No. V (1972)

The Problem of Early Alcoholism

Published 1972-09-04


  • early alkoholism

How to Cite

Batawia, S. (1972). The Problem of Early Alcoholism. Archives of Criminology, (V), 214–227.


The Problem of Early Alcoholizm


  1. The group of 50 repeatedly convicted recidivists, dealt with in this article, aged 38 on the average, deserves particular attention, first of all because their delinquency was started only when they had turned 25 - 27 (and there were no data that they had committed offences before). It distinguishes them from the typical most often occurring persistent recidivists who, as a rule, start to commit offences already as juveniles, or a little later as young adults. The above recidivists deserve, moreover, to be distinguished when considering the problem of recidivism, for they represent the population of alcohol addicts whose delinquency is a consequence of their addiction to alcohol and who differ from typical alcohol addicts, even from those submitted to compulsory treatment, first of all in the extent and in the considerable rapidity of their recidivism.

In the investigations of the cases of repeatedly convicted recidivists aged 17 – 20, 21 – 25 and 26 – 35, prosecuted previously by the Department of Criminology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, it was ascertained that a considerable majority of them used to drink heavily several times a week and that a great percentage of them could be reckoned among alcohol addicts. The fact that, during the investigations prosecuted in prisons, 31 per cent of young adult recidivists (aged, on the average, about 20) and no fewer than 58 per cent of young recidivists (aged on the average 23.4) already manifested initial symptoms of addiction to, alcohol, is highly significant. As regards repeatedly convicted recidivists aged 26 – 35 (average age about 31) – 53 per cent from among them showed symptoms of addiction to alcohol characteristic of an advanced stage of alcoholism.

It should be emphasized that there were among these 3 groups as many as 91 – 70 – 63 per cent of recidivists who started to commit offences already as juveniles; the percentage of recidivists on whom the first punishment was inflicted by the court only when they were 21 or more, did not exceed 20 per cent among those aged 21 – 24, or 29.6 per cent among those aged 26 – 35. It was just only among the last group of recidivists on whom the first punishment was inflicted comparatively late, (when they had turned 21), that there occurred a not numerous category of recidivists whose regular abuse of alcohol and the  symptoms of addiction to it had preceded their delinquency.

Yet in the group of 50 recidivists, dealt with in the article by S. Szelhaus, on whom the first punishment was inflicted when they were 25 – 27 – practically  all of them (94 per cent), when they started to commit offences, were probably already alcohol addicts and not only individuals regularly abusing alcohol. Although though thorough investigations, carried out in prisons, could cover only about one-third of them, and the documentation with diagnosis of addiction to alcohol in 60 per cent of them was complemented by judical-psychiatric experts’ evidence and by medical certificates – yet in the light of the total data contained in the records of the court and of the police, the supposition that in the majority of the remaining cases we have to deal, as a rule, with individuals who had been alcohol addicts already when they were brought to court for the first time – can be admitted.

The problem of an early appearance of symptoms of addiction to alcohol in a certain category of young adults abusing strong drinks has a great importance when considering the occurrence of their subsequent social maladjustment and recidivism. That is why we give in brief the results of such new investigations made in the Soviet Union concerning treated alcohol addicts, in which importance was attached to the most accurate ascertainment of the age at which the successive stages of addiction to alcohol were developing.

  1. The question of the ascertainment of the age from which date the symptoms evidencing the initial stage of addiction to alcohol, is, of course, connected first of all with deciding which symptoms should be considered as entitling us to diagnose addiction to alcohol as a pathological process. If, according to the opinions of the majority of  authors, we consider the loss of control as one of the chief criteria, then, judging from the rich material of A. Piatnicka and A. Portnov (1971), covering 968 alcohol addicts treated at out-patients’ departments, and 685 ones treated at clinics, the symptoms characteristic of the first stage of alcoholism appeared at the age under 26 in as many as 54 per cent and 61 per cent of alcohol addicts respectively, therein even in those aged under 21 – in 19 per cent and 22 per cent of cases respectively. According to the results of B. Segal’s investigations (1967), 19 per cent of 515 alcohol addicts treated at hospitals showed initial symptoms at the age under 25; according to those of Tähka (1966) the loss of control appeared in alcoholics aged 26.8 on the average, while in 34 per cent already at the age under 26.

