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Hale et al: Criminology 3e

Chapter 8: Chapter synopses

Drugs and alcohol use are frequently offered as explanations for crime. The use of so-called 'hard' drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine is cited as one of the causes of a range of crimes, particularly acquisitive crimes; excessive alcohol use is perceived as closely connected with violent behaviour. For many members of the general public and the media, the relationship between drug or alcohol use and criminal activity is clear and the solutions straightforward. This contrasts sharply with the findings of research studies which identify the need for a more complex understanding and consequently, a multi-faceted response.

This chapter is divided into two main parts.

The first part focuses on drug use and addresses three key issues: (a) the nature and extent of drug use; (b) the relationship between drug use and crime; and (c) strategies for reducing drug-related crime. In the second part, the chapter explores the same issues in relation to alcohol use.

Exploring the relationship between drugs, alcohol, and crime is a huge task and it is necessary to impose some editorial boundaries: first, the chapter concentrates predominantly on England and Wales; and second, space precludes a detailed consideration of organized crime relating to drug and contraband alcohol markets or the policing of these markets.

The review of available evidence concludes with suggesting that current knowledge about the relationship between drugs, alcohol and crime remains patchy and prone to misinterpretation. The dangers of relying upon deterministic explanations are explored and it is suggested that 'chicken and egg' arguments about whether drug (or alcohol) use leads to crime or vice versa are both simplistic and unhelpful. A strong argument is advanced for developing a more complex understanding of the relationship between drugs, alcohol and crime which acknowledges the role of other social, economic and cultural factors. It is argued that current policy is based on a partial understanding of the relationship between drugs, alcohol and crime, and thus its impact is likely to be limited.