Further Reading

Is the concept of addiction useful in understanding criminal behavior?


Is the concept of addiction useful in understanding criminal behavior?

Dalvinder Kaur

Dear Dalvinder:

People have often noted parallels between criminality and addiction — and the overlap between substance abuse and criminal activity.

Indeed, Cloninger proposed that the same gene conveys both attributes! In the highly prestigious journal, Science, Cloninger reported that there are two types of alcoholism, Type 2 of which is inherited and appears early in life — in combination with other antisocial traits — among individuals whose fathers were more often not only alcoholics, but criminals (C. R. Cloninger, Neurogenetic adaptive mechanisms in alcoholism, Science, 236:410-416, 1987).

Unlike some great science announcements, this one has received scant additional support. To take one example, the British journal Addiction published an article (G. Rubio et al., Clinical significance of Cloninger's classification in a sample of alcoholic Spanish men, Addiction, 93:93-101, 1998), which found the entire Cloninger typology of type 1 and type 2 alcoholics to be inapplicable, unusable, and nondiscriminating in a sample of Spanish alcoholics.

There are varieties of alcoholism, however, as identified by Craig MacAndrew, one of which is more a response to emotional issues, and one of which is more often associated with antisocial acting out. Those in the later groups typically behave aggressively and criminally, bespeaking an entirely negative attitude towards society and others. Even within prisons, there seem to be two types of alcoholics/addicts. One group is emotionally disturbed and uses substances to cushion their egos and protect their emotions. Another group, often of predatory criminals, avariciously pursues drugs almost like a kind of birthright, as though drug experiences are part of their entire rapacious attitude towards the world. This is an attitudinal and social outlook, albeit a deep-seated one.

You might also say that, for some people, criminality resembles addiction, because people get trapped into a cycle of rewards (emotional and identity rewards, along with economic benefits), from which it becomes difficult to escape. Not only is it the easiest way they know to manage their lives, but others come to place them in a criminal category from which they find it difficult to escape. Criminality then becomes a needs- and experience-based pattern which requires support, retraining, and change in outlook to overcome.

Yours sincerely,