In connection with the numerous population of alcoholics showing early  symptoms of addiction to alcohol, one ought to realize that as regards many alcoholics – from the beginning of their addiction till the appearance of pathological symptoms, often pass no more than 5 years, and that in juveniles who often started to tipple under 17 and who usually manifest pathological traits of personality – the first symptoms of addiction to alcohol may arise even after 1 – 2 years. The  fact that in the rich material of Piatnicka, and Portnov, mentioned above and concerning treated alcohol addicts, as many as 1/5 showed symptoms of addiction to alcohol under 21, has an essential importance. When compared with the above data, the results of the investigations concerning the early beginnings of addiction to alcohol in persistent criminals showing, as a rule, personality disorders, who usually start to abuse alcohol when aged under 17 – 18 – should not give rise to astonishment.

Other results of the investigations of the cases of alcohol addicts, which deserve attention, are those that evidence the fact that the period of the first stage is usually short, for in a great majority of treated alcohol addicts mentioned in the above material it does not exceed 2 – 3 years, and that the symptoms of the second, advanced stage, in which there already appears the abstinence syndrome, were found in 17 per cent and in 26 per cent of the investigated alcohol addicts aged under 26, and in 43 per cent and 60 per cent in those under 30. Thus the opinion (based on the age of the alcohol addicts submitted to treatment) that the symptoms of the advanced stage have not been observed in alcohol addicts aged under 30 – would be wrong. For this advanced stage can be ascertained even in some alcohol addicts under 25 – but those are, as a rule, beyond the reach of out-patients or hospital treatment.

To complete the above data, it may be well perhaps to add that in the above mentioned material there were as many as 24 per cent and 31 per cent of alcohol addicts, aged under 31, in the third, most advanced stage of addiction (in Segal’s material – 19 per cent).

  1. Passing on to the question of the extent of addiction to alcohol in 50 recidivists, we shall first present the data on the early stage of their heavy drinking, and shall try to determine approximately the age from which probably date the symptoms of their addiction to alcohol. Such an attempt to ascertain the age at which the first symptoms appeared may, of course, be questioned in view of the lack of proper medical documentation; yet the data contained in the materials relating to the majority (60 per cent) of recidivists allow to establish certain fundamental facts.

57 per cent from among them started to drink heavily several times a week they were aged under 20 (as a rule, when they were 17 -18, and certain of  them even earlier – under 16), and only about ¼ of them started to abuse alcohol regularly not before 22.

It should also be stressed that personality disorders dating from early youth are a typical occurrence among the recidivists who were submitted to investigations, that nearly a half of them (44 per cent) are encephalopaths and that the cases of low IQs are frequent occurrence.

Bearing in mind that the first symptoms of addiction to alcohol appear, in a considerable percentage of cases, within 5 years since the beginning of their indulging in alcohol, and that in persons who started to drink heavily being very young and who show serious personality disorders, symptoms of addiction to alcohol may appear already after 1 – 2  years – the hypothesis that the majority of these recidivists showed, when aged only 23 – 24, symptoms characteristic at least of the first stage of addiction to alcohol – may be acknowledged as well founded. Only in about ¼ of them the initial symptoms appeared probably at the age ander 26 – 27, (and they could have appeared even earlier judging from the data on their early and prompt degradation in work).

This estimation is very safe when compared with the above results of the investigations of treated alcohol addicts, among whom 20 per cent showed symptoms of addiction to alcohol at the age under 21.

Basing, furthermore, on the results of the investigations which point to the fact that in almost ¾ of alcohol addicts the first stage did not last longer than 3 years, it may be acknowledged that at least about 60 per cent of the recidivists showed symptoms of the second stage (with abstinence syndrome) at the age of 26 – 27, and about 25 per cent about 25 per cent when they were probably younger than 30 – 31.

Taking into consideration the fact that the average age of these recidivists was lately about 38, it should be supposed that probably nearly all of them are showing now symptoms typical of the third, the  most advanced stage of alcoholism, with serious psychic and somatic disorders and with the syndrome of organic alcoholic deterioration.

The data of the time when the above mentioned recidivists were aged under 30 – 31, concerning the frequency of their getting drunk, their behaviour at home  and at places of employment, (as a rule only a casual one), the kind and the circumstances of their offences – evidence the fact that they were already then, with perhaps not-numerous exceptions, alcohol addicts with symptoms typical of at least the second stage. These data evidence a very rapidly advancing process of their social degradation.

As regards the category of alcohol addicts who transformed themselves into persistent offenders – the penal measures applied even in the initial period of their delinquency had, of course, to fail. For as results from the investigations of typical cases, we have here to do with individuals with very serious personality disorders already in the period of their early youth, in whom the course of addiction to alcohol was particularly rapid and malicious.


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