The International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) reports that 80% of incarcerated people have abused alcohol or drugs, and nearly half of them qualify as clinically addicted. In addition, approximately 60% of individuals arrested for most types of crimes test positive for illegal drugs at arrest. Alcohol, more than any illegal drug, was found to be closely associated with violent crimes, including murder, rape, assault, child, and spousal abuse. About 3 million violent crimes occur each year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking and statistics related to alcohol use by violent offenders generally show that about half of all homicides and assaults are committed when the offender, victim, or both have been drinking.

Crime Statistics

Alcohol is often a factor in violence where the attacker and the victim know each other. Two-thirds of victims attacked by an intimate (including a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend) reported that alcohol had been involved, and only 31% of victimizations by strangers are alcohol-related. Nearly 500,000 incidents between intimates involve offenders who have been drinking; in addition, 118,000 incidents of family violence (excluding spouses) involve alcohol, as do 744,000 incidents among acquaintances. In 2004, 17% of state prisoners and 18% of federal inmates said they committed their current offense to obtain money for drugs. Where there is a crime, there are drugs or alcohol and vice versa, in too many cases.

For many in the criminal justice system, preventing future crime and re-arrest after discharge is impossible without treatment of addiction. Approximately 95% of inmates return to alcohol and drug use after release from prison, and 60 – 80% of drug abusers commit a new crime (typically a drug-driven crime) after release from prison. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) recognizes the serious pattern of crimes and alcohol and/or drug problems.

Psychology and Addiction

Individuals taking a bachelor’s degree in psychology should learn more about drug addiction and its influence on crime. One way is to enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in Addictions and Recovery. Students in this program will learn assessment, intervention, treatment, and case management skills. Courses might study human behavior and the environment; survey of social problems; introduction to psychology; neuroscience; ethical practice in a diverse world; psychology of addiction; and psychopharmacology of alcohol and drugs. Another related degree is a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a concentration in Addiction Studies. Graduates of this program will have the skills to pursue professional careers such as case manager; court liaison; law enforcement advocate; probation officer; psychiatric assistant; treatment specialist, and victim’s advocate.

Criminal justice requires skills in analyzing, applying research, and reporting findings. You develop these skills, to varying degrees, in liberal arts courses. So what is it about psychology that makes it an especially good fit? Psychology develops knowledge of adaptive and maladaptive human behavior across age groups and in different social contexts. It helps students understand the various factors that influence decision-making: the good decisions as well as the bad ones. Some undergraduate psychology programs include a specialization or formal concentration in criminal justice.

Consider Criminology

A cousin to criminal justice is criminology. Criminology deals predominately with the understanding, interpretation, and analysis of motive in various criminal activities. Criminal justice includes the entire judicial system including the police, courts, and corrections. In the pursuit of either profession, your study can start with psychology courses.

Professionally, criminologists might engage in various forms of counseling, psychology, or social work, helping criminals become functioning members of society. Criminal Justice studies involve psychology, statistics, business, and sociology. In other words, criminology focuses on why the person committed the crime and criminal justice homes in on who perpetrated the crime. Both disciplines require understanding the mind of the criminal. This meets the American Psychology Association’s definition of psychology: “The scientific study of the behavior of individuals and their mental processes“.

Get a Head Start

Furthermore, you can get a head start on your career in the psychology/criminology field as a student. The American Society of Criminology (ASC) accepts student members for a nominal $55/year for online access. It is an international organization concerned with criminology, embracing scholarly, scientific, and professional knowledge concerning the etiology, prevention, control, and treatment of crime and delinquency.


College-level internships can be invaluable in securing post-college employment. A psychology student may work in a legal or corrections setting even if there is no formal concentration in criminal justice. Seattle Pacific University, for example, lists the Washington Department of Corrections, Josephine County Juvenile Justice, and Seattle Municipal Court among past internship sites.