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Alcohol and Crime: Treatment and Rehabilitation

Norm Violation, Social Visibility And Formalized Reactions, Alcohol Problems As Double Deviance, The Prominence Of Deviance In Treatment Paradigms

Providing treatment for persons who have committed crimes and who also have alcohol problems seems a straightforward subject for description and analysis. The approach should presumably center on the description of circumstances when criminals with alcohol problems do or do not receive treatment for these problems, factors affecting this differential use of treatment, and a review of evidence of the effectiveness of these interventions.

These issues will be dealt with in this entry, but they are not its primary focus. By contrast, the intersection of crime, alcohol problems, and treatment for alcohol problems offers unexpected opportunities for understanding the conceptual relationships between alcohol and crime. These understandings extend well beyond the somewhat tedious question of how drinking might "cause" crime. This intersection of three distinctive empirical phenomena also provides contextual understanding of the construction and implementation of social policy in Western nations.

The starting premise is that all alcohol problems are grounded in behavior that is "continuous" with crime, which provides a context for viewing why or why not treatment is readily provided to a wide range of persons with alcohol problems. According to Durkheimian theory (Erikson), crime is a constant in human societies. Important differences are found, however, in how and when crime is defined and acted upon in different structural and cultural circumstances. By contrast, neither alcohol problems nor their "treatment" are universal across different social structures. While it has been observed that alcohol is used in nearly all human societies, the notion of its "problematic" status is not a cultural universal (Macandrew and Edgerton).

Many dimensions of crime are dealt with exhaustively in this encyclopedia, but for present purposes it is significant to state simply that crime is more or less (but not perfectly) continuous with deviant behavior in everyday life. This is a basic Durkheimian perspective. If this continuum between deviance and crime is assumed, then crime is logically a subcategory of deviance. Where, however, is the "break" on the continuum wherein deviance becomes crime? It is useful in this entry to view the difference between deviance and crime as residing in three factors: the extent of norm violation, social visibility, and formalized social reaction.


Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law