Drugs and Guns: A Deadly Combination

Drugs and guns affect American culture from inner-city gangs to rural housewives, impacting the lives of millions of people every year. Understanding the links between drugs and guns can help clarify the underlying causes leading to the lifestyles associated with substance abuse, addiction and gun violence. Armed with this information, health care professionals, family members and addicts themselves can create an individualized treatment plan designed to change harmful lifestyle choices and patterns and escape the deadly risks connected with drugs and guns.

Historical Patterns of Drugs and Violence

Homicide rates in the United States during the height of prohibition were the same as homicide rates today, and the majority of these deaths were at gunpoint. It is easy to blame the social trends of the next generation for what appear to be declining moral standards, but when looking at statistical patterns over history interesting implications are found related to alcohol, drugs, and guns.

During the 20th century, homicide statistics and gun violence in the United States fluctuated with trends of government regulations on drugs and alcohol. At the turn of the century, annual homicide rates were at just 1 per 100,000 individuals. During Prohibition the rate climbed to 10 per 100,000. But when the 21st amendment was ratified in 1933, homicide rates rapidly declined by 50%.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s when federal restrictions on drug use increased that homicide and gun violence rates began to increase again. By the 1980’s, homicide rates paralleled the highest rates during prohibition a half century earlier and remain there today. (1)

Economic diversity data collected over the last century shows compelling similarities with the above homicide and gun violence statistics. During the same timeframe as prohibition, there was also an extreme shift in the financial distribution of wealth, with the majority of money and power held by very few. But then economic wealth and power began to shift back to a more equalized distribution after prohibition was repealed.

Eventually, the distribution of wealth again began shifting to a wealthy minority in tandem with the increased regulation of drugs and corresponding gun violence of the 1970’s to present. Although this shift in economic power was not to the extreme degree of the 1920’s, the timeline similarities are striking. (2)

Comparing this data indicates that economics, public policy, drug use and gun violence are linked. To what degree each affects the others and in what order they are responsible on a national or global scale has not been determined. Nevertheless, acknowledging their relationship with one another helps to understand cause-and-effect as well as how to choose solutions on a more individualized level.

Drug Manufacturing and Distribution Leads to Violence

The 1980’s saw a drastic increase in the existence of inner-city gangs, gun violence and international drug smuggling operations. “The decline in manufacturing jobs in the 1970’s…. (left) unqualified minorities in the inner cities. Dramatic increases in unemployment resulted… Drug markets provided “work” for displaced workers and the popularity of crack cocaine opened new opportunities for youth to make money.” (3)

Some gangs developed into large, well-organized manufacturing and distribution businesses. In the absence of government regulation, unscrupulous leaders of these criminal organizations utilized guns and violence to maintain control and carry out their own code of “justice”. Whether safeguarding a manufacturing facility from robbery and government raids or low-level dealing on the street corner, firearms provide manufacturers, traffickers and small-time dealers with emotional security at a terrible price.

Drug Use and Violence

Although drug related domestic violence involving gun use does occur, these occasions are infrequent considering the high numbers of people who use drugs and/or own firearms. “Drug use is more closely linked to robbery and property crime than to violent crime. The evidence indicates that… drug trafficking and distribution generate violence.” (4)

However, data related to drug users who attempt suicide by use of firearms looks very different. The direct connection between drug use and the onset or intensification of mental health issues such as depression is well documented. Drug use and depression are both major risk indicators for suicide which in 2005, “… was the second-leading cause of death among Americans 40 years of age or younger. Among Americans of all ages, more than half of all suicides are gun suicides.” (5)


So long as drugs have a black market value, guns will be a part of protecting the socio-economic structure of the drug culture. Drug enforcement laws have failed to reduce gun violence and many studies suggest enforcement actually increases rates of violence. There are no quick and easy answers to eliminating drug use and gun violence on a national level. If you or a loved-one has fallen into this lifestyle, there is no time to wait for schools or government to find a solution. Help is available and it is up to you to take your life in your own hands by reaching out to a drug addiction treatment specialist.

Drug use statistically increases the risk for suicide, often utilizing firearms. If you suspect that a loved one is dealing or using drugs, the first priority is to ensure everyone’s safety by keeping all firearms unloaded and secured in a locked safe with the ammunition locked separately. The second step is to plan an intervention. This very delicate and emotional step for both users and loved ones is most successful when the experience of an inpatient drug rehab center is utilized in planning and facilitating the intervention.

Continuing a life of drug use or trafficking increases the chances of becoming involved in gun violence. Consequently, choosing an experienced drug addiction treatment center that can give you the tools and confidence needed to leave this lifestyle behind is truly a matter of life and death. Our experts are available 24 hours, 7 days per week to answer your questions. Begin the road to recovery by calling us right now.


(1) David Friedman – Drugs, Violence and Economics http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/drugs_and_violence/Drugs_and_violence.html
Accessed 12/15/11

(2) Left Business Observer #112 – 2004: income down, poverty up – December 2005
Accessed 12/15/11

(3) James C. Howell and Scott H. Decker – The Youth Gangs, Drugs and Violence Connection – U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention – January, 1999
Accessed 12/15/11

(4) The National Center for Victims of Crime – Drug Related Crime – 2008 http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID=32348
Accessed 12/15/11

(5) Matthew Miller, M.D., Sc.D., and David Hemenway, Ph.D. – Guns and Suicide in the United States – New England Journal of Medicine 359:989-991 – September 4, 2008 http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp0805923
Accessed 12/16/11

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