Understanding the Epidemiology, Etiology, and Consequences of Drug Abuse and Crime

Kevin P. Conway, National Institute on Drug Abuse
Lynda Erinoff, National Institute on Drug Abuse
Arnold Mills, National Institute on Drug Abuse

Although it is well known that drug abuse and crime co-occur, the nature of this association between remains unclear. The uncertainty is due, at least in part, to definitional and conceptual confusion related to the heterogeneous nature of both drug abuse and crime. Drug abuse often refers generically to the spectrum of drug use, abuse and addiction, despite important distinctions among these concepts and despite the wide array of drugs of abuse. Crime is a similarly complex human behavior that refers, for example, to violent and non-violent acts, group and individual offenses, and gang and non-gang activities. Furthermore, not only does the drug/crime association vary across crime types, but there are also systemic drug/crime relations linked to drug trafficking that are separate from drug taking. Given the diverse manifestations of and associations between drug abuse and crime, the impact of conceptual imprecision on understanding the drugs/crime nexus is not trivial. Drawing in part from diverse research supported by NIDA's epidemiology research branch, this paper will discuss conceptual issues and synthesize what is known about the potential mechanisms of association. We suggest that the drugs/crime association is best conceptualized as a cycle with longitudinal, cumulative, and transgenerational effects that are represented at multiple (individual, family, community) levels.

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Updated 05/20/2006