Domestic Abuse and Substance Abuse: The Connection

man who is experiencing addiction problems holds up his hand and covers his eyes domestic violence

Table of Contents

What are the Links Between Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence and substance abuse are frequently concurrent problems.
Domestic violence, sometimes known as intimate partner violence (IPV), is not limited to physical assault.

It can include a variety of violent and coercive behaviors, including psychological and sexual abuse, social isolation, stalking, intimidation, and threats, as well as physical violence.

Domestic or intimate partner violence is characterized by a pattern of such behaviors to establish control over one’s partner or other family members.
Substance abuse may play a role in inciting or exacerbating violence in such cases.

Over 20% of male abusers report using alcohol or drugs before brutal acts of violence against their partners.

Domestic violence victims often confirm in their reports that their partners had been consuming alcohol or drugs at the time of the abuse. Research has further shown that physical violence between partners is 11 times more likely to occur on heavy drug or alcohol use days.

While domestic violence can occur without the influence of alcohol and other drugs, substance abuse is certainly an aggravating factor.

The link between domestic violence and substance abuse is evident, though whether heavy drug use and drinking cause violence or excuse violent behavior is unclear.

Like meth and cocaine, some drugs do sometimes cause paranoid and violent behavior, but this is not true for all drugs. Sometimes the violence only happens when the abuser is drunk or high.

Conversely, it may occur when they cannot get their usual dose and begin to experience withdrawal.

What is certain is that addiction leads to impaired judgment, making unpredictable and violent behavior a possibility in any situation. While a loss of control is characteristic in addiction, it does not excuse violent behavior, nor does it make it the victim’s fault.

Domestic violence refers to any behaviors used to control, manipulate and gain power over an intimate partner.

The different types of abuse include physical, emotional, verbal, mental, and financial. Each poses its danger, and the abuser often combines domestic violence types to sustain power and control over an intimate partner.

Domestic violence, like addiction, has no prejudice; it affects people from all walks of life. Both men and women are abusers, and it’s just as common in LGBTQ+ couples as heterosexual couples.

Understanding and Defining Domestic Violence

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 85 percent of domestic violence victims are female. Women have a five to eight times greater chance of being victimized than men.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services defines physical abuse as the “non-accidental use of force that results in bodily injury, pain or impairment. These acts of violence include, but are not limited to, being slapped, burned, cut, bruised or improperly physically restrained.”

On average, 20 people per minute experience physical abuse by an intimate partner in the United States. Verbal, emotional, and mental abuse interconnect through a series of behaviors that an abuser uses to create confusion and undermine the victim’s self-confidence, allowing the abuser to control the victim. Signs of this abusive dynamic are isolation, intimidation, and manipulation.

Understanding the Types of Domestic Violence

An abuser may use the following tactics to control their victim: screening or monitoring texts, calls, and social media recording the odometer mileage on the car after use, as well as driving by workplaces or known locations, not allowing or becoming increasingly displeased by certain makeup, hairstyles, and clothing choices.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse results from verbal and psychological abuse that diminishes another person’s sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.

Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse is making direct or indirect threats, yelling, screaming, and insulting.

Psychological or mental abuse

Psychological or mental abuse uses statements that distort reality or invalidate the victim’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse includes withholding or controlling all the income, not allowing the victim to access funds, or putting the victim on a strict allowance.
An abuser can also prevent or sabotage the victim’s attempts to secure employment by refusing transportation, making them late, or calling/harassing them at work frequently.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse uses coercion, force, guilt, manipulation, or not considering the victim’s desire to have sex.

Domestic Violence is Exploitation

Exploiting a victim who is unable to make an informed decision either because they are asleep, intoxicated, or otherwise drugged, or targeting a victim who is too young, too old, or dependent upon or afraid of the abuser is also sexual abuse.

For victims in an abusive relationship, daily life is centered around reading your partner’s moods, walking on eggshells, saying or doing anything to keep the peace for fear they may become violent.

Eventually, the manipulation and fear can become so great that victims will often feel they deserve the abuse.

What Are The Long-Term Effects of Addiction-Related Violence

Intimate partner violence is a significant problem in and of itself, but it can also lead to further issues that should not be overlooked. While substance abuse is a risk factor for domestic violence, domestic violence is also a risk factor for later developing substance abuse in victims.

Although much of the research surrounding substance abuse and domestic violence has centered on the effects on women, it’s important to remember that intimate partner violence can be directed at men by women and can occur in same-sex relationships as well.

Spousal abuse is one major predictor of developing a substance abuse problem or addiction. Compared to women with no experience of intimate partner violence, women in abusive relationships tend to have more problems with substance abuse. Furthermore, women in abusive relationships often report being pressured into drug use by their partners.

Victims of domestic violence are also more likely to develop serious mental health issues. More than half of women who experience intimate partner violence are diagnosed with a mental disorder.

Moreover, all people in a household are at higher risk of domestic violence when drugs are involved. Domestic violence can affect the children in a household even if they are not the direct victim of violence.

Of course, parents who engage in intimate partner violence are more likely to use physical abuse against their children. But merely being in an environment with violence can still have a significant impact on children.

Children in households of domestic violence are at risk for developing emotional and behavioral problems.

What Can I Do if I am the Victim of Addiction-Related Violence?

One of the most important steps you can take if you are experiencing violence from an addict is removing yourself and any children from the situation. Leaving can be difficult for a variety of reasons. But if you can, you should leave as soon as possible.

