The fields of both intoxication and criminally offending behavior have been topics of great discussion for psychologists over the decades. They have been studied as both separate entities as well as how one links to the other especially in recent times. Much of past literature has implied a close or perhaps even a contributing relationship between intoxication and offending behavior. However some question the certainty of this link and suggest that this connection between intoxication and violent or offending behavior is less certain than what has been suggested by scientific literature (Rossow & Wichstrom, 1999).
Intoxication is often considered to be a driving force in both men and women that lead them to commit criminal behavior often times in the form of acts of aggression or violence (Weizmann-Henelius, Putkonen, Naukkarinen, & Eronen, 2009). This is often due to substances like alcohol or other drugs that cause impairment to cognitive performance as well as intellectual functioning and even alters one’s awareness to risks (Felson & Staff, 2010). Findings from various experimental research that compare groups of participant that receive alcohol to a control group that does not, indicate more physically aggressive and criminal oriented behavior in the alcohol receiving group (Quigley & Leonard, 2006). However studies have also suggested that contextual cues and personal factors may also be contributing aspects to intoxication and offending behaviour (Quigley & Leonard, 2006). Hence this is the point of conflict in most studies and past literature that hinders researchers to fully understand the link between intoxication and offending behavior in individuals.
This review of past and current literature aims to highlight the links between intoxication and offending behavior. This will be done by analyzing the effects of intoxication both to the biological and the psychological wellbeing of an individual. Common intoxicated related offences varying in levels of minor and major offences will also be explored. Possible factors on how intoxication leads to offending behavior will be identified and analyzed based on past research and literature. The implications of intoxication of offending behavior on society as well as suggestions on future research will also be discussed.
Effects of Intoxication
In order to better understand the links between intoxication and offending behavior, researchers were required to identify the effects that substances such as alcohol or drugs do to an individual when consumed. These effects are seen in both the biological as well as psychological aspects of an individual.
When an individual consumes alcohol, the main biological effect that it has is on the central nervous system (Marteau, 2008). Consumption of alcohol triggers an increase in the production of gamma – amino butyric acid (GABA) which is a neurotransmitter that is vital in areas of the brain that relate to anxiety emotion and balance (Marteau, 2008). GABA also acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter that hinders the functioning of other vital neurotransmitters by blocking or reducing communication between cells during neurotransmission (Marteau, 2008). When an individual is sober, the amount of GABA present is balanced and regulated to prevent the individual from experiencing any extremities in anxiety and arousal and allow them to behave in an appropriate and controlled manner in relation to changes in their environment or when they are presented with new information (Marteau, 2008).
The main psychological effect that an individual faces whilst they are intoxicated, is to their cognitive functioning. Casbon, Curtin, Lang and Patrick’s (2003) study suggests that an individual’s cognitive functioning for sense and reason is hindered and instigated by alcohol when momentum is drawn towards a particular action tendency such as immediate gratification. Hence there is a greater chance that an individual would proceed with a certain action despite cues that would encourage them not to do so (Casbon et.al, 2003). An individual’s behaviors and feelings are also affected by alcohol based on personal expectations and the environment where drinking occurs (Zeigler et.al, 2005). Alcohol also causes the release of dopamine that activates a form of dopaminergic reward system causing feelings of euphoria (Zeigler et.al, 2005). This in turn may cause individuals to develop a form of conditioning to alcohol and may encourage drug expectancy effects or dependency (Zeigler et.al, 2005).
Intoxicated Related Offences
Since intoxication causes various changes in the individual’s biological and psychological state, often times this results in them committing criminally offending behavior. These behaviors range in severity ranging from minor offences to major offences. In relation to the types of crimes committed, there is a general perception that alcohol is often connected to violent crime while the use of drugs is linked to acquisitive crime such as theft (Richardson & Budd, 2003).
Past literature has highlighted that such behaviors are predominantly seen in men however, recent studies seem to suggest that intoxicated related offences in women are on the rise both in western and even Asian nations (Hoaken & Pihl, 2000). Hoaken and Pihl’s (2000) study on intoxicated aggression in women and the effects of gender on aggression seem to suggest that women could be as aggressive as men. However what the study pointed out was that this aggression is not openly shown by women but could be sufficient to commit acts of criminally offending behavior (Hoaken & Pihl, 2000).
Common intoxicated related offences include driving under the influence of alcohol. Drink driving can have disastrous effects on society and has been the main cause of traffic related accidents worldwide especially in the United States where 50-55% of accidents are caused due to drink driving (Evans, Graham & Neville, 1991). Although in recent years, there has been a decline in cases of drink driving due to stronger legislation on the issue, it is still a prevailing issue in many countries (Schell, Chan & Morral, 2006). Predictors to establish the cause of drink driving have been a topic of great discussion. Certain psychological variables that have been identified in DUI offenders include impulsivity, assaultiveness, verbal hostility and sensation seeking (Schell, Chan & Morral, 2006). However the challenge faced by researchers is that the best means to avoid methodological problems in studies would be to use direct measures instead of relying on administrative records (Schell, Chan & Morral, 2006). Direct measures such as offender self-reports are often prone to biasness due to legal and social implications and hence may not give accurate information on drink driving records (Schell, Chan & Morral, 2006).
