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Public Intoxication Charges

Although most people who drink alcohol don’t participate in criminal behavior, certain crimes are frequently linked to the substance. The range of alcohol related crimes include violent offenses like assault, robbery, domestic abuse, and homicide, and non-violent crimes like theft, driving under the influence, and public intoxication.

When an individual is disturbingly under the influence of drugs or alcohol in a public setting, they could be charged with public intoxication. While public intoxication is typically a misdemeanor crime, charges can escalate if other crimes are committed while publicly drunk. Public intoxication laws are intended to remove individuals who could hurt themselves or others. 

What Is Considered Public Intoxication?

From state to state, public intoxication laws differ. Despite this, there are 3 basic elements that define a public intoxication charge. 

  1. The individual was recognizably under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a controlled substance. 
  2. A disturbance was caused due to the influence of drugs or alcohol. This disturbance must be deemed as something that could cause harm to others or oneself. 
  3. The individual who was under the influence caused this disturbance in a public place. 

Under The Influence

The definition for under the influence varies from state to state. In most states, it must be proven that an individual was completely out of control to the level of posing a threat to either themselves or others in the public setting. In other states, it is not required that a person actually be drunk to receive a public intoxication charge. For these states, just the appearance of being drunk and causing a disturbance can be considered public intoxication. 

Causing A Disturbance

One’s demeanor and behavior are the 2 main aspects of a public intoxication charge. The way one behaves while drunk could lead to a disturbance. An alcohol related disturbance typically involves an individual being disruptive or bothering others in their area. 

Behaviors that can be considered disruptive include stumbling around, yelling, throwing objects, using a weapon, self-harm, and instigating a fight while under the influence. An individual can still cause a disturbance if they remain calm under the influence. In these cases, damaging property while intoxicated can lead to this type of alcohol related charge.  

Public Place

What is deemed a public place can be different based on which state the charge was given in. Often, the courts decide if the disturbance actually occurred in a public location as not all states have a set definition. In Texas, a public place is considered “any premises licensed or permitted under alcoholic beverage code”. In some states, the common areas in an apartment complex or the streets of a neighborhood are deemed as public places. 

For private property, the appropriate level of intoxication is determined by the owner. The individuals are able to call the police if an intoxicated person walks onto their property and causes a disruption. Oftentimes, this will result in a trespassing charge but public intoxication consequences are also possible despite being a private location. 

The Consequences Of Public Intoxication

All states in the US do not give the same punishment for a public intoxication charge. Some states treat it as a misdemeanor crime that can result in fines, jail time, probation, and community service. In these states, misdemeanors can carry jail times up to 1 year or fines from $500 to $2,500. It is possible that first time offenders will be offered community service or probation instead of jail time. 

Other states, where public intoxication is labeled as an infraction, offenders are sent to treatment rather than receiving punishment. For example, officers in Alaska are required to bring public intoxication offenders to a treatment facility. In some places, offenders are taken to their homes or are detained until they are no longer under the influence. Areas with non-punitive consequences bypass courts completely because this behavior is considered an effect of a medical condition. 

Most public intoxication charges are secondary to another crime that has been committed. When other charges occur, public intoxication becomes a lesser charge. Crimes that are typically associated with public intoxication are:

  • Public drunkenness 
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Assault 
  • Harassment 
  • Driving under the influence 
  • Trespassing 
  • Destruction of property 
  • Robbery 

Alcohol’s Effects On Behavior

When alcohol is consumed, the functions of the brain’s cerebral cortex are slowed down. This impacts how the information from an individual’s senses are received and understood in the brain. The effects on this area of the brain influences one’s thought processes which ultimately leads to poor judgment. Additionally, alcohol depresses inhibition which can cause one to feel more confident and talkative. 

The frontal lobes are especially affected by alcohol. This set of paired lobes makes up 2/3rds of the human brain and is essential to forming ideas, planning, decision making, and having self-control. Alcohol impacts the frontal lobes which can make it hard to control emotions and urges. When this occurs, one may find themselves behaving without thinking or even acting violently. Long-term consumption of alcohol can lead to permanent damage to the frontal lobes. 

Binge Drinking And Public Intoxication

Although recent studies have shown that even 1 alcoholic beverage can impact our ability to make decisions, binge drinking is often associated with public intoxication. Because most are unaware of the effects of having 1 drink, people tend to continue drinking. Binge drinking occurs when large amounts of alcohol are consumed over a short amount of time. This is defined as 5 drinks for men and 4 drinks for women in under 2 hours. 

In the US, binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly form of excessive alcohol consumption. It has been reported that 1 in 6 adults binge drink about 4 times each month. The average number of drinks per binge is 7. This pattern of drinking is most prevalent among those ages 18-34 and is twice as common for men than it is for women. Because binge drinking is often associated with college party culture, those under 21 are especially at risk for public intoxication charges. When someone underage acts disorderly while under the influence, they may also receive a minor in possession charge.  

Speak With A Treatment Provider

Public intoxication, while viewed differently across the US, can be an indicator that one is exhibiting unhealthy drinking patterns such as binge drinking. In these cases, there are treatment options available nearby. If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, contact a treatment provider today. 

  • Author: Emily Murray | Last Updated: May 10, 2022

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    Emily Murray

    Emily Murray is a Digital Content Writer at Alcohol Help. She earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with Behavioral/Social Sciences and Art concentrations along with a Journalism minor from the University of Central Florida. Dedicated to creativity and conciseness, Emily hopes her words can be of service to those affected by addiction.

  • Medical Reviewer: David Hampton

  • Sources