and Cultural Analyses
by Jeffrey A. Roth
in Brief, US Dept. of Justice
Published: February 1994
Issues and Findings
Discussed in the Research
in Brief: The current status of research on the links connecting violence
to alcohol and illegal psychoactive drugs, and evaluations of interventions
to prevent violence related to these substances.
Key issues: Correlations
between violence and psychoactive substances; the social, economic,
cultural, psycho-social, neurobehavioral, and other factors that explain
the correlations; and prevention strategies for reducing the violence
associated with these substances.
- Research has
uncovered strong correlations between violence and psycho-active substances,
including alcohol and illegal drugs, but the underlying relationships
differ by type of drug.
- The links between
violence and psychoactive substances involve broad social and economic
forces, the settings in which people obtain and consume the substances,
and biological processes that underlie all human behavior. These factors
interact in chains of events that may extend back from an intermediate
triggering event such as an argument to long-term predisposing processes
that begin in childhood.
- Of all psychoactive
substances, alcohol is the only one whose consumption has been shown
to commonly increase aggression. After large doses of amphetamines,
cocaine, LSD, and PCP, certain individuals may experience violent
outbursts, probably because of preexisting psychosis. Research is
needed on the pharmacological effects of crack, which enters the brain
more directly than cocaine used in other forms.
- Alcohol drinking
and violence are linked through pharmacological effects on behavior,
through expectations that heavy drinking and violence go together
in certain settings, and through patterns of binge drinking and fighting
that sometimes develop in adolescence.
- The most promising
strategies for reducing alcohol-related violence are to reduce underage
drinking through substance abuse preventive education, taxes, law
enforcement, and peer pressure.
- Illegal drugs
and violence are linked primarily through drug marketing: disputes
among rival distributors, arguments and robberies involving buyers
and sellers, property crimes committed to raise drug money and, more
speculatively, social and economic interactions between the illegal
markets and the surrounding communities.
- The most promising
strategy for reducing violence related to illegal drugs appears to
be reducing the demand that fuels violent illegal markets. Promising
tactics include preventive education, pretrial monitoring of arrestees
through urinalysis and, for convicted violent offenders, in-prison
therapeutic communities integrated with postrelease treatment followup.
- In the future,
medications may reduce violence by reducing cocaine craving and by
blocking the aggression-promoting effects of opiate withdrawal and
State and local policymakers, court administrators, law enforcement
and juvenile justice practitioners, and drug treatment program staff.
As noted by the
Panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior, the character
of violence presents simultaneous challenges to understanding and opportunities
for prevention. First, violence is diverse. Acts as different as spontaneous
drive-by shootings and meticulously planned serial killings, for example,
are both included in the legal and statistical category of murder. Second,
the causes of violence are complex, involving a very wide variety of
factors. The panel found it useful to classify these factors in terms
of four levels of analysis at which they are usually studied:
- Broad social
and economic forces (macrosocial).
- Encounters between
people in particular settings (microsocial).
- Individual behavioral
development from childhood through adulthood (psychosocial).
and other biological processes that underlie all human behavior (neurobehavioral).
Factors at these
four levels operate and interact in chains of events that may begin
long before the violent event that results. Therefore, the panel's classification
framework also categorized causal factors in terms of their temporal
proximity to the violent event itself: from the immediate triggering
mechanism (for example, a response to an insult), back through the situation
that led up to the triggering event, to predisposing factors that months
or years earlier increased the risk of a future violent event.
and complexity might at first glance seem to discourage efforts to prevent
violence. In fact, however, they create promising opportunities. Merely
acknowledging the diversity breaks the overall "violence problem" into
separate problems that may be preventable through interventions by different
public agencies. Recognizing the causal complexity expands the list
of options for preventing a particular violence problem by highlighting
all the points at which chains of events leading to it may be breakable.
Problem-solving initiatives - programs that involve design and evaluation
of preventive interventions at various links in these chains of events,
that revise these interventions in light of the evaluation findings,
and that replicate the evaluations - have the potential to simultaneously
reduce violence and increase the understanding of its causes.
Many chains of
causal events for violence include links to alcohol or to illegal psychoactive
drugs. The panel found these links worth exploring in depth for at least
three reasons. First, statistics consistently demonstrate correlations
between violent events and involvement with alcohol and other psychoactive
drugs. Second, the variety of potential causal links between violence
and different psychoactive substances - alcohol, opiates, cocaine in
smokable and powdered form, amphetamines, hallucinogens, and other illegal
drugs - presents an especially rich example of the panel's classification
framework. Third, preliminary evidence from research and evaluations
suggests that certain interventions related to psychoactive substances
should be considered in developing strategies for controlling violence.
violence and psychoactive substances
by the National Institute of Justice and other organizations has repeatedly
found strong correlations between violence and psychoactive substances:
Data from the National
Institute of Justice Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) program, which tests for
drug use among booked arrestees in 24 sites nationwide, showed the following
patterns in 1989:
- For at least
the last several decades, alcohol drinking - by the perpetrator of
a crime, the victim, or both - has immediately preceded at least half
of all violent events, including murders, in the samples studied by
- Chronic drinkers
are more likely than other people to have histories of violent behavior.
- Criminals who
use illegal drugs1 commit robberies and assaults more frequently than
do nonuser criminals, and they commit them especially frequently during
periods of heavy drug use.
- In a study of
New York City murders in 1988, researchers classified more than half
the homicides (53 percent) as drug-related: 39 percent in the course
of drug distribution, 8 percent through pharmacological effects on
the offender, 2 percent while the offender was obtaining money to
buy drugs, and 4 percent through more than one of these links.2
- Most males and
females who were interviewed after arrest for a violent crime reported
drinking alcohol within 72 hours before the crime for which they were
- About 60 percent
of arrestees booked for violent crimes were confirmed by laboratory
test to have used at least one illegal drug3 in the hours before arrest.
While these statistical
patterns strongly suggest that psychoactive substances play significant
roles in acts of violence, they do not explain the nature of those relationships.
In trying to sort out links between violence and psychoactive substances,
the panel categorized potential links in terms of the four levels noted
Social and economic
Processes that affect
large social units such as nations or communities. Examples include cultural
practices related to alcohol use and, in the United States, economic and
social processes surrounding the illegal markets in which psychoactive
drugs other than alcohol are sold.
encounters between people. Examples include group drinking in settings
where violence is expected and socially acceptable; arguments that are
begun or aggravated because the participants are under the influence of
drugs or alcohol; and disputes involving organizations, buyers, and sellers
in illegal drug markets.
Influences on individuals'
behavior patterns, which begin developing in early childhood and continue
to evolve throughout adulthood. Examples include patterns of heavy drinking
and aggression that develop during adolescence and psychoses that predispose
a few individuals toward violent psychotic episodes while under the influence
of certain drugs.
Processes in the brain
that underlie all human behavior and that may be altered by pharmacological
effects of alcohol and other drugs. Examples include effects of substance
abuse during pregnancy on fetal development, effects of chronic substance
abuse on brain functioning, and temporary neurological effects of being
"high" or "blue."
These and other
examples of links at all four levels between violence and alcohol or
other drugs are displayed in table 1. Much of the evidence for specific
links is suggestive rather than conclusive. One challenge in understanding
and verifying the links is the complexity of interactions among factors
at different levels. It would be difficult at best to sort out such
interactions. What makes the challenge even greater is that most studies
measure factors at only one or two levels at a time, so that the full
range of interactions is rarely observed in a single study. In addition,
it is difficult to study violent events using methods that yield generalizable
conclusions. Controlled experiments under laboratory conditions produce
the strongest confirmation of factors that influence behavior, but practical
and ethical constraints generally limit those methods to studies of
behaviors that are far milder than the potentially lethal violence that
occurs in homes and communities. At present, therefore, there are only
fragments of scientific evidence providing partial support for the existence
of many causal links between psychoactive substances and violence. These
findings neither explain definitively how the links interact nor provide
a basis for ranking them in order of importance in explaining variation
in violence related to alcohol or other drugs.
