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Graphic: Alcohol Is Linked With More Homicides Than Any Other Drug


Alcohol is the primary substance found in toxicology reports of both homicide perpetrators and victims—including children.

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Alcohol is involved in more homicides than any other substance, including cocaine and heroin, according to a new study by Harold Pollack. Reviewing 3,016 homicide cases from five Illinois counties between 2005 and 2009, Pollack found that surveys of people incarcerated for violent crimes indicate that about 40%  were drinking at the time of the offense.  Similarly, around 40% of homicide victims tested also had some blood alcohol in their systems.

Though the data didn’t indicate actual BAC levels, he says previous studies indicate that many homicide victims have alcohol in their systems above the legal limits for driving.

Pollack notes, “if alcohol makes you more likely to be a perpetrator of violence, almost by definition it makes you more likely to be a victim in the same incident. Downing some liquid courage may impair your judgment, which makes you a little less wary or a little more vulnerable in obvious ways.”

As the chart below indicates, only about 10% of the homicide victims studied had cocaine in their systems, and opioids were found in just 3%. In many cases, alcohol was still a major part of the cocktail of drugs found in victims.

Among young homicide victims, alcohol is more often the only substance that appears in toxicology reports, while cocaine and heroin appear to be more prevalent in victims ages 35 or older. Researchers also found that alcohol is the dominant substance found in homicides involving friends and intimate partners, as well as victims killed with sharp objects or brute force.

“Alcohol misuse is a multi-faceted challenge, especially when alcohol is so deeply embedded within American life,” Pollack says. “No one policy can adequately address these broad problems. No one wants to prohibit alcohol, either. Prohibition is contrary to our national traditions and values. Fortunately, much can be done short of that.”