Another common intoxicated related offence would be that of domestic violence. Domestic violence against women has been estimated to affect roughly 4 million women on a yearly basis in the United States and is the leading source of nonfatal injury to women (Collins, Kroutil, Roland, & Moore-Gurrera, 1997). Various studies have reported a high percentage of men being intoxicated when domestic violence occurs and support the notion that alcohol promotes acts of domestic violence (Collins, Kroutil, Roland, & Moore-Gurrera, 1997). Another troubling finding is that there is evidence that the chances of domestic violence victimization increases with women who drink (Collins, Kroutil, Roland, & Moore-Gurrera, 1997). Often times these women drink as a result of coping with domestic violence but this in turn only adds to their vulnerability to further acts of violence and criminally offending acts (Collins, Kroutil, Roland, & Moore-Gurrera, 1997). It has been suggested that the root of the problem would be how alcohol enhances the male’s need to display personal power and authority in marital relationships and often times this need is aggravated and turns into domestic violence (Collins, Kroutil, Roland, & Moore-Gurrera, 1997). Alcohol is also considered to be a barrier to getting men who are domestic abusers to stop acts of violence and offending behaviour against their partners (Collins, Kroutil, Roland, & Moore-Gurrera, 1997). However, although studies are unclear of the extent and magnitude to which alcohol plays a part in domestic violence, there is a large general consensus that it is a contributory element (Collins, Kroutil, Roland, & Moore-Gurrera, 1997).
Factors Leading to Offending Behavior during Intoxication
Having highlighted on the effects of intoxication as well as some common offending behavior, there comes a need to understand the circumstances that promote such behavior. Studies on criminal behavior have shown that often times crimes committed in comparison with intoxicated and sober individuals differed in nature and are often more severe (Allan, Roberts, Allan, Pienaar, & Stein, 2001). In order to understand why there is a difference there needs to be an understanding in various contextual cues that intoxication promotes.
Past literature have strongly suggested that dominant or instigatory cues that lead to aggression are the key factors that lead to intoxicated individuals committing offending acts (Leonard, 1989). Researchers have described intoxicated individuals to possess a form of “intoxicated myopia” which may result is dangerous behavioral effects (Collins, Kroutil, Roland, & Moore-Gurrera, 1997). This induces cognitive impairment which in turn results in misinterpretation of information and certain verbal behavioral cues or intentions may increase the possibility of violent actions (Collins, Kroutil, Roland, & Moore-Gurrera, 1997).
Another aspect that leads to intoxicated offending behavior would be through societal/cultural attitudes, expectation and norms (Graham et.al., 1998). Three key contributory factors have been highlighted to understand the interactional/transactional nature of aggressive behavior while intoxicated. Firstly, the individual is of the belief that alcohol is the precursor of violent behavior and secondly believes that if he/she acts violently it would be considered to be of less severity by society and lastly is the belief that the individual will not be blamed that increases the likelihood of the individual carrying out offending behavior (Graham et.al., 1998).
Another contributory factor of offending behavior would be the frequency of intoxication often through means of binge drinking. Various studies have shown that individuals that indulge in frequent binge drinking are far more likely to commit offending acts than normal drinkers (Richardson & Budd, 2003). Although studies point to binge drinking related offences being predominantly male recent studies show female intoxicated offending behavior on the rise (Newberry & Dingwall, 2013). Young adults often binge drink as a result of peer pressure and are often coerced into committing criminally offending acts as a result of intoxication (Newberry & Dingwall, 2013). Lack of education and poor environmental conditions are often situational cues that also promote offending behaviors (Newberry & Dingwall, 2013).
Impact on Society
Such behavior would definitely have an impact on society. Various legislation to curb and control alcohol use have been implemented around the world however these issues are still persisting in society (Schell, Chan & Morral, 2006). Recent studies questioning youths on the link between intoxication in the form of alcohol consumption and offending behavior seem to suggest that they are dismissive of the link that alcohol has on such behavior (Newberry & Dingwall, 2013). However despite this, Newberry & Dingwall’s (2013) study highlighted on a greater inclination on the part of female offenders to come to terms with the negative impact of alcohol in their lives.
As suggested by Newberry & Dingwall (2013) education starting in school should be the key basis on promoting awareness to dangers of intoxication. There is limited research on the effectiveness that educating individuals on intoxication and substance abuse has on preventing offending behavior and future research should perhaps head in that direction.
The links between intoxication and offending behavior is one that is most definitely present but the magnitude of its effect is something that is difficult to judge. Intoxication through substance use plays a vital part in altering normal biological as well as psychological bodily processes in individuals. As discussed from past literature these alterations could in turn contribute to varying degrees of offending behavior such as that of traffic and domestic related issues. Several contributing factors such as instigatory environmental cues as well as social and cultural expectations and norms have been highlighted to lead to offending behavior during intoxication. Although legislation and controls to curb alcohol and substance abuse are in place, there seems to be a greater need in educating youths who seem to be dismissive and unaware of the potential risks of intoxication and its links to offending behavior. Research on the effectiveness on educating youth in matters relating to intoxication would prove beneficial to society and also be an avenue to perhaps even understand the magnitude of the link between intoxication and offending behavior.
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