Thursday, June 2, 2011

Alcohol and Crime

John took his girlfriend Elena to a nightclub with strong drinks and loud music. A few drinks later, John saw a drunk man grab Elena. The drunk tried to kiss Elena and began to grope her. John shoved the man and a fight ensued. Two bouncers pulled the men apart. John and Elena were ushered out the front door and the other man was taken out the back. John, Elena and the drunk man met in the parking lot. The fight continued, only this time the drunk had a knife. John was stabbed seven times before the police arrived. John survived, and two years later he still shakes as he talks about the night he almost died.

In 2008, about 19 percent of violent crimes were perpetrated by someone under the influence of alcohol. Between 1997 and 2008, violent crime decreased. The percentage of victims who perceived their offenders as under the influence of alcohol also declined from 25 percent in 1997 to 19 percent in 2008. About four in 10 fatal car accidents involve alcohol, and four in 10 offenders self-report that they were under the influence when they committed crimes.

Janey arrived at a counseling session in tears: "I love my husband, but when he drinks he turns into a monster." Janey said that she and her husband Mike were flown overseas by her employer for a business trip. After dinner and a few drinks, Janey wanted to stay and talk with her co-workers about their presentation the next morning. Mike, jealous and drunk, flew into a rage. He stomped up to their room and proceeded to destroy everything in the room, causing $5,000 worth of damage and their eviction from the luxury hotel. Janey, mortified and frightened, nearly lost her job.

In three out of four incidents of spousal victimization, alcohol played a role. Two-thirds of those who suffered violence by an intimate reported that alcohol came along for the ride. An estimated eight in 10 people, age 12 or older, report using alcohol sometime in their lives, and about half say they use alcohol regularly. On a positive note, alcohol consumption in the U.S. declined 10 percent since 1990. This corresponds with a decline in violent crime.

After their high school graduation, Susan, her boyfriend Taylor, her best friend Micah and her boyfriend Jacob, partied with friends. Honor students headed for good colleges, they wanted to celebrate together one last time. The foursome decided to make a run to a local convenience store a mile away, to buy more refreshments. Jacob only had a couple of beers that night, so he drove. They cranked up the volume on the stereo and sped down the winding road. He cut a corner too wide and smashed into a tree. Jacob, Taylor and Micah died at the scene. Susan, the only survivor, suffered brain damage.

M- TEEN_DRINKINGOn a more positive note, only 6 percent of teens said they drove under the influence on Prom night. As we approach graduation time parents worry whether someone they love might become a statistic. Fortunately, 89% of schools have programs in place to curtail alcohol consumption and provide safety protections. The presence of security guards, organized transportation, breathalyser tests and other programs continue to save lives. Peak times for teen drinking and driving are summer, 4th of July and New Years Eve. Parents can plan parties at home, arrange for fun activities that do not involve alcohol, and educate their kids. Encourage them to volunteer for Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). This organization teaches healthy coping skills and provides resources for parents and educators.

Groups like SADD and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) continue their work to change our cultural obsession with alcohol. Slogans like, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk," and programs promoting designated drivers appear effective in reducing alcohol-related tragedies. Many families come to my psychotherapy office with problems caused or fueled by alcohol. DUI's, domestic violence, child abuse, all lubricated by an unhealthy dose of booze. Winos of a feather get sauced together. These folks form networks that support drunkenness as an acceptable and necessary way to have fun. They get irritated when I try to influence them to drink less. "Alcohol is not a problem for me. I can stop any time. I've even gone a month at a time without it. I don't need it. I'm not an alcoholic." Their life is a disastrous mess, but quit drinking? Never!

Many drinkers are ignorant about healthy, moderate drinking. (Denial prevents them from reading the insert that comes with their car registration). According to research, moderate drinking means no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. A drink is defined as a 12 ounce beer, a 5 ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of liquor. Some people save all their drinking for the weekend. That's called binge drinking. It's healthier to drink a little everyday than to save it up and have seven on Friday night.

As we approach prom season and summer party madness, think about how you might enjoy life without the presence of alcohol or drugs. Swimming, sports, music, dance, hiking, camping, fishing, picnics, can brighten our lives without ethanol. (To sound like a drunk, say ethanol five times really fast). We are the creators of our culture. What we do influences others. Think about that the next time you find yourself laughing in drunken hilarity in front of children.

photo courtesy of FlySi


Cathy Scott said...

Great examples alcohol-related crimes, Gina. And the statistics back them up.

Dr. Gina Simmons said...

Thanks Cathy. It's good to be able to report a little good news about the decline of criminal activity corresponding with the decline of alcohol consumption.