Research on humans
and many animal species suggests there are several neurobehavioral links
between violence and psychoactive substances:
Individual humans and
animals deviate widely from these "average" behaviors. For example, the
aggression-promoting effects of alcohol are strongest in animals having
high blood levels of testosterone, the principal male hormone that distinguishes
males from females; humans may or may not exhibit the same pattern. A
study of violent Finnish alcohol abusers suggests that the alcohol-violence
link may be associated with abnormally low levels of blood sugar (that
is, hypoglycemia) and of metabolites of the brain chemical serotonin.
Another study suggests that the alcohol-violence link is especially strong
in people who exhibit certain abnormal brain wave patterns, both at rest
and while responding to outside stresses.
- Expectant mothers'
use of psychoactive substances during pregnancy adversely affects
fetal development. The resultant damage causes learning and communication
problems that, in turn, increase the risk of early grade school failure,
a well-documented precursor of violent behavior.
- Alcohol is the
only psychoactive drug that in many individuals tends to increase
aggressive behavior temporarily while it is taking effect. However,
factors at other levels - behavior patterns when people are not drinking,
the setting in which people drink, and local drinking customs, for
example - influence the strength of this relationship.
- Among alcohol
abusers, those who also abuse other psychoactive substances, who are
diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, and whose parents
have been diagnosed as alcohol abusers are at especially high risk
of chronic violent behavior. Some researchers have suggested that
a genetic process may contribute to this relatively rare pattern.
- Marijuana and
opiates temporarily inhibit violent behavior, but withdrawal from
opiate addiction tends to exaggerate both aggressive and defensive
responses to provocations.
Called Into Question
On the other hand,
several common assumptions about connections between drugs and violence
are called into question by research findings:
- There is no evidence
to support the claim that snorting or injecting cocaine stimulates
violent behavior. However, research is urgently needed on the behavioral
effects of smoking cocaine in crack form, which affects the brain
- Anecdotal reports
notwithstanding, no research evidence supports the notion that becoming
high on hallucinogens, amphetamines, or PCP stimulates violent behavior
in any systematic manner. The anecdotes usually describe chronic users
with histories of psychosis or antisocial behavior, which may or may
not be related to their chronic use of drugs.
- Occasional anecdotes
about " 'roid rages" - violent outbursts by men who use anabolic steroids
to accelerate muscle growth - appear to describe isolated coincidences
rather than any common, systematic effect.
Evidence from research
on animals and humans indicates that patterns of substance abuse and aggressive
behavior reinforce each other. It cannot be said that one "causes" the
other. For example, alcohol may trigger violent episodes in aggressive
animals and people, but rarely in submissive ones.
Patterns of aggressive
behavior and substance abuse often become intertwined starting in childhood.
Early childhood aggression is a predictor of later heavy drinking, and
the combination is associated with an above-average risk of adult violent
behavior, especially among those who also abuse other psychoactive drugs.
at least four possible explanations for the link between substance abuse
and violent behavior in adolescents. First, adolescents may chronically
use psychoactive substances to help them temporarily escape from such
feelings as rage, guilt, worthlessness, or depression - emotions that
often precede aggressive behavior. Second, repeated family arguments
over teenage substance abuse may eventually take on a violent character.
Next, underlying family problems or socially expected responses may
lead some adolescent males to patterns of heavy drinking and fighting
as ways to demonstrate their masculinity. Last, boys who regularly observe
older males fighting while drinking may learn to expect that violent
behavior accompanies alcohol use. All of these processes may be at work,
but their roles, interactions, and importance as explanations have not
yet been sorted out.
appears to account for occasional violent outbursts by people who are
under the influence of amphetamines or hallucinogens, especially PCP.
While these drugs are well known to cause disorganized, bizarre behavior,
they trigger violence in very few people who are not also psychotic.
In studies of laboratory mice and monkeys, bizarre behavior on the part
of animals under the influence of PCP fairly commonly provokes violent
attacks by others in the group. Anecdotal information and newspaper
accounts report similar attacks on humans using alcohol, amphetamines,
powdered cocaine, or LSD, but this relationship has not been systematically
studied in humans.
In a variety of ways,
alcohol and drugs modify encounters between people in ways that make these
substances greater hazards for violence. In the case of alcohol, these
hazards tend to be related to use, while for illegal psychoactive drugs
they tend to be related to distribution and purchase.
