The Link Between Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse

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Various studies over several years provide insights into the connection of domestic violence and substance abuse for both teens and adults.

Reprinted with permission from The Recovery Village.

Domestic violence and substance abuse are intimately linked and often occur simultaneously.

They are related much in the same way that co-occurring mental disorders like depression and anxiety are linked to increased drug use and vice versa. Often one is a symptom of the other, and in many cases, they go hand in hand. Yet while they’re intertwined, one doesn’t always precede the other. Abusing drugs doesn’t always spur aggressors to physical or emotional violence, and being a victim of abuse doesn’t necessarily lead to overindulgence in dangerous substances. But when domestic violence and drug use happen together, they wreak havoc on everyone involved.

Longitudinal studies from the American Psychological Association, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and countless other organizations reveal a distinct relationship between the two issues and show how they can co-occur. But regardless of which issue is present first, drug use and acts of violence only exacerbate each other’s effects.

The Nature of Domestic Violence

To understand the relationship between substance abuse and domestic violence, it’s imperative to study the root causes of this specific type of aggression. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as a willful intimidation, assault, battery or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control, perpetrated by one intimate partner (or family member) against another.

The key to understanding why domestic violence occurs and why it’s so closely followed or preceded by substance abuse is that domestic violence is part of a systematic pattern of dominance, or a need for control. A need to have control over another person’s behavior often stems from distorted thought processes and deep-seated psychological distress, whether the perpetrator realizes it or not. The use of alcohol or illicit or prescription drugs only makes neurotic thought patterns more intense and destructive.

There are several emotional dynamics that contribute to domestic violence. The most prevalent involves a destructive “critical inner voice” that perpetuates irrational thoughts such as “You’re not a man if you don’t hit her,” or “She is making fun of you. Who do they think they are?” Acting on the lies this voice tells can convince aggressors to attempt to control their partner (or loved one) by taking violent measures toward their seemingly “insubordinate” or “disrespectful” partner. This unhealthy, and often delusional, inner monologue can be seen in both male and female perpetrators of this kind of aggression.

Issues Intertwined: Drug Use and Domestic Violence

Substance abuse is a shared affliction between domestic violence perpetrators and victims.

According to the American Psychological Association, excessive drug or alcohol use increases the risk of being a victim of domestic violence — and of becoming an abuser. Heavy use of drugs or alcohol increases a person’s chances of becoming abusive, and the mental anguish of domestic violence causes many victims to turn to dangerous substances. Numerous studies affirm that substance use often plays a facilitative role in violent behavior, and always exacerbates preexisting patterns of abuse.

For victims of domestic violence, this weight of repeated abuse is an extremely heavy burden. To ease the strain, many people turn to substances for relief. And in some cases, women in abusive relationships are coerced (Editor’s note: review and explore the substance abuse connection in the government fact sheet, below) into using drugs or alcohol by their partners. Victims can experience panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a host of other mental ailments as a result of domestic violence.

The percentage of women who consider their mental health to be poor is almost three times higher among women with a history of domestic violence than those in healthy relationships. As a result, intimate partner victimization is often correlated with an alarmingly high rate of depression and suicidal behavior.

Facing the Facts: Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

Examining the research on when and how these issues occur can shed light on their correlation, and further discourage the use of dangerous substances.

  • Young adults who experience past-year physical dating violence are more likely to have mental health and substance use disorders within six months of the abuse.
  • Teen victims of dating violence are more likely than their non-abused peers to smoke, use drugs, engage in unhealthy diet behaviors, engage in risky sexual behaviors, and attempt or consider suicide.
  • According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), substance abuse is involved in about 40–60 percent of all intimate partner violence (IPV) incidents.
  • Domestic abuse victims are 70 percent more likely to drink excessive amounts of alcohol than those in healthy relationships.
  • More than 20 percent of male perpetrators report using alcohol or illicit drugs prior to the most recent and severe acts of violence.
  • On days of heavy drug and/or alcohol use, physical violence was 11 times more likely among IPV batterers and victims.

Read more about the connection between domestic violence and substance abuse in this Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services fact sheet:

Ipv Fact Sheet by on Scribd

Learn more about PTSD and substance abuse in our previous coverage:

Why Women with PTSD Turn to Opioids & How to Prevent It

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