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Alcohol-related crime in the UK – what do we know?

What is alcohol-related crime?

‘Alcohol-related crime’ is a popular rather than a legal term. Normally, it is used to refer to two main categories of offences:

  • Alcohol-defined offences such as drunkenness offences or driving with excess alcohol
  • Offences in which the consumption of alcohol is thought to have played a role of some kind in the committing of the offence, usually in the sense that the offender was under the influence of alcohol at the time. Examples of offences often committed by people under the influence are assault, breach of the peace, criminal damage and other public order offences.

It has been estimated that in a community of 100,000 people each year, 1,000 people will be a victim of alcohol-related violent crime. The Coalition Government listed a reduction in alcohol-fuelled violent crime among its core priorities in its Alcohol Strategy[1] and today’s Conservative Government highlights drugs and alcohol as one of the six key drivers of crime in its Modern Crime Prevention Strategy.[2]

How are alcohol-related crimes counted?

  1. Police recorded crime statistics: The Home Office Counting Rules and the National Crime Recording Standard govern police recording practice. Police recorded crime statistics cover all ‘notifiable’ offences recorded by the police for Home Office records.[3]

Police authorities acknowledge that alcohol does have a significant role in criminal activity. While offenders are rarely tested for the presence of alcohol when caught (except in specific drunk and disorderly cases such as injury caused by drink driving), police authorities recognise that alcohol’s effects on the mind and body are thought to be more likely to induce antisocial behaviour, leading to criminal acts. For most offences, alcohol may affect the perpetrator: for violent crimes, it reduces self-control; for acquisitive crimes, the motivation can be the need to feed a habit.[4]

  1. Crime surveys: large-scale crime surveys conducted in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland complement police recorded crime data by including non-notifiable offences, as well as the detailed responses by victims on the specific nature of the crimes suffered.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) is based on an annual sample of approximately 35,000 adults and 3,000 children (aged 10 to 15 years).[5] The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) is based on 12,000 face-to-face interviews conducted with adults (aged 16 or over) every two years.[6] The Northern Ireland Crime Survey (NICS) is based on the responses of approximately 4,000 adults.[7]

Crime survey statistics were formerly published as part of the British Crime Survey, although it ceased to include Scotland in its sample in the late 1980s. Some national crime surveys place a special focus on the influence of alcohol on violent crime by asking victims whether they believe their offender(s) to have been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident.

Alcohol-related crime in England & Wales

According to the 2014/15 CSEW, there were 592,000 violent incidents where the victim believed the offender(s) to be under the influence of alcohol, accounting for 47% of violent offences committed that year. This represents a decrease of 6 percentage points on the previous year (2013/14).[8] The CSEW also notes that 18% of these violent incidents in 2014/15 took place at a pub or club.[9]


Figure 1 illustrates little variation in the annual number of alcohol-fuelled violent crimes in England and Wales over the past decade. Between 2006/07 and 2012/13, there were roughly just over 800,000 alcohol-related violent crimes committed every year, peaking in 2006/07 at almost 1 million, or 52% of all violent crimes. While there has been a decrease in the number of alcohol-related incidents in the last two years, the proportion remains relatively stable – the decrease seen is consistent with an overall decrease in violent crime.[10] Alcohol still accounts for over 40% of all violent crimes committed.

Alcohol-related crime in Scotland

The estimated number of violent crimes was 186,000 in 2014/15, according to the SCJS of that year; 54% of these incidents were said to have occurred under the influence of alcohol, a higher proportion than in England.[11] 17% of violent crimes happened in or around a pub or club[12] and 32% occurred at the weekend between 6pm and 6am.[13]

Alcohol-related crime in Northern Ireland

The NICS does not record alcohol-related crime data for Northern Ireland. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) began collecting provisional statistics on alcohol-related recorded crime in April 2012. In 2015/16, alcohol was found to be a contributory factor in 19% of all recorded crime and 40% of all violent crime.[14]


Underreporting – underestimating the problem

Despite the substantial and sustained presence of alcohol-related crime in police recorded crime statistics and the crime surveys discussed, underreporting is likely to obscure the scale of the issue.

Police recorded crime statistics encounter a range of underreporting issues:

  • Most minor summary offences (i.e. driving under the influence of alcohol) or antisocial behaviour offences are not included in this figure.
  • Victims may choose not to report crimes to the police for a range of reasons; for example, if they are fearful of repercussions.
  • Crimes reported that the police do not record will not be included in this count. 

Even for crimes that are reported to and recorded by police, the alcohol-related nature of the crime may not be discovered – as mentioned above, except in specific drunk and disorderly cases such as injury caused by drink driving, offenders are rarely tested for the presence of alcohol when caught. In addition to this, the victims of crime incidents may not always be able to detect whether the offender(s) was under the influence of alcohol. 

Crime surveys will also be affected by underreporting issues:

  • As household surveys, they do not cover crimes committed against businesses
  • Again, victims may choose not to report crimes in such surveys
  • Those living outside a household (for example students living in university halls, those living in institutions or those without a fixed address) are not surveyed
  • These surveys only discuss crimes against the individual; crimes without a defined individual victim (such as criminal damage to public property) will not be counted
  • As a survey which asks people to recall their victimisation experiences, crimes which resulted in a fatality cannot be counted by this measure.[15]

The impact of alcohol-related crime is evident from both the police recorded crime statistics and the national crime surveys discussed. However, it is clear there may be alcohol-related crime that goes uncounted, and the scale of the problem may be much greater.


Next: Public perceptions of crime

[1] Secretary of State for the Home Department (March 2012), 'The Government’s Alcohol Strategy', HM Government, pp. 8–9 <>

[2] Secretary of State for the Home Department (March 2016), ‘Modern Crime Prevention Strategy’, HM Government, p. 4 <>

[3] Home Office, 'Police recorded crime'

[4] Civitas, 'Alcohol and Crime', in Crime Factsheets, p. 3 <>

[5] Office for National Statistics (ONS) (July 2016), ‘Crime in England and Wales: year ending Mar 2016’, p. 44 <>

[6] Scottish Government, accessed October 2016


[7] Department of Justice, accessed October 2016 <>

[8] Office for National Statistics (ONS) (February 2016), Overview of violent crime and sexual offences, in ‘Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences: Year ending March 2015’, p. 21 <>

[9] Office for National Statistics (ONS) (February 2016), Overview of violent crime and sexual offences, Nature of Crime Table 3.2

[10] Office for National Statistics (ONS) (February 2016), p. 21

[11] The Scottish Government (March 2016), ‘Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2014/15: Main Findings’, p. 49 <>

[12] Ibid, p. 46

[13] Ibid, p. 47

[14] Police Service of Northern Ireland (May 2016), ‘Police Recorded Crime in Northern Ireland: Monthly Update to 31 March 2016’, p. 12 <>

[15] Hansard (September 2014), Column 696W <>