Psychoactive Drugs May Reduce Violence in Former Inmates

Prison bars with one cell openPeople who are newly released from prison may be less likely to violently reoffend when they take psychoactive drugs, according to a Swedish study published in the journal JAMA.

The study does not suggest mental health issues cause violence, and previous research suggests otherwise. Even among those with a mental health diagnosis, a 2014 study found most crimes were not directly linked to a diagnosis. Other factors, such as poverty and homelessness, were more likely to play a role.

Another 2014 study, which looked at nearly 4,500 adults with a mental health diagnosis, suggested such a diagnosis is more likely to result in criminal victimization rather than criminal behavior.

Can Former Inmates Benefit from Psychiatric Medications?

Researchers followed 22,275 people released from Swedish prisons. Most participants (92%) were male, with an average age of 38. Median follow-up time was 4.6 years. At follow-up, 18% of participants (4,031 people) had committed at least one new violent act.

Newly released inmates who received psychoactive medications were less likely to reoffend. Antipsychotic drugs reduced the risk of reoffending by 42%. Stimulants reduced the risk by 38%, and medications to treat addiction reduced reoffending by 52%. Antidepressants and anti-epileptics produced no significant change in reoffending rates.

The researchers also found completing psychological therapies to address criminal attitudes and substance abuse reduced the risk of reoffending.

Do Psychoactive Medications Reduce Violence?

The study did not find a definitive causal relationship between psychiatric drugs and a reduction in violence. It is possible that some other factor accounted for the reduction, such as access to treatment or willingness to pursue treatment.

The study’s authors emphasize that rates of mental health issues are high among prisoners across the globe, and access to quality treatment—including both drugs and therapy—could benefit both prisoners and the societies in which they live. A 2010 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found 85% of American inmates experience drug or alcohol addiction. This suggests treating substance abuse in newly released former inmates might be especially beneficial.


  1. Behind bars II: Substance abuse and America’s prison population. (2010, February). Retrieved from
  2. Mental illness not usually linked to crime, research finds. (2014, April 21). Retrieved from
  3. Prescription of psychotropic medication after prison release linked to lower rate of violent reoffending. (2016, November 2). Retrieved from
  4. Shipman, M. (2014, February 25). Study shows mentally ill more likely to be victims, not perpetrators, of violence. Retrieved from

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  • Olivia


    November 8th, 2016 at 1:49 PM

    I think that medication in and of itself can’t be discounted but I also think that the desire for change has to be there as well otherwise there will always be a problem with recidivism.

  • Reedy


    November 8th, 2016 at 4:17 PM

    Why is it that we have all been so brainwashed that we automatically look for an Rx to solve a problem?

  • Peter


    November 10th, 2016 at 11:27 AM

    This has to be looked at a little more closely because I hate to think that we come to the point where we begin to believe that the only way we can stop someone from being violent is via medication. That is just not true. I know that the meds work for some people, but there are those of us out here who are still interested in finding other, maybe even better solutions to this epidemic that we now find ourselves faced with. I don’t think that we are doing anyone a service when the only way that we think of treating them is pharmaceutically.

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