Alcohol use and
sexual violence. Some therapists who treat violent sex offenders have
reported that their patients tend to have both histories of alcohol
abuse and high blood levels of testosterone. Without comparisons to
men who are not violent sex offenders, these clinical observations cannot
demonstrate that alcohol abuse or high testosterone levels cause sexual
violence. Studies of many animal species suggest a causal connection
- that alcohol reduces testosterone levels but has stronger aggression-promoting
effects in individual high-testosterone animals. However, that relationship
has not yet been tested in humans. The frequent involvement of alcohol
in acquaintance rapes suggests that social expectations may also be
at work; that is, young men who expect to have sex after drinking may
try to satisfy their expectations, sometimes forcibly if they encounter
Illegal drug markets.
Illegal drug markets operate outside the world of contract law, courts
and mediators for resolving disputes, and business customs that distinguish
socially acceptable from unacceptable approaches to buying and selling.
Illegal markets often develop substitute mechanisms that involve the
threat or actual use of violence. Examples include:
As places where violence
tends to occur for the reasons listed above, illegal drug markets may
also serve as "magnets." As such, they attract valuable drugs and cash,
weapons, and people who are accustomed to violence. The mix of these ingredients
creates hazardous conditions for robberies and other forms of violence
that may not be directly related to drugs.
- Violence by drug
distributors in the course of territorial disputes between rival organizations,
threats of violence to make "staff" obey organizational rules, violent
punishment of rulebreakers to keep the threats credible, battles with
police, and protection of sellers or drugs on the street.
- Violence between
buyer and seller during a drug transaction, caused, for example, by
attempted robbery of one or the other, failure to hand over drugs
or money, or "honest" misunderstandings of local rules of the game
on the part of buyers and sellers.
- Violence involving
people other than buyers and sellers who are found around drug markets
- third parties such as innocent bystanders and people operating in
related illegal markets for "protection." guns, or prostitution.
purchase money. In some settings, the need for money to buy drugs also
increases the chance of a violent encounter. A taxi driver carrying
a passenger late at night, for example, is presumably at greater risk
of being robbed if the passenger wants to buy drugs but lacks the cash
to do so. While robbery is still a common way to obtain money to buy
drugs, it has been replaced by drug selling in some large cities.
Using alcohol and
drugs. If alcohol caused violence only by making individuals behave
more aggressively, violence would be equally common in all places where
drinking occurs. In fact, however, most drinking places are rarely scenes
of violence. A few acquire reputations as "animal houses" or "fighting
bars," where people expect drinking and violence to go hand in hand.
Just what characteristics
of a drinking place make it a hazard for violence are not precisely
known, but there is supporting evidence for several possible explanations.
People who drink in fighting bars may behave violently in order to "fit
in" or to advance socially. People who experience anger or frustration
may seek out such settings, because they believe that drinking in these
types of establishments means social permission to engage in violent
behavior. One study of a group of young men who were observed during
an evening of drinking illustrates this by suggesting that behavior
patterns and situational influences may play off each other. As the
evening progressed, the group began both to behave more aggressively
and to move on to establishments where aggressive behavior was more
drinking and violence have been identified by researchers in many countries
with predominantly European cultures. But they have not been found in
many tribal and folk societies, even where binge drinking is common.
For reasons not yet known, expectations that violence follows drinking
have failed to develop in those cultures.
Finally, it seems
likely that substance abuse is indirectly related to violence in ways
that are difficult to identify and count. Examples of indirect relationships
include robberies committed to replace household money spent on drugs
or alcohol, or spouse assaults arising from disputes over money or time
spent away from home drinking or taking drugs.
Violence is related
to the distribution, purchase, and use of illegal drugs or alcohol in
a wide variety of human interactions. Unfortunately, the difficulty
of counting such interactions makes it also difficult to rank them in
order of importance. Better counts would help in focusing violence prevention
strategies on the most common interactions in which drug- and alcohol-related
Social and economic
If the patterns of
behavior discussed above were the only links between illegal drug distribution
and violence, every city that experienced a crack epidemic in the 1980's
would also have seen a substantial increase in homicide at the same time.
Indeed, policymakers have occasionally claimed a "uniform, straight line
relationship" between illegal drug use and murder.4
The reality is
more complex. The murder rate increased 350 percent in Washington, D.C.,
and by a smaller amount in New York City as their crack epidemics unfolded.
