The Connection Between Alcohol and Violence
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3 million people die from alcohol-related causes each year, including alcohol-related violence.1 Further research shows that 25% of violent crimes committed across the United States involve alcohol, while 66% of domestic violence (DV) cases involve a partner who had been drinking.2
Alcohol-related violence is thought to be the result of an interaction between individual and environmental variables and the pharmacologic effects of alcohol.2 Research shows there is a reciprocal connection between alcohol and violence. Alcohol use may promote aggressive behavior, while victims of violence may use alcohol to self-medicate their feelings.3
Understanding the connection between alcohol and violence may help keep you or a loved one safe. This article will help you understand why alcohol use can lead to violence, the different types of alcohol-related violence, and what do to if you or a loved one is struggling with their relationship with alcohol.
Why Can Alcohol Use Lead to Violence?
Alcohol use may encourage violence in several ways.
Alcohol can disrupt normal brain function, which makes it harder for the areas in the brain responsible for controlling balance, judgment, memory, and speech to function normally. When a person’s judgment is impaired, they may misread social cues and overreact to a perceived threat. They may also be more likely to act on an immediate impulse and become violent when dirnking.3, 4
Alcohol can enhance a person’s mental state, meaning if alcohol is consumed when someone is feeling angry or frustrated, drinking can intensify these emotions, potentially leading to aggressive behaviors.5
Other factors can influence the likelihood that a person will engage in violence while they are intoxicated, including having a mental health disorder, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A person who has a mental health disorder may be more likely to misuse alcohol in order to curb their mental health symptoms, putting them at an increased risk of becoming violent when intoxicated.5
Studies also show that when a person has both a substance use disorder (such as an alcohol use disorder) and a mental health disorder, they are at an above-average risk of displaying violent behavior. An alcohol use disorder is a chronic but treatable condition characterized by compulsive alcohol use despite experiencing negative consequences at home, school, or work as a result of drinking.5, 6
Alcohol-Related Violent Crime
Alcohol use can contribute to many different types of violent crimes including domestic violence (DV), sexual assault, physical assault, and homicide.
Alcohol and Domestic Violence
Domestic violence (DV), also referred to as intimate partner violence, is linked to alcohol consumption in the U.S. and worldwide. International studies show that men are more likely to engage in severe assaults against their partners after they have been drinking alcohol.5 Studies also show that women who are heavy drinkers are more likely to become victims of DV.5 In the U.S., 40% of reported DV cases involve alcohol.5 Alcohol is shown to significantly increase the severity of violence compared to violence where alcohol is not a factor.5
Alcohol and Sexual Assault
In the U.S., it is estimated that at least 25% of women have experienced sexual assault, including rape, and that 50% of these cases involved alcohol consumption by the victim, perpetrator, or both.7 Among sexual assaults that occur on college campuses, 50% involve alcohol use among the victim, perpetrator, or both.8
Several factors contribute to the connection between alcohol and sexual assault, and while alcohol should not be viewed as a cause of sexual assault, it often exacerbates existing risk factors.7 For example, perpetrators of sexual assault may seek out situations where alcohol is being served (e.g., bars, clubs, parties) to find vulnerable people who are intoxicated.8 Alcohol’s effects on decision-making skills and thought processing may also make a person more vulnerable to sexual assault.7
Alcohol and Assault
Studies suggest the more severe assault-related crime and injuries are, the more likely alcohol is to be involved.2 One study found that 26% of aggravated and simple assaults, 37% of sexual assaults and rapes, and 15% of robberies involved an offender who had been drinking.2
Sexual orientation is a risk factor for assault and violence as well. Substance use and sexual assault rates are higher among bisexual and homosexual individuals compared to heterosexual people:9
Alcohol and Homicide
Serious crimes, including those involving homicides, are more likely to involve alcohol than less serious crimes.2 Studies suggest that the amount of alcohol consumed, the type of alcohol consumed, and the pattern of alcohol consumption influence rates of homicide and violence.5 One study found that 57% of homicides in the U.S. were alcohol-related.5 Another study found that between 2010–2012, nearly 40% of homicide victims had alcohol in their system, with 26% having a blood alcohol content (BAC) greater than 0.08%.10
Prevention and Getting Help
If you are a victim of any alcohol-related crime or violent crime, get help immediately. Call 911 or confide in a trusted loved one. Community resources are available, including the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which you can access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 800-656-4673 or online at online.rainn.org.
Al-Anon is a support group for loved ones of people who struggle with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), and you can locate local support groups here.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol, you should know that alcohol addiction treatment programs are available. No matter how severe the situation may seem, evidence-based treatment can help people stop using alcohol and learn how to live a life free from substances.6
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment, but treatment may include medically-assisted detoxification followed by a combination of behavioral therapy, mutual-support groups, and medications.6, 11 Treatment can also address other co-occurring mental disorders that may also be contributing to a person’s behavior. While setbacks are common, many people with AUD recover.6
If you are ready to learn more about addiction treatment, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is ready to help. AAC is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment with facilities across the U.S. You can call our free, confidential helpline at for more information about rehab, and easily verify your insurance by filling out the form below.