Is Illegal drug use always associated with criminal behaviour?


In the United Kingdom, the legislation in which governs the misuse of illegal substances is the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. With the help of law enforcements such as the Police, Courts, and the Ministry of Justice this legislation is enforced in order to minimise the use of illegal substance and crimes resulting from this substance misuse. The Home Officer statistics for 2018- 2019 showed that a total of 2.4% of those aged 16-59 years old were classed as frequent drug users. This percentage equated to around 811’000 people in England and Wales (Home Office, 2019).

This report aims to review the statistics surrounding drug use and crime and the correlation between drug misuse and crime. It will explain the relevant legislation that governs drug misuse, recognise the crimes affected by illegal drug use and further discuss those who take an active part in discouraging drug use, enforcing the relevant laws and legislations.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is the legislation that governs the law surrounding the illegal use of all illicit drugs such as Cannabis, Cocaine and Amphetamines. The order came into force in 1991 with the intent to controlling the use of these illegal substances and reducing the level of crime committed in relation to substance misuse.

The order contains the legislation on offences such as Possession with the intent to supply, Possession of an illegal substance and being concerned in the supply. These offences rage between summary only to custodial and have a sentencing range of a fine to life in prison.

Current Crime Statistics

An article written by Drug wise, outlines the rising drug related crime statistics in the UK, indicating a staggering 141’714 drug offences committed in England in Wales in 2017. Of this number, 116’539 offences were for possession of an illegal drug (Drug Wise, 2017) However, drug offences are not the only offences that are committed by those abusing illicit, when under the influence of illegal substances many people commit other offences such as driving under the influence, assaults and theft offences.

Another reason for offenders committing crimes is in order to be able to fund their habit. Many offenders commit offences such as theft, robbery, and burglary in order to source funds or items to sell for funds in order to pay for their substance.

Types of Crimes affected by Drug Misuse

There are many offences caused by the misuse of drugs, there are also numerous offences in which drug misuse is the causal factor. Offences caused by the misuse of drugs include:

  1. Possession of a controlled drug with the intent to supply, this offence is contrary to Section 5 (3) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971- this offence is defined as when one has possession of a large quantity of controlled drugs that cannot be considered personal use. They have the possession of this large quantity with the intention to sell the drugs on to others. This offence is an indictable only offence and can only dealt with in the Crown Court, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment (Sentencing Guidelines, 2020)
  2. Possession of a controlled drug, contrary to Section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971- this offence is triable either way which means that it can be dealt with in both the Magistrates and Crown Court, with a maximum sentence of up to 7 years imprisonment (Sentencing Guidelines, 2020)

However, there are many offences that are committed because of drug misuse such as assault and robberies. A study conducted in an Iranian prison showed that there was a positive relationship between drug misuse and crime being committed. Statistics in the USA showed that those who are drug dependent were more likely to commit crime in order to be able to finance their habit, these offences would often be robberies, burglaries, and assaults.

Statistics in the USA showed that 70% of prisoners were drug users, they also showed that 21.1% of criminals who had abused drugs had committed aggressive crimes (The National Library of medicine, 2013) A further study conducted in Sweden tracked 8000 people who had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia and another 3700 with Bipolar, the study found that the use of illegal drugs cause those with mental health problems to commit offences such as murder, manslaughter and sexual violence (The Guardian, 2010)

Dr Seena Fazel, a clinical senior lecturer in forensic psychiatry at the Oxford University stated ‘The relationship between violent crime and serious mental illness can be explained by alcohol and/or drug abuse. If you take away the contribution of substance abuse the contribution of the illness itself is minimal’ (The Guardian, 2010)

‘Some research studies have found that a lot of acquisitive crime (stealing) is committed by dependent users of heroin and crack cocaine trying to pay for their drugs.’ (Drug wise, 2017)

Implementation of Government Policy relating to substance misuse

The government have been working on a government drug tackling strategy for quite some time now. Many studies have been conducted into what kind of government drug tackling methods work such as education-only methods, however, these have been found not to be effective. However, what has been found to be effective is a broader approach that helps to build community wide resilience and confidence among youths. By giving them the motivation and skills required to be successful and rise above risky behaviour, they are less likely to turn to drugs and therefore less likely to commit crime.

There are many government drug tackling methods such as the ‘Call FRANK’ drug information and advice helpline and The Mentors UK’s alcohol drugs and education prevention information service (ADEPIS).

The main focus of these government methods are ‘focusing on the wider health and social inequalities often faced by those with drug problems ‘ (Gov.UK, 2017) These methods also require constant supervision and controlling in order to ensure that people don’t just overcome their dependency in a safe environment but they receive the help required following their recovery.


In conclusion, it is very clear that there is a positive correlation between substance abuse and the increase in crime being committed. These offences can include those that come from the possession and intake of drugs, such as possession with the intent to supply. However, they can also be offences that are caused by the intake of drugs, such as aggressive offences such as assault and dishonest appropriation offences such as theft and burglaries.

It is also really important to consider the relationship between mental illness and drug abuse. As stated by Dr Seena Fazel, there is a positive correlation between drug misuse and ill mental health with many people with schizophrenia or bipolar and drug misuse committing serious offences such as murder.

The government have many drug abuse tackling methods in place such as ‘call FRANK’ however, it appears that more needs to be done. Statistics have shown by approaching youths prior to drug dependency or offending and providing them with the life skills needed to ensure they lead a successful life increases the chances of them not offending as they get older and progress through life.

Although drug use doesn’t always lead to offending behaviour, there is definitely a positive correlation. Those who have drug dependency tend to commit crime in order to be able to fund their habits, unfortunately this tends to require theft of property that can be sold for money or in exchange for the drug.

By Shelby Keppel



Home Office, Drugs Misuse: Findings from the 2018/2019 Crime Survey for England and Wales, 2019 [Online PDF] Available at; [Last Accessed 19th April 2020]

Drug wise, How many drug crimes are committed? 2017. [Online] Available at; [Last Accessed 19th April 2020]

BBC News, Drug crime mapped, 2019. [Online] Available at; [[Last Accessed 19th April 2020]

Sentencing Council, Drug offences and definitive guidelines, 2020. [Online PDF] Available at; [Last Accessed 25th April 2020]

The National Library of Medicine, The Relationship Between the Type of Crime and Drugs in Addicted Prisoners in Zahedan Central Prison, 2013. [Online] Available at: [Last Accessed 25th April 2020]

The Guardian, Substance abuse not mental illness causes violent crime, 2010. [Online] Available at: [Last Accessed 25th April 2020]

Drug Wise, How Much Crime is Drug related, 2017. [Online] Available at: [Last Accessed 25th April 2020]

Gov.UK, The Government drug strategy- tackling the complex issues of drug misuse, 2017 [Online] Available at: [last Accessed 26th April 2020]


The Very Well Mind, Alcohol and drug related crime statistics , 2020. [Online] Available at; [Last Accessed 19th April 2020]

The Guardian, Tough on the causes of crime, 2020. [Online] Available at; [Last Accessed 19th April 2020]


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