However, during the crack epidemics in Detroit and Los Angeles these
cities experienced decreases in the murder rate. This suggests that
the relationships between illegal drug market activity and lethal violence
are intertwined with social and economic processes in the surrounding
What are these
processes? Because causal patterns at the social level are especially
difficult to establish, the answers are necessarily speculative. Fragments
of evidence suggest that some or all of the following factors may influence
the relationship between levels of violence and illegal drug market
Because such relationships
are difficult to verify, evidence supporting their influence is only suggestive
and fragmentary, and new research is needed to explore them more fully.
- Stability of
drug market control: Situations that produce violent encounters -
fights over territorial allocations or misunderstandings between buyers
and sellers, for example - arose relatively infrequently in markets
controlled by old, stable organizations that had developed operating
rules decades ago and enforced them through a standing threat to punish
violators violently. Where the spread of crack manufacturing technology
encouraged new organizations to enter the markets, the resulting destabilization
may temporarily have increased the frequency of violent encounters.
- Community access
to legitimate economic opportunities: Where the rise of crack markets
followed the exodus of legitimate economic opportunities from central
cities, economic rewards shifted away from skills valued by legitimate
employers to those valued by crack distribution organizations; these
included the ability to threaten and use violence.
- Strength of informal
violence controls: Where the exodus of legitimate economic opportunities
from urban communities took with it many people committed to legal,
nonviolent values, those people were no longer available for roles
in preventing drug-related violence. They were not available, for
example, as nonviolent role models for adolescents, as passers-by
who might discourage drug buyers or intervene in emerging violent
events, or as concerned individuals who might inform parents if their
children began drifting toward involvement in drug markets.
- Social status
and moral authority: During crack epidemics in some communities, successful
young drug entrepreneurs either supplanted or intimidated neighborhood
"old heads" - unofficial community leaders who upheld traditional
values and had exercised moral authority in the neighborhood. Where
this occurred, it tended to weaken cultural restraints against violence
in all contexts, including drug markets.
A number of intervention
strategies for preventing violence related to psychoactive substances
have been proposed:
Some of these strategies
have been evaluated to test their effectiveness in reducing violence.
Only a few have demonstrated success under any conditions; none have shown
universal effectiveness. Developing better interventions will require
collaborative problem-solving initiatives that involve representatives
of criminal justice agencies, providers of substance abuse treatment and
other social services, and evaluation researchers. These initiatives are
needed to turn promising ideas into workable programs, to evaluate the
programs, and to refine them in light of the evaluation results. The findings
of evaluations conducted thus far are summarized in the following sections.
- Police disruption
of illegal drug markets.
- Selectively longer
incarceration of violent drug-using criminals.
- Reducing teenagers'
access to alcohol.
- Substance abuse
- Drug abuse treatment.
therapies to reduce drug craving and aggressive tendencies associated
with alcohol use and heroin addiction.
illegal drug markets. Police attack illegal drug markets through
a number of tactics: undercover investigations leading to dealers' arrests;
cooperation with community antidrug efforts; and large-scale, high-visibility
crackdowns. Evaluations of these tactics in Birmingham, Alabama; Lawrence
and Lynn, Massachusetts; New York City; Oakland, California; Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C., present a mixed picture. Perhaps
the strongest supportable statement is that their chance of success
is improved by intervening early in emerging markets, by creating a
highly committed police force, and by generating community receptivity
and cooperation in advance. NIJ's Drug Market Analysis (DMA) program
is helping with the first prerequisite - early detection of drug markets.
Specific techniques for creating supportive climates in police departments
and the surrounding communities are less well understood, although many
approaches are now being tested as part of community policing initiatives.
violent drug-using criminals. Researchers have generally found
that compared to other violent offenders, those who use drugs tend to
have higher average frequencies of violent crimes such as robbery and
assault. This finding raises the possibility that sentencing drug-involved
offenders who are convicted of these crimes to longer prison terms might
reduce violence. However, analyses suggest that this strategy of "selective
incapacitation" would reduce violent crime levels very little unless
it were accompanied by massive increases in prison populations.
strategy - monitoring pretrial releasees' drug use through urinalysis
- showed rather surprising effects in a Washington, D.C., evaluation.
