Alcohol and illicit drug abuse and the risk of violent death in the home

JAMA. 1997 Aug 20;278(7):569-75.


Context: While acute alcohol and illicit drug use are common in homicide and suicide victims, the role of chronic substance use in violent death is unclear.

Objective: To measure the magnitude of risk of violent death in the home associated with alcohol use or chronic abuse and use of illicit drugs.

Data sources: Data obtained from a case-control study of risk factors for homicide and suicide in 3 large metropolitan areas of the United States.

Design: Matched case-control study including 388 homicide cases, 438 suicide cases, and equal numbers of controls matched for age, sex, race, neighborhood, and county. Data were analyzed by means of conditional logistic regressions in which other potential risk factors for violent death were also considered. OUTCOME AND EXPOSURE MEASURES: Homicide and suicide victims were identified from medical examiner reports in Shelby County, Tennessee; King County, Washington; and Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Structured interviews were conducted with proxy respondents close to the decedents to obtain information about alcohol or illicit drug use, and history of alcohol-related hospitalization or trouble at work because of drinking by the subject. Data about alcohol use by others living in the same house as the subject were also obtained.

Results: The risks of homicide and suicide associated with alcohol or illicit drug use were elevated, as were the risks of violent death associated with several indicators of chronic alcohol abuse. In addition, nondrinkers living in a home with alcohol users were at increased risk of homicide (odds ratio, 1.7; 95% confidence interval, 0.98-3.0), and non-drug-using individuals residing in homes with illicit drug users were at greatly increased risk of homicide (odds ratio, 11.3; 95% confidence interval, 4.4-28.8).

Conclusions: Alcohol and illicit drug use appear to be associated with an increased risk of violent death. The risk of homicide was increased for non-substance-abusing individuals living in households in which other members abused alcohol or drugs. The concept of the individual at risk of homicide should be broadened to include not only the abuser but also those who may be at risk because of their exposure to others.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Domestic Violence / trends*
  • Female
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology