Young adults, alcohol, crime and disorder

Crim Behav Ment Health. 2003;13(1):5-16. doi: 10.1002/cbm.527.


Background: Alcohol-related crime is increasingly being recognized as a problem in cities and towns with popular entertainment districts. Crime and disorder linked to alcohol has been particularly connected with binge drinking or heavy sessional drinking. Research evidence indicates that it is the young adult age group who are most likely to be involved in crime and disorder and the most likely to binge drink. This paper examines the relationship between binge drinking and criminal and disorderly behaviour among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Method: Secondary analysis was undertaken of the 1998/1999 Youth Lifestyles Survey, a large-scale, representative, household survey of 12- to 30-year-olds living in England and Wales.

Results: Binge drinking, and especially male binge drinking, among 18- to 24-year-olds is statistically related to offending behaviour. In the 12 months prior to interview 39% of binge drinkers admitted to committing an offence and 60% admitted criminal and/or disorderly behaviour during or after drinking alcohol. Multivariate analysis found that binge drinking remains strongly associated with criminal and disorderly behaviour even after taking other relevant factors into account. Individuals who got drunk at least once a week had more than five times the odds of being involved in fighting or violent crime. For offences or disorderly behaviour that took place during or after drinking alcohol an individual had a seven times greater chance of breaking or damaging something and a five times greater chance of being involved in a fight if he/she got drunk at least once a week.

Discussion: These findings suggest that frequency of drunkenness is a better predictor of offending behaviour than frequency of drinking per se. Using frequency of drunkenness as the basis for defining binge drinking reveals that a large minority of young adults who binge drink also become involved in offending or disorderly behaviour. Binge drinking is particularly associated with crimes of violence. The relationship between binge drinking and crime and disorder is stronger among young males than females.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology
  • Crime / psychology
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data*
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Sex Factors
  • Urban Population
  • Violence / psychology
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data
  • Wales / epidemiology