Alcohol & Youth Offending
Demographic: young offenders aged 14-18
Delivery setting: research study
Years active: 2012 - 2013
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keywords: alcohol; youth offending; London
The joint Alcohol & Youth Offending Project between Mentor and Alcohol Concern aimed to research the links between alcohol use and criminal activity amongst young Londoners receiving non-custodial court sentences.
The 12-month study was was funded by Trust for London and the research overseen by Middlesex University. Quantitative data from 388 young offenders was analysed and in depth interviews and 16 young men and three young women offenders (average age 16) were interviewed.
Something happens, you can just turn and go angry… it's mad. I reckon it's worse than some drugs.
- Male offender, age 16
Why we carried out this project
Alcohol misuse and youth crime are widely seen as closely connected. Both trigger media headlines and public concern yet we actually know very little about how the two are related. There have been very few studies on the drinking levels of offenders, and the influence of alcohol on youth offending behaviour.
We do know that young offenders drink more than the wider population. But since alcohol is a legal and culturally acceptable drug, this is often overshadowed in importance by the link between offending and illegal drugs.
However, alcohol offences are common – nationally it is estimated that young people's drinking between ages 10 – 17 years is responsible for 80,640 violent offences a year and for criminal activity which costs the justice system more than £5 million each year. Whilst for young people who reach the threshold for referral, there is a clear and established pathway from Youth Offending Services to specialist support, it is much harder to identify those young offenders who drink in risky ways or at risky levels but don't – yet – reach that threshold.
This study focused on young Londoners receiving non-custodial court disposals. Although some may go on to custodial sentences, for others it is their only engagement with the justice system. The substance use of the vast majority does not reach the threshold for referral to specialist support.
Understanding the role of alcohol in youth offending
From the research undertaken for this project, the Demon Drink? A study of alcohol and youth offending in London report has been published. The research confirmed strong links between alcohol misuse, mental health issues and educational disengagement.
Alcohol is likely to cluster with other risks in vulnerable young people – drinking may not be the single biggest risk, but it threads between the other vulnerabilities. The findings suggest that young people see alcohol as more harmful than cannabis.
The authors also consider if alcohol-related violence committed by under-18s may be under-recorded by criminal justice agencies. These instances are most likely to be at the underage drinking site, hidden from the public and authorities, between people who know each other. The link between alcohol, violence and offending becomes more visible as young adults reach the legal drinking age of 18 years when fights are more likely to escalate in severity, involve strangers and take place in bars, clubs or town centres.
The findings also suggest that young people see alcohol as more harmful than cannabis and more action is needed to help this vulnerable group understand the negative role alcohol can have in their decision making.
- Follow NICE Guidance on alcohol use and substance misuse when working with young people
- Don't treat alcohol misuse as a single issue – it’s likely to be one in a 'package' of risks for vulnerable young people, along with educational disengagement and mental health, for example. Universal services such as schools, as much as youth offending teams, need to be aware of the links between truanting, exclusion, alcohol and other risks.
- Since London is different – young Londoners, including young offenders, drink far less than their peers – the report also recommends further research in other parts of the country into the relationship between alcohol and youth offending.