Drinking alcohol is one of the leading causes of crime in the UK and around the world. It is generally divided into two groups: offenses that are defined by alcohol (drink driving etc) and offenses that are caused in part by the consumption of alcohol (drink fuelled violence, for example).
For every 1,000 people in the UK, 1 will become the victim of alcohol related violence in any given year. This is a lot lower than it used to be, but there is nothing else that fuels violence like this. Alcohol dis-inhibits people, makes them more likely to be aggressive, and can motivate theft to feed an addiction.
How big a problem is alcohol?
According to statistics from 2014/2015, alcohol was involved in 47 per cent of violent offenses during this period. That is more than half a million violent crimes recorded by the police. As most violent crimes go unreported, the number is expected to be much higher. The level of violence that involves alcohol has been going down, slowly, for a number of years after peaking in the mid 2000’s at nearly a million reported incidents a year.
About 60 per cent of violent offences committed against strangers is alcohol-related. Most of the violence at weekends involves alcohol, and usually occurs between 6pm and 10 pm.
The cost of alcohol-related crime is thought to be as much as £13 billion, much more than terrorism.
220 people were killed in drink driving incidents in 2015. Over 1000 people were seriously injured due to alcohol-related driving incidents.
Breaking down the statistics
About 14 per cent of criminal damage cases involved alcohol in 2015. 34 per cent of violent incidents that did not result in injury were alcohol-related. Nearly 20 percent of the most serious sexual crimes involved alcohol. More than half of violence outside the home and domestic violence had alcohol in the situation.
These statistics are sobering. There is no other single contributing factor that is involved in so much crime as alcohol. The statistics show that alcohol is a primary or secondary influence on many of the most serious crimes committed in the UK.
Why does alcohol fuel crime?
Alcohol does not make people criminals, it just makes them more likely to do things they would not necessarily have done otherwise. Reducing the threshold for committing a crime is called dis-inhibition. A lot of people think violent thoughts, that may be somewhat normal. Most people do not act on their thoughts. However, with a few drinks in them, they are less able to control their impulses.
Most violence is not pre-meditated. In other words, it was not planned. People find themselves in situations that they could use violence to “resolve”. In many cases, without alcohol, the situation is resolved amicably. When alcohol is involved, the chances of a person becoming violent is much higher.
Alcohol addiction is a factor in many thefts. People who are addicted to alcohol often have poor impulse control and existing mental health disorders. In order to feed their addiction, some resort to crimes like theft. Although there is less awareness of this form of crime, it is surprisingly common.
Alcohol related crime is falling
Although Britons are amongst Europe’s heaviest drinkers, the amount that Brits are drinking is falling. Binge drinking, a dominant cause of violent crime, has fallen in recent years due to changing drinking habits. In 2006, there were nearly 1 million violent crimes that were alcohol-related reported. Since then, the number has almost halved.
Differences in reporting techniques will account for some of this, but the trend is observed in other Western countries as well. Although it may not seem like it in general, Britain is becoming a safer place to live. Part of the reason is that people are drinking less.
Stricter licensing, more ID checks, and increased alcohol prices have all contributed to this fall. Another factor is that people are not drinking in pubs and bars as much, possibly due to the price. Many pubs are closing, leading people to drink at home and other people’s houses more often. Younger people are drinking less than they ever have done. This is thought to be because young people are less affluent than their predecessors and are more concerned with their health. Education probably played a role.
In 2017, about 40 per cent of the victims of violent crime believed the perpetrator was drunk compared to 53 per cent in 2013, however statisticians believe that most violent crime never goes reported, so it is hard to know the real picture.
Hospital admissions, murder and serious violence are easier to measure, and they support the falling trend of alcohol-related violence.
The tip of the Iceberg
Recent scandals involving sexual predators has increased the numbers of people reporting sexual crimes. Less reported is a rise in the numbers of domestic violence incidents being reported. As more than half of recorded domestic violence involves alcohol, the role of alcohol in domestic violence is becoming more visible.
The reasons for the falling rates of alcohol-related violence are not as clear as many would like. A wide range of societal and political factors have been involved but which are effective is almost impossible to tease out of the statistics.
The period of austerity that has reigned since 2010 has seen deep cuts in the provision for addiction and violence prevention. This runs contrary to the fall in alcohol-related crime. This suggests that either the policies of the coalition and Conservative governments have been especially effective, or that policies have a much smaller effect than societal effects.
Increased tax on alcohol, a minimum prices, and providing more information seems to have a small effect. Making alcohol less available during certain times (6m to 10 pm, for example) may be “effective and cost-effective”. Identifying and trying to help at-risk drinkers is also thought to be effective.