Although declining as a cause of death, alcohol remains a factor in nearly 40 percent of violent crimes, the Justice Department reported Sunday.

Alcohol is an even bigger factor in violence by a variety of intimates - a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. Victims of those attacks cited alcohol as a factor in two-thirds of them. Victims of spouse violence alone said three-fourths of their attackers used alcohol.The report by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics found that, among the 7.7 million violent crimes each year where victims can tell whether attackers used alcohol, drugs or both, 37 percent thought their assailants were using alcohol or alcohol with drugs.

Of the 5.3 million convicted adult offenders in prison, jail or on parole or probation in 1996, 36 percent reported they had been drinking at the time of the offense for which they were convicted, the report estimated.

The report also said one in five victims of alcohol-related violence reports a financial loss.

Overall, 500,000 victims suffer financial losses each year in alcohol-related violence, and their losses total more than $400 million, the report said.

Meanwhile, the rate of all alcohol-induced deaths fell 19 percent between 1980 and 1994, according to National Center for Health Statistics data.

And the arrest rate for driving under the influence of alcohol dropped by 24 percent since 1990. In the last decade, highway fatalities blamed on alcohol sank from 24,000 in 1986 to 17,126 in 1996.

Nevertheless, local police made 1,467,300 arrests nationwide in 1996 for driving under the influence of alcohol. That was down from the peak of 1.9 million arrests in 1983, when 33 states permitted alcohol consumption before age 21. Since then, responding to federal highway funding requirements, every state has gone to a minimum drinking age of 21.

The most common state laws define intoxication as 0.10 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood, but the Clinton administration wants that lowered to 0.08. A Senate bill would reduce federal highway aid to those states that refuse to adopt the 0.08 definition, but after heavy lobbying by the liquor industry the House highway bill does not contain that provision.