Think drinking or substance abuse is nobody’s business but your own? Do you believe that people with substance abuse disorders are hurting no one but themselves, and so we should just leave them alone? That the physical consequences of your alcohol or drug abuse begin and end with you?
Well, you’re wrong. We’ve touched on the emotional and psychological effects one’s drinking can have on loved ones, but what about the physical consequences? Physical assault, abuse, sex crimes, and even murder can occur while one is under the influence and not completely in control.
Here’s 10 quick facts, courtesy of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence:
- 80% of offenders abuse drugs or alcohol.
- Nearly 50% of incarcerated people are clinically addicted.
- About 60% of arrests for most crimes include a positive testing for drugs or alcohol.
- Alcohol is a factor in 40% of violent crimes committed today.
- About half of all homicides and assaults are committed when the offender, victim, or both are intoxicated.
- Every day alcohol-impaired drivers caused 36 deaths and 700 injuries.
- 95% of violent crimes on college campuses occur when one or both parties are intoxicated.
- 90% of sexual assault and rape cases between acquaintances on college campuses occur when the offender, victim, or both have been drinking.
- Victims of domestic violence reported that alcohol played a part in 55% of cases, with violence between spouses involving alcohol 65% of the time.
- Two-fifths of child abusers admit to using alcohol at the time of their crimes; half say they drank for six or more hours before the abuse occurred.
With the evidence mounting up to show the correlation with between alcohol and violent crimes, we have to wonder why. What is it about alcohol that leads to these unfortunate, sometimes life-altering events?
What it boils down to is the effects of alcohol has on the brain.
Alcohol Consumption Lowers Your Inhibitions
One of the primary reasons people drink can also cause things to take a turn for the worse very quickly. Alcohol consumption lowers your inhibitions, helping to relieve anxiety and boost confidence, aiding in socialization. With alcohol in your system, you may be more inclined to get up on the stage for karaoke despite your usual stage fright, or ask the girl you’ve had a crush on for months to dance; for some people, alcohol makes anything possible.
Then of course is the downside: alcohol makes anything possible. It can turn the shy, quiet guy into an aggressive, violent madman. The normally reasonable and affectionate wife can become a rage-fueled lunatic after the first cup of wine. What could have been an easily avoided or resolved confrontation ends in fists, weapons, and arrests- if not worse.
Lowered inhibitions don’t actually turn you into something you’re not; alcohol doesn’t make people violent or angry any more than holding car keys makes you a racecar driver- they just make it harder to control impulsive behavior. Regrettably, poor impulse control can lead to serious situations with social and legal ramifications. “I was drunk” is not a defense that stands well in the court of law or the court of public opinion.
One thing we’ve learned about substance abuse and dependency is that it hijacks the mind, making urges to drink or used drugs feel like necessities. Sometimes the impulse is so powerful, it feels like a matter of life or death- and in the matter of a moment, it really can be.
When people are truly desperate, moral constraints and legal boundaries mean nothing when it comes to satisfying that overwhelming desire. That can mean anything from betraying friends, to petty theft, shoplifting… prostitution, gang activity, drug crimes, even murder. The lengths some people will go to in order to get what they want- what feels like a need- can be extreme. What begins as an alcohol problem turns into an issue with money, which can grow into financial strife and desperation, culminating in either destitution or crimes committed in desperation. Too many lives are lost each year for no other reason than that they stood in the path between a desperate person and access to money.
Of course, even if one is able to get to this ill-got money, it’s never a solution to the problem; more often, it’s a temporary bandage to a problem which will only grow worse unless it is faced head on. We hear “it all just happened so fast” and “one thing lead to another” all the time, but it doesn’t have to. When drinking or substance abuse takes over your life, it’s time to seek help. Life doesn’t have to be that way.
Impaired Decision Making
This one may seem just like impulsivity- and it is closely related- but there’s a distinctive difference; with impulsivity, the action often occurs before one has time to think, where impaired decision making results in consequences due to poor choices. This includes driving under the influence, texting your ex, or setting fire to her new boyfriend’s car- especially that last one.
When lowered inhibitions mix with anger, sometimes the immediate answer seems to be lashing out physically- even when you would never do so otherwise. While usually this ends in a minor squabble like a bar fight or the like, sometimes it can go too far, leaving someone seriously injured or dead. People under the influence of alcohol have impaired judgment- they simply can’t calculate what is enough force to defend one’s self and what is deadly. Listen to nearly any interview for someone serving a life sentence or on death row for a violent crime: several of them will involve alcohol, and almost all of them include the words “if I could just go back.” Don’t be one of those people.