As violence in New Mexico spikes, state leaders overlook alcohol's integral role, New Mexico In Depth reports. It’s understood that drinking and violence go together but the public may not recognize just how intertwined they are — particularly in New Mexico, where violence involves alcohol more than any other intoxicant. An analysis of toxicology records obtained from the state health department shows in the last 10 years, at least 42 percent of homicide victims were drinking alcohol at the time of death. So were at least 32 percent of people who died by suicide, which is also considered a violent death. In 2020, the health department attributed a total of 231 violent deaths to alcohol, outnumbering alcohol-involved traffic fatalities that year. “I don’t think as law enforcement sometimes we’re thinking about some of the underlying issues, why we respond, why we handle calls. But when you sit down and think about it, and you look at the data, it’s concerning,” Sheriff Adan Mendoza of Santa Fe County said. And just as alcohol can encourage violence, victims may self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs, propelling an unrelenting cycle. To break free, addiction specialists say people need to address their substance disorders and traumas simultaneously — but few New Mexican healthcare providers make that easy.
Alcohol alone does not cause violence, scientists say, but it increases its likelihood. David Jernigan, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health, compared it to pouring gasoline on a lit fire. Alcohol also contributes to suicide deaths, which outnumber homicides statewide but receive far less attention from policymakers. Patients need to get treatment that interrupts cycles of trauma and substance use, but statewide policies that address the underlying causes of alcohol-fueled violence could prevent such cycles from even beginning. Specifically, there’s a growing body of evidence for limiting the ubiquity of alcohol and increasing its price. A recent review by scientists in the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention identified several alcohol policies that reduce sexual violence, including raising alcohol taxes and reducing the number of businesses that sell it in a given area. Sara Markowitz, a professor at Emory University, concluded that more than 10 percent of incidents could be prevented by a 10 percent increase in alcohol taxes, but New Mexico leaders and civic organizations have ignored this tactic. Some local organizations do not buy the connection, while others are determined to reduce levels of childhood trauma by strengthening the social safety net. In Albuquerque, Mayor Tim Keller said, “Substance abuse and addiction are a central factor of violent crime in our communities.”