Are America’s Record Lows for Violent Crime Over?

Does Increasing Drug Use Mean More Crime?

Crime in America.Net

Data presented below from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the federal government indicates that drug use is increasing. Although alcohol use (the major correlate with violent crime) seems to be steady (see there is also data suggesting that substance abuse for people over 50 is increasing (see

Our Analysis:

A basic tenant of criminology is that substance abuse and crime goes hand-in hand. While the definition of crime varies considerably from acts of stupidity to predatory behavior, substance use seems to present in most illegal acts; connected to 60 to 80 percent of all arrests (see If we included alcohol (noting alcohol’s connection to violent crime) it would seem that virtually everyone arrested had a recent history of substance abuse.

We are at historic lows as to crime in America (see and the criminological community is almost at a complete loss as to why.

But we assume that most criminologists will suggest that increasing drug use and an increase in tolerance for drug use (note the effort to legalize marijuana) will lead to increased crime. We find that increasing drug use for those over 50 is astounding; we suspect that people once used drugs and delayed additional use until child rearing was over (note that SAMHSA folks provided a different-demographic spin).

It’s impossible for crime to stay at historic lows and increasing drug use (and tolerance for substance abuse) may be significant factors in crime going up in the near future.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Press Release:

National survey reveals increases in substance use from 2008 to 2009

Marijuana use rises; prescription drug abuse and ecstasy use also up

The use of illicit drugs among Americans increased between 2008 and 2009 according to a national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows the overall rate of current illicit drug use in the United States rose from 8.0 percent of the population aged 12 and older in 2008 to 8.7 percent in 2009.  This rise in overall drug use was driven in large part by increases in marijuana use.

The annual survey, released by SAMHSA, also shows that the nonmedical use of prescription drugs rose from 2.5 percent of the population in 2008 to 2.8 percent in 2009. Additionally, the estimated number of past-month ecstasy users rose from 555,000 in 2008 to 760,000 in 2009, and the number of methamphetamine users rose from 314,000 to 502,000 during that period.

Flat or increasing trends of substance use were reported among youth (12 to 17-year-olds).  Although the rate of overall illicit drug use among young people in 2009 remained below 2002 levels, youth use was higher in 2009 compared to 2008 (10.0 percent of youth in 2009, versus 9.3 percent in 2008, versus 11.6 percent in 2002). The rate of marijuana use in this age group followed a similar pattern, declining from 8.2 percent of young people in 2002, to 6.7 percent in 2006, remaining level until 2008, and then increasing to 7.3 percent in 2009. 

Additionally, the level of youth perceiving great risk of harm associated with smoking marijuana once or twice a week dropped from 54.7 percent in 2007 to 49.3 percent in 2009, marking the first time since 2002 that less than half of young people perceived great harm in frequent marijuana use. The rate of current tobacco use or underage drinking among this group remained stable between 2008 and 2009.

Overall past-month illicit drug use among young adults aged 18-25 increased from 19.6 percent of young adults in 2008, to 21.2 percent in 2009.  This rise in use was also driven in large part by the use of marijuana.

Despite some troubling trends, the 2009 NSDUH shows continued progress in lowering levels of tobacco consumption among people aged 12 years and older. Current cigarette use among this population has reached a historic low level at 23.3 percent.  However, even in this case, the pace of improvement is stagnating. The use of cocaine among those aged 12 or older has also declined 30 percent from 2006.

As in previous years, the 2009 NSDUH shows a vast disparity between the number of people needing specialized treatment for a substance abuse problem and the number who actually receive it.  According to the survey, 23.5 million Americans aged 12 or older (9.3 percent of this population) need specialized treatment for a substance abuse problem, but only 2.6 million (or roughly 11.2 percent of them) receive it.

NSDUH is a scientifically conducted annual survey of approximately 67,500 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older.  Because of its statistical power, it is the nation’s premier source of statistical information on the scope and nature of many substance abuse behavioral health issues affecting the nation.

The complete survey findings are available on the SAMHSA Web site at:



  1. says:

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