The perception that drug use is associated with crime has reigned not only among sociology researchers but it has also been perpetuated by the media. In addition to social problems, drug use has been associated with harms that are suffered by users. Whereas there is truth in these views, an elaborate look into these views reveal that these associations are mainly a making (more so with specific drugs like heroin) as there is no direction of causality.
In essence the society, through the media and government policies, has come to criminalise drug users and therefore it has become de facto that drug users are criminals. This paper critically examines the views that criminalisation of drug use leads to greater social problems and harms to individuals. The central viewpoint is that it is not an absolute truth that drug use is not an obvious cause of crime.
Certain drugs such as heroin have been historically labelled and associated with crime and therefore concerns of crime associated heroin is deeply rooted in a historical belief that an evidential matter. Carnwath and Smith (2002) point out that there was a widespread use of heroin among male youths belonging to America’s lower class members who dwelt in cities during as the 20th century set in.
Unfortunately, individuals who usually consumed heroin were already harbouring antisocial tendencies such as prostitution and gambling. On such grounds, it became very easy to create a community of de facto criminals. One of the ungrounded notions was that heroin use would influence men to rape yet the truth is that heroin use leads to low libido (Carnwath & Smith, 2002).
Historically, the association between heroin use and crime has been explained by psychiatrists citing heroin as an addictive substance that leads to impaired reasoning (Carnwath & Smith, 2002). Whereas such an explanation does not shed enough light into this relationship, modern reasoning that heroin and crime are related due to an economic reasoning has not been satisfactory either. This is more due to the fact that researchers fail to consider poly-drug use among criminals thus the contribution of heroin may be exaggerated.
When examining the relationship between drug use and crime, it is important to establish the direction of causality. This is one of the aspects that both researchers and the media fail to do. Stuart (2008) highlights that media as well as governments paint disproportionately the use of certain drugs as the cause of crimes.
For instance, stereotyping heroin users and crack cocaine consumers as risk individuals in terms of crime eventually perpetuates criminal tendencies among such communities since this group of people feel barred from the society.
Whereas this is an aspect of drug use leading to crime, Carnwath & Smith (2002) report that already formed criminals also tend to go for drugs such as heroin thus ruling out drug use as the absolute cause factor for criminal behaviour.
Even in cases where alcohol is well known to cause violence as cited by Winlow and Hall (2006), this relationship is weak since most alcohol users view that violence is an inevitable part of drinking and is its done as “part of the show” (p. 96).
In conclusion, it is not easy to absolutely say that drug use leads to crime. There is failure to look at the many factors that may be involved in this relationship some of which include historical labelling of drug users as criminals and disproportional reporting by the media.
It is important to examine the direction of causality before making any conclusion on drug use and crime relationship and also think of crime (such as violence among alcohol users) as an accepted culture by those who drink.
Carnwarth, T. and Smith, I. (2002). Ripping and running: Drug use and crime. In Heroin
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Taylor, S. (2008). Outside the outsiders: Media representations of drug use. Probation
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Winlow, S. & Hall, S. (2006) Alcohol, violence and the drudgery of seeking pleasure. In
Violent Night: Urban Leisure and Contemporary Culture, Oxford, Berg Press, pp. 93-114.