Although positive drug test results did not predict significantly higher
pretrial rearrest rates, failure to show up for the test was a strong
predictor of subsequent new crimes leading to rearrest.
teenagers' access to alcohol. Evidence is fairly clear that
increases in tax rates and other measures that reduce the availability
of alcohol to adolescents (social pressure and enforcement of underage
drinking laws) in turn reduce drinking and certain associated problems
such as death rates due to auto collisions. Therefore, these strategies
may also reduce adolescents' disproportionate share of violence. That
conjecture remains to be tested, however.
abuse prevention. By reducing the demand that fuels violent,
illegal drug markets, substance abuse prevention should, in theory,
reduce violence levels. Many substance abuse prevention programs have
been evaluated, including the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE),
which brings police officers into classrooms as instructors. Evaluations
of prevention programs have generally found them effective in delaying
the onset of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use. Evaluations have not
generally found that education succeeds in preventing use of "harder"
drugs, perhaps because use of those drugs was rare even in the control
groups that did not receive preventive education. However, to the extent
that minor drugs are "stepping stones" to the harder ones,5 the programs
may have meaningful, yet delayed, effects for violence reduction.
may have an especially important role to play for one category of adolescents
- males whose behavior meets diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality
disorder and whose parents abuse alcohol. Research indicates that these
two factors, coupled with both alcohol and drug abuse, create a high-risk
profile for violent behavior in adulthood.
treatment. Successful drug treatment programs reduce criminal
activity among adult clients. For drug abusers who are not in prison,
stays of at least 3 months in therapeutic communities reduce the tendency
to commit crime after discharge. Up to about 18 months, longer stays
in the therapeutic community produce greater reductions.
For drug abusers
in prison, treatment usually involves only individual or group sessions
a few times a week with no postrelease followup. Evaluations of this
approach have not found it sufficient to reduce criminal behavior following
release. However, a more intensive approach - combining inprison therapeutic
communities, planning for postrelease treatment, and postrelease treatment
in the community - reduces overall rearrest rates of inmates who complete
the program. At least three programs have used this approach: Stay 'n
Out (in a New York prison), Cornerstone (in the Oregon State Hospital),
and the California Civil Addict Program.
In addition to
these beneficial effects of drug treatment on offenders' behavior, successful
treatment may reduce aggregate levels of violence related to drug markets
by lowering the demand that fuels the markets. Such an effect would,
however, be difficult to measure.
interventions. Like other forms of drug treatment, pharmacological
therapies that reduce drug craving may also lower the demand that supports
violent drug markets. For decades, methadone and related chemicals have
been used to reduce craving for heroin. There is no analogue to methadone
for treating addiction to cocaine in powdered or smokable form. However,
using animals as test subjects, researchers have identified the receptors
for certain subtypes of two brain chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine,
as promising sites to begin developing such medications. Animal research
also suggests neurochemical starting points for developing medications
that reduce violence in other ways: by disrupting the aggression-promoting
effects of alcohol and by preventing aggression during withdrawal from
Too few of the links
between violence and psychoactive substances have been established with
enough certainty to advocate a comprehensive national policy for preventing
violence related to those substances. Instead, a program of testing and
evaluating tactics for implementing a variety of promising strategies
is called for. Among these strategies, criminal justice agencies have
particular roles in developing and testing tactics to disrupt illegal
drug markets, in monitoring drug use of pretrial releasees, in establishing
drug abuse treatment for convicted criminals, and in creating effective
substance abuse prevention programs. Fulfilling these roles will require
cooperation between the criminal justice system and drug treatment, prevention,
and education authorities. Eventually, efforts to prevent drug-related
violence may be assisted by pharmacological therapies to reduce the aggression-promoting
effects of alcohol and the craving for other psychoactive drugs.
1. Among studies of
this relationship, many group all illegal drugs together. Those that distinguish
among drugs usually list cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, barbiturates,
and hallucinogens other than marijuana. See, for example, Elliott, D.S.,
and D. Huizinga, The Relationship Between Delinquent Behavior and ADM
[Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health] Problems, National Youth Survey Report
No. 26. Boulder, Colorado: Behavioral Research Institute, 1984.
