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Substance Abuse and Violence: A Review of the Literature

NCJ Number
Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal Volume: 8 Issue: 2 Dated: March-April 2003 Pages: 155-174
Sharon M. Boles; Karen Miotto
Date Published
March 2003
20 pages
This article reviews the research literature about the link between substance abuse and violent behavior.
Although the association between substance abuse and violence has been widely noted, research has failed to uncover a causal relationship because of the myriad factors involved with both substance abuse and violent behavior. One of the only definitive conclusions that researchers have made is that the connection between substance abuse and violence is complex, involving psychological, social, and contextual variables that are elusive and hard to measure. The authors review the available literature that examines the psychosocial factors involved with violence, the neurobiology of violence, and how drug and alcohol withdrawal is associated with violent behavior. The authors explain that substance abuse is related to violence is three ways. First, violence may be perpetrated while under the influence of drugs or alcohol; second, acts of violence may be perpetrated due to the nature of the drug trade and drug distribution; and third, violence may be perpetrated in order to obtain drugs. Alcohol is the substance most often found to have been used by both perpetrators and victims of violent acts. Research related to the use of other drugs and their effects on violence, such as sedatives-hypnotics, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and opioids, is also reviewed. The authors conclude that while existing research in this field has its limitations in terms of study design and establishing causation, the amount of research in this area is abundant and promising. References