man struggling drugs and alcohol abuse and violent actions

The physical and psychological effects of drugs and alcohol can cause aggressive behaviors in individuals. Studies show that those who abuse substances are at higher risk for violent behaviors towards others and themselves. Over 20 million adults over the age of 12 struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, furthering the continuation of aggression, violence, and crime in the U.S.

The Link Between Drugs, Alcohol, and Violence

The link between substance abuse and violence is a complex connection made up of biological, psychological, and social factors. These factors increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Different types of substances, such as alcohol, opioids, cocaine, amphetamines, or hallucinogenics, have different effects on the brain and behaviors. The effects of alcohol and drug abuse can be inconclusive, resulting in different emotional and behavioral responses. Individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) are likelier to engage in risky and violent behaviors as a result of the psychological and pharmacological effects of substances.

Studies show that women who engage in substance abuse are at increased risk of being victims of domestic violence, and almost one-half of men at fault for domestic violence also abuse drugs and alcohol. A study on alcohol and drug-related crime in the United States reported that 26% of individuals using alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis engaged in violent criminal activity and 57% driving under the influence.

drugs and alcohol and violence and crime

The Psychology of Substance Abuse and Aggression

One of the primary effects of drug and alcohol abuse that fuels aggressive behaviors is its impairment of judgment and disinhibition. Alcohol and certain drugs impair cognitive functioning and judgment, which can lead to a lack of self-control and increased impulsivity. Substances like alcohol lower inhibitions, which can cause aggressive or impulsive behaviors. When under the influence, individuals are typically less capable of picking up on social cues or managing emotions like anger and frustration. Drug and alcohol abuse typically exacerbates feelings of stress or negative emotional states, increasing the likelihood of violent actions and responses. After depression, alcohol abuse is the most commonly diagnosed cause of suicide and self-harm.

Neurochemical Changes with Drugs and Alcohol

The effects of drug and alcohol abuse on the brain impact the basal ganglia, extended amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. Each of these areas in the brain plays a role in motivation, stressful emotions, problem-solving, and impulse control. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making and self-control over impulses. When this area is thrown off balance from drugs and alcohol, it makes individuals want to continue drug seeking. While alcohol can raise dopamine and serotonin levels, it can have counter effects on mood and aggression. Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine increase dopamine levels, heightening aggression and irritability.

Socioeconomic and Environmental Effects of Substance Abuse

Drug and alcohol abuse is often associated with criminal and violent behaviors. The illegal nature of drug trafficking typically involves violence and aggression as a result of resolving problems and being in discreet, underserved locations. The association of women in the drug trade is often a result of trafficking, violence, poverty, or intimate relationships. The withdrawal process from drugs and alcohol can result in individuals acting out from physical discomfort and psychological distress. This can influence aggression, irritability, and anxiety as a means to obtain drugs or alcohol.

man getting arrested for drug-related crime

Struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD) can significantly affect family structures, friendships, and other social connections. Drug and alcohol addiction can lead to domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and neglect, resulting in legal and personal repercussions. The impulsive need for drugs and alcohol can cause someone to act irrationally and out of character. This desperation can lead to violent behaviors, risky decisions, and crimes to obtain drugs or alcohol.

Addressing Alcohol and Drug-Related Violence

Alcohol and drug-related violence can affect more than the individual using, impacting both families and communities. Aggressive behaviors fueled by alcohol and drugs can lead to violent encounters with partners and family members, child abuse and neglect, self-harm, and crime. Understanding the link between alcohol and drugs and violent actions is critical for properly addressing and treating specific cases of it. With over 50% of Americans drinking alcohol and 25.4% illegal drug disorders, the violent crime rate in the United States continues to rise. Between 2021 and 2022, there was a 75% increase in rape and sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault in the U.S.

In an attempt to address alcohol and drug-related violence and crime, a comprehensive strategy is required, encompassing public health approaches, law enforcement, and individual substance abuse treatment.

people in addiction treatment and recovery support for substance abuse and violence

Substance Abuse Treatment for Addiction and Violence

Drug and alcohol rehab treatment programs for individuals struggling with substance abuse and violence take an integrated approach, addressing the psychological and physical aspects of addiction. Holistic addiction treatment includes medical detox services, behavioral therapies, inpatient and outpatient programs, and recovery support groups. Each of these services in drug rehab provides patients with the necessary strategies and tools to overcome addiction and violent behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective type of therapy for individuals struggling with substance abuse and aggression. CBT hones in on identifying and altering maladaptive behaviors that may be contributing to addiction and violence. This approach helps patients understand the connection between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, in which altering them can reduce aggressive and violent behaviors. In addition to substance abuse treatment and behavioral therapy, addressing drug and alcohol abuse and violence may require medication, social support, and environmental changes.

Struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction does not mean that your life is over. Deciding to get sober is the first step into a new life! Call us at Coastal Detox, and we’ll get you on the road to recovery!


  • National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. Drug Abuse Statistics.
  • Oxford Academic, 2020. Epidemiologic Reviews: Drug Use Disorders and Violence: Associations With Individual Drug Categories.
  • U.S. Department of Justice. Fact Sheet: Drug-Related Crime.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence.
  • PubMed Central, 2013. Alcohol-Related Aggression—Social and Neurobiological Factors.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020. Drugs and the Brain.
  • Council on Criminal Justice, 2023. Did Violent Crime Go Up or Down Last Year? Yes, It Did.