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Overview of Domestic Violence & Addiction Guide

When we think of substance abuse, we often imagine the stereotypical or archetypal addict that’s so often portrayed by the media. In particular, we think of someone who’s in very poor health, has no job or car or home, has destroyed all his or her personal relationships, may have illnesses contracted through drug use, and who willingly resorts to criminal behavior as a means to sustain his or her substance abuse habit. It’s a very ugly picture, and it’s one that paints addicts quite unfairly since it purports to represent the entire population of addiction when, in fact, it’s a very inaccurate, judgemental portrayal that encourages discrimination and prejudice against individuals suffering from a legitimate brain disease.

90% Of men abused drugs the same day they abused their partner
42% Of victims used a substance the day they were assaulted
>25% Of men who commit domestic violence also abuse drugs

There are many other misconceptions about addiction, too. A common assumption is that addicts are bad people; it’s likely that this consensus is a remnant of times when addicts were thought to merely be godless people who suffered from a moral affliction and a wanton lack of self-control. Another very common assumption is that people suffering from addiction are particularly violent against others, even in their own households, which is referred to as domestic violence.

As is the case with addiction, domestic violence is another epidemic that affects the U.S. in some very profound ways. The horrors of domestic violence extend to all members of a family unit, including the children, which make it a very big problem for all generations. But could it be that alcohol and drug abuse are contributing to the domestic violence occurring today? Is there a relationship between substance abuse and intra-familial violence? That’s exactly what we’re going to discuss.

Violence and Substance Abuse in the Family Unit

Before we discuss the relationship between domestic violence and substance abuse, let’s look at both of these phenomena individually. There’s actually a major lack of understanding as to what actually constitutes domestic violence. Many people assume that only physical harm can be considered domestic violence, but that’s not the case. By definition, domestic violence refers to physically or psychologically abusive behaviors used by one person in a relationship or family unit to control the other(s). Specifically, there and many different acts that qualify as domestic violence, including name-calling, actual or threatened physical harm, stalking, intimidation, sexual assault, keeping someone isolated from their extra-familial relations, preventing someone from leaving the home, and withholding money.

Substance abuse in the family unit is a bit more straightforward, but also quite destructive. We often think of substance abuse in the home as consisting of one or both parents having an alcohol or drug problem, which directly and adversely affects their children. In fact, studies have shown there are profound effects of parental substance abuse on children, often causing severe emotional problems and intimacy issues that persist into adulthood while also making the children more likely to develop alcoholism or drug addictions themselves.

However, the children can be the ones who are developing substance abuse problems as well. Adolescents and teens can develop substance abuse problems for many reasons. Perhaps there are problems in the household that lead them to use recreational substance abuse as a means of escaping these domestic problems. Additionally, many adolescents abuse alcohol or drugs so that they’ll fit in with their peers. And then there are many cases where the substance abuse is merely a product of their curiosities.

Is There a Relationship Between Violence and Substance Abuse?

It’s often said that there are some substance abusers who become extremely good-natured while intoxicated and yet others become extremely violent. There’s been little scholarly attention paid to these claims since the demeanor one assumes when under the influence is likely based on more specific psychological factors rather than an arbitrary coin toss.

"Surveys have found that up to 75 percent of all people who receive treatment for substance abuse have had experiences involving violent behaviors while they were under the influence."

In fact, there’s some literature that explores the link between mental health, substance abuse, and violence. There’s evidence to suggest that people who become violent when under the influence have an elevated risk of suicide, which is the eleventh-leading cause of death in the United States. Specifically, it’s been suggested that people who become violent while under the influence may be at elevated risk of suicide simply because they’re unable to control their violent behaviors when they’re intoxicated. Moreover, violence and substance abuse must be more common than one would think. Surveys have found that up to 75 percent of all people who receive treatment for substance abuse have had experiences involving violent behaviors while they were under the influence. There’s also a relationship with the level of violence displayed in a behavior and the frequency of thoughts of suicide; individuals seeking substance abuse treatment who had committed prior offenses of rape and other severe, violent crimes reported experiencing far more frequent thoughts of suicide than individuals who committed less violent offenses.

Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse

The ultimate act of violence is that which is committed against one’s own family. But to what extent are acts of domestic violence driven by alcohol and drug abuse? After all, with 75 percent of addicts in treatment admitting to becoming violent when under the influence at least some of the time, it seems that a correlation between domestic violence and substance abuse would make some sense.

Warning Signs of Domestic Violence

  • Getting drunk or high more frequently, especially in the mornings or late into the night
  • Abusing substances in isolation
  • One/both partners getting increasingly more aggressive when they don't have desired substance
  • Someone using drugs/alcohol to escape
  • Lying, cheating and stealing
  • Frequent run-ins with law enforcement

First, it’s important to understand that the reason why acts of domestic violence are committed is actually not out of anger; instead, acts of domestic violence are committed primarily for the purpose of controlling others in the family unit. Additionally, substance abuse is known to lower a person’s inhibitions, making them more likely to resort to behaving in ways that they would otherwise find morally reprehensible. As well, there’s evidence to suggest that when children are victims of or bear witness to domestic violence in the family unit, they become significantly more likely to become violent in adulthood themselves because they came to view this type of behavior as being normal due to their exposure to it.

Other studies have found a link between domestic violence and substance abuse among people who have particularly low self-esteem. Feeling insecure and untrusting, these individuals abuse alcohol or drugs, experience a decrease in their inhibitions, and resort to behaviors that allow them to feel more in control and less vulnerable.

Is There a Relationship Between Violence and Substance Abuse?

Despite the possible correlation in some instances, domestic violence and addiction are two very separate, distinct issues that must be addressed individually as they require different types of treatments and attention.

"According to estimates, there are almost 20 victims of domestic violence at the hands of their romantic partners each minute in the U.S. This equate to more than 10 million men and women in a year."

For instance, substance abuse treatment requires a multidisciplinary curriculum that can address physical, mental, emotional, social, and sometimes even spiritual needs. By comparison, domestic violence victims require intensive counseling — and need to feel safe — in order to begin recovering from domestic violence. For addicts who were committing acts of domestic violence against others, it would be a good idea to address that violence in the counseling he or she receives as part of substance abuse treatment.

  • On any given day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines across the U.S.
  • A woman is beaten or assaulted in the U.S. every 9 seconds.
  • In two out of every three female homicides, the victim was killed by a romantic partner or family member.
  • Each year, more than 4 million women are victims of physical assault or rape at the hand of their romantic partners.
  • Women between the ages of 18 and 34 are at the greatest risk of being victims of domestic violence.