The Link Between Serial Killers and Addicts

By Victoria Kim 04/14/14

Criminologist Craig Traube recently pointed to several overlapping behaviors that serial killers have in common with substance abusers.

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Is serial killing an addiction? That’s what psychologist and criminologist Craig Traube suggested at a talk he gave at the Akesco Crescent Clinic in Randburg, South Africa. In traditional psychology, serial killers are classified as having a personality disorder, usually narcissistic, antisocial, or paranoid. But Traube outlined several overlapping behaviors with addiction to support the idea that serial killing is similar to addiction.

Addiction is defined as the repetition of a behavior despite the harmful consequences. Traube used Ted Bundy as an example to highlight the similarities between serial killers and drug addicts. Bundy killed at least 30 women, following several women at a time, should he need an “emergency hit,” as Traube called it. He preferred killing brunettes between the age of 15 and 25, but “experimented” with women of different ages. Traube compared this to how addicts evolve. “They start out experimenting with different things and then they find the substance they like,” he said.

In prison, Bundy turned to alcohol, marijuana, and porn, clinging to psychoactive and other addictive vices when he could no longer kill. Traube also pointed out how Bundy, like most addicts, refused to take responsibility for his actions. “Bundy blamed people for looking vulnerable, saying that they were, in a way, begging to be murdered,” he said.

Though controversial, this is far from a novel concept. In 2012, Alaska man Israel Keyes was labeled a murder addict, killing at least eight people before he was caught. Alaska police detective Monique Doll said at a 2012 press conference that "Israel Keyes didn’t kidnap and kill people because he was crazy, he didn’t kidnap and kill people because his deity told him to or because he had a bad childhood. Israel Keyes did this because he got an immense amount of enjoyment out of it, much like an addict gets an immense amount of enjoyment out of drugs.”

According to James Fallon, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies the brains of psychopaths, serial killers often behave similarly to drug addicts. Withdrawal from their addictions “builds and builds and then hits a threshold trigger point, after which they go on a spree to release that longing,” Fallon said. This happened with Bundy, Traube noted, two weeks after he escaped from prison for the second time. His sobriety and binge cycle ended with Bundy attacking five women in one night, raping one, bludgeoning them all, and murdering two.

Withdrawal from killing may cause a buildup of hormones in the brain’s amygdala, Fallon told LiveScience, at which point the only way to alleviate the very unpleasant feeling of withdrawal is to seek whatever the addicting stimulus might be.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr