By Harold Pollack
Which intoxicating substance is associated with the most lethal violence? Devotees of the Wire might presume that cocaine or maybe heroin would top the list, especially if you asked the worst causes of violence in poor, minority communities.
The correct answer, by far, is alcohol. It’s involved in more homicides than pretty much every other substance, combined. Alcohol’s relative importance has grown over the last fifteen years, as aging populations of cocaine users account for a declining proportion of violent crime. Here in Chicago, positive cocaine screens in the Cook County Jail are down by about half when compared with ten or twenty years ago. The same is true in many other cities.
Surveys of people incarcerated for violent crimes indicate that about 40% had been drinking at the time they committed these offenses. Among those who had been drinking, average blood-alcohol levels were estimated to exceed three times the legal limit. Drinking is especially common among perpetrators of specific crimes, including murder, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.
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