Substance Abuse And Violence And Aggression

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Substance abuse and violence and aggression

Substance abuse and violence and aggression

Substance abuse and violence and aggression


The term “substance” can refer to a drug of abuse, a medication, or a toxin (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994). Various classes of substances include: alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, nicotine, opioids, phencyclidine (PCP) and sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics (APA, 1994). This paper reviews the findings from diverse disciplines on the complex relationship between substance abuse and violence.

Relationship of substance use to violence

Most alcohol and drug use occurs among persons who are not violent (Fagan, 1990). However, alcohol and, to a lesser extent, illicit drugs are present in both offenders and victims in many violent events. Although substance abuse, particularly alcohol, has been associated with violent behavior for many decades, research has rarely documented causal linkages due to the multiple variables that are involved in assessing etiology (Allen; Johnson and Paglia).

The connection between substance use and violent behavior is complex and is suggestive rather than conclusive (Fagan; Johnson and Roth). In addition, there is insufficient research towards the specific causal role that substances play in the perpetration of violence (Fagan; Roizen and Roth). However, the increased prevalence for violence associated with substance abuse underscores the importance of examining the network of interacting processes and feedback loops that associate substance abuse and violence (Fagan and Reiss).

The use of substances occurs in environmental, social, situational, and cultural contexts that influence the potential for violent outcomes (Fagan, 1993b). The presence of alcohol or drugs in violent events does not necessarily imply that these substances affected the behavior of either the perpetrator or victim (as cited in Fagan, 1993a). Further, different substances affect individuals differently, based on their physiology, psychology, history, gender, and other personal and cultural factors (Collins and Reiss).

Psychosocial factors that play a role in violence

Several psychosocial factors have been found to play a role in violence (Chermack & Giancola, 1997). These factors include influences on the individual's behavior patterns, which begin developing in early childhood and continue to evolve through adulthood. Patterns of aggressive behavior and substance abuse often become intertwined early in development. These developmental factors have been identified as contributors to violence. These factors include: an aversive environment, harsh discipline, family aggression, lack of parental supervision, and exposure to violence and substance abuse (Chermack & Giancola, 1997).

Developmental factors can also be predictive of adult violence and substance abuse. For example, early childhood aggression is a predictor of later heavy drinking, and the combination is associated with above-average risk of adult violent behavior (Roth, 1994). This risk is especially enhanced among those who also abuse other psychoactive drugs (Roth, 1994). This is commonly seen in individuals with comorbid antisocial personality disorder and substance abuse where the disturbance of conduct and aggression began in childhood. Aside from the role of psychopathology, studies on temperament have shown that impulsive-aggressive personality traits in childhood and adolescence predict an early onset of substance abuse (as cited in Cloninger, 1999). An impulsive-aggressive temperament appears to predispose to risk-taking ...
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