2. Goldstein, P.J.,
H.H. Brownstein, P.J. Ryan, and P.A. Bellucci, "Crack and Homicide in
New York City, 1988: A Conceptually Based Event Analysis," Contemporary
Drug Problems 16 (Winter 1989):651-687.
3. The DUF program
uses urinalysis to confirm self-reports. The urine specimens are tested
for cocaine, opiates, marijuana, PCP, methadone, benzodiazepine (Valium),
methaqualone, propoxyphene (Darvon), barbiturates, and amphetamines.
Samples are collected at the time of arrest on a voluntary basis; an
average of 80 percent of arrestees voluntarily cooperate. Test criteria
are set to detect use of most drugs in the preceding 24 to 48 hours,
but marijuana and PCP can be detected in the urine several weeks after
4. Isikoff, M.,
and K. Sawyer, "Thornburgh Says All Drug Abusers Fuel Nation's Crisis,"
Washington Post, August 17, 1990.
5. Until recently,
research on developmental pathways consistently found these drugs to
be "gateways" or "stepping stones" to cocaine use. Preliminary findings,
presented after the Panel completed its report, suggest that since the
New York City "crack epidemic" of the early 1980's, crack-using youth
in increasing numbers are skipping the gateway drugs and starting directly
Dr. Jeffrey A.
Roth served as study director for the Panel on the Under-standing and
Control of Violent Behavior. Currently he is research director in the
Bethesda, Maryland, office of the Law and Public Policy area of Abt
Panel on the Understanding
and Control of Violent Behavior
Violence is universally
recognized as a pervasive part of contemporary American society and
of our Nation's past as well. Many of the attempts to understand the
phenomenon have been made in response to specific situations, such as
the lawlessness of the Prohibition era, the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy, and the urban riots of the mid-1960's. Other attempts
at understanding violence singled out particular causes for analysis.
In none of these studies, however, was the full body of research on
violence reviewed comprehensively, and none of them took an interdisciplinary
The Panel on the
Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior was set up to meet the
need for a more comprehensive assessment of what is known about violent
behavior. It was established in response to a request made by three
Federal agencies: the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National
Institute of Justice (NIJ), and the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC). NSF asked for a review of current knowledge about
the causes of violent behavior and recommendations for future research.
The other two agencies shared these goals, but their areas of interest
reflected their particular missions. As the research arm of the U.S.
Department of Justice, NIJ wanted to find out about means to prevent
and control violent crime. The CDC wanted assistance in setting priorities
for preventing injuries and deaths caused by violence.
Created in 1989,
the panel reviewed research on "interpersonal violence" - events involving
at most a few perpetrators and victims. This limitation excluded suicide
and self-mutilation as well as large-scale collective and State violence.
The focus was on describing, understanding, and controlling violence
in the United States. Research in biomedical, psychological, and other
social sciences was reviewed. The work of the panel was intended both
to help guide future research and evaluation projects aimed at prevention
and control and to suggest strategic directions for violence control
The findings, conclusions,
and recommendations of the panel were published in Volume 1 of Understanding
and Preventing Violence, published by the National Academy Press. Three
volumes of background papers commissioned by the panel are forthcoming.
The panel concluded that numerous, often interacting factors give rise
to violent events. Although the underlying interactions are not well
understood, attention to the factors suggests many promising preventive
interventions. Testing and evaluating these interventions creates opportunities
to prevent particular types of violence while gaining better understanding
of them. The panel made recommendations in a number of areas, among
them development of problem-solving initiatives to control and understand
violence; better statistical systems for measuring violence; and a program
of research to identify underlying causes. This Research in Brief is
one of a series that summarizes the panel's findings.
NIJ is committed
to implementing the recommendations of the panel. Its commitment has
begun through support for the Program on Human Development and Criminal
Behavior, a longitudinal, multicommunity research project that is exploring
the factors associated with violence. In addition, the panel's recommendations
have helped shape the goals of NIJ research and evaluation activities
and its long-range plans for research.
Copies of Understanding
and Preventing Violence are available from the National Academy Press,
2101 Constitution Avenue N.W., Washington, DC 20418 (800-624-6242).