal prisoners committed their offenses under the influence of drugs” (pg. 473). Of course, every case is different, but I find it very interesting that researchers are exploring more and more the link between alcohol/substance abuse and the correlation to crime.


The article by David Deitch states, “So, the question may be, which comes first, crime or drug use? The answer is both. Many recent studies and interviews with offenders suggest that in approximately two-thirds of clients, criminal behavior precedes the onset of drug taking. This is particularly true when disruptive behavior with elements of violence has been observed in early childhood. In the remaining one third of these offenders, the drug taking came first. Many studies indicate that in 50% of youth, criminal behavior comes first, in 25% of youth the onset of drug taking precedes the first criminal act, and in the remaining 25%, substance use and criminal behavior started simultaneously” (394). It is interesting to say whether the drugs come first or the crime, but depending on the circumstances it can be both. The article goes on to state that there is an intimate connection between crime and drug use. There is definitely a relationship between high rates of recidivism and substance abuse criminals as was stated earlier.


One of the more interesting statements our textbook mentions is, “the belief that alcohol is a major cause of crime appears to be deeply embedded in American society” (Bartol, 496). We as a society I believe tend to forget that alcohol can be just as addictive or harmful as any other drug. Our lecture notes state that according to research, alcohol tends to be associated with violent crimes. It also shows that at least 40% of convicted murders being held in jail had alcohol play a factor in their crime (which was homicide), and about 3 million violent crimes occur each year where alcohol was perceived to have played apart. The acts of rape, assault, robbery, or aggravated/simple assaults are mostly likely to be committed by a criminal under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol alters a person’s mind much like any other drug, which is why alcohol tends to influence the way people act. Some people tend to act differently from how they normally would because of the consumption of alcohol; and depending on a person’s cognitive factors, they may act out violently.




Deitch, David. Ph.D. (The Relationship Between Crime and Drugs: What We Have Learned in Recent Decades. Retrieved from:

Szalavitz, Maia. (June 11, 2011) The Criminal Mind: How Drugs and Violence May Affect the Brain. Retreived from:

Image is also from this article.

Bartol, C and Bartol A (2017) Criminal Behavior: A Psychological Approach, 11 Edition, Pearson Press.

Rousseau, D. (2019). Forensic Behavioral Analysis:  Online Module 2. Boston University.  Retrieved from:


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