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Demon Drink? A study of alcohol and youth offending in London

Alcohol misuse and youth crime are commonly perceived to be closely associated. Both issues trigger public concern. Yet basic gaps exist in our understanding of how the issues relate. Remarkably little empirical study has looked in detail at the drinking levels of wider offending cohorts and the influence of excessive use on offending behaviour. Young offenders drink more than the wider population, but the legal status of alcohol and the social sanctioning of underage drinking may result in it being overshadowed by illegal substances in a criminal justice context.

Alcohol Concern is the leading national charity working to reduce the harms caused by alcohol, and Mentor is the UK’s only national drug and alcohol prevention charity. Working in partnership with funding from Trust for London and under the academic governance of Middlesex University, this study has sought to shine a light on the alcohol use of vulnerable young people in the criminal justice system in London.

Alcohol affects cognitive and physical function. After drinking, young people, less accustomed than adults to the effects of alcohol, may be more likely to engage in risk taking and criminal behaviour. Evidence shows that early experience of drunkenness is strongly linked to later problem behaviours, including fights. The relationship between alcohol and crime is complex; causality is hard to define, but wider study has often linked violence and excessive drinking, particularly amongst prison populations.