Even if you love the addicted person and want to help them, staying in the relationship or home is dangerous, and the situation will most likely not improve if you do not seek help.

When you are not around the addict, they cannot physically hurt you. When you are in a safe location, you will assess the problem and get help without the threat of backlash.

Some people may choose to stay with family members or close friends in these situations. For those who do not have such support, many areas have shelters or safe houses that specifically serve women and children who are the victims of abuse and domestic violence.

Unfortunately, male abuse victims may have a more difficult time finding a safe house or shelter. However, there are crisis centers that specialize in domestic abuse and are available to everyone.

Counselors associated with these services can work with you to find further resources.

Understanding Resources for Domestic Violence

Shelters and crisis centers are not legal resources. If you seek help from these places, they will not report the abuser, and any information you give them will generally remain confidential.

But victims who do seek legal resources have a few options. People who experience domestic violence (or know someone who is) can report it to local law enforcement.

If children are involved, you can also report violence to a local child welfare agency. Depending on the area, laws regarding domestic violence can vary.
The resources that you contact can help you determine your next steps.

When the addiction becomes violent, it is important to remove yourself or your children from the situation. But to truly resolve the problem, both the victims and the abuser should seek help for their respective issues.

Addiction treatment can help abusers end the cycle of violence, and treatment for the victim can help them heal from the psychological and emotional damage that comes with domestic abuse.

Can My Abusive and Addicted Partner Get Help?

When domestic violence is so closely related to someone’s substance abuse, it needs to be considered in addiction treatment whether a victim or perpetrator of violence.

Suppose the consequences of intimate partner violence are left unaddressed in substance abuse treatment. In that case, it can negatively affect the effectiveness of the treatment and lead to a higher potential for relapse.

Failure to attend to such issues in domestic violence victims with addictions specifically may increase the risk of becoming a victim of violence again after leaving treatment.

Substance abuse and domestic violence affect each other and demonstrate the importance of receiving addiction treatment that addresses all aspects of life.
Addiction often connects to the other problems that people face.

Middle-Class Drug Use: Does Social Class Matter?

Just decades ago, the popular conception was that drug abuse was mainly a lower-class problem. Studies in the 1980s suggested that drug use was increasing more among groups of lower socioeconomic status.

The idea was perpuated by the media’s sensationalism of crack cocaine, which largely affected poorer communities.

While it may have been partly true that different groups generally gravitated toward different substances, it does not mean that substance abuse is confined to a single social class.

Advances in research since then have shown that addiction is a health concern across all demographics.

When Does Social Class Matter?

However, addiction’s exact nature and effects may change depending on a person’s social class and how drug use is viewed within that group.
For example, middle-class users often report beginning their drug use “just for fun.”

In one study of middle-class women and their cocaine use, most of the participants, despite demonstrating clear symptoms of addiction, maintained that they merely had a “controlled habit.”

Because their status or daily lifestyle may allow some middle- and upper-class users to continue living relatively comfortably with an addiction, they may not perceive their substance abuse as a problem.

They are less likely to struggle to maintain their drug supply and can often hide drug use more easily. The way a person views their drug use is significant because it can affect their motivation to seek help.

Just because drug use doesn’t appear to be a problem does not mean that it isn’t one or can’t lead to other issues. Even in the absence of any outwardly obvious problems, drug use can still have serious health risks.

Furthermore, addiction can affect those surrounding the user just as significantly as it can affect users themselves.

In any social class or other demographic, substance abuse can lead to domestic violence and an array of other problems if left unaddressed.

Taking the First Steps to Get Help

Drug addiction has the potential to harm everyone in a household, not just the user. Specifically, the risk of domestic violence significantly rises when substance abuse is a factor.

Domestic violence is not always an inevitable factor of substance abuse, but it is a common possibility.

The defining features of addiction are impaired judgment and loss of control over one’s behaviors, so even those who are not violent without drugs can become violent under the influence.

The best immediate thing to do in a situation of drug abuse and domestic violence is to remove yourself and any children from the abuser. However, the situation will ultimately not resolve unless both sides seek treatment. Help is available to both victims and addicts.

Addiction treatment aims to stop drug use and resolve problems related to drug use, including domestic violence and any emotional trauma that may stem from it.

Domestic violence and substance abuse are significant issues that you cannot expect yourself to solve independently. You must reach out for help.

If you are experiencing a critical domestic violence situation please reach out to Domestic Violence Hotline at (888) 799-SAFE (7233).

Call 1(888) 906-0952 today to learn about substance abuse treatment options.

Making a Plan to Leave a Domestic Violence Situation

Deciding to leave an abusive relationship is difficult—a victim may believe that their partner will change and that things will get better. Still, the reality is that many abusers have complex emotional and psychological problems.

When faced with the consequences of their behaviors, abusers will make promises to stop the behavior and profess intense guilt and shame, literally begging for forgiveness.
They may mean what they say at the moment, but when the threat of their partner leaving has subsided, they’ll return to their abusive behavior.

Worrying about what will happen if they leave, where they will go, what people might say, has led many victims to stay in abusive relationships.
There are simple steps one can follow to help them disengage from their abuser and get out safely.

Create an exit plan; doing so means that you are less likely to return to your abuser for any reason.
When creating an exit plan, reach out to a friend, family member, or local resource for help. Establish a safe word that they’ll recognize if you’re in danger and call the police.

Set aside any money you can and keep a bag packed and hidden should you need to leave at a moment’s notice.
When you’re ready to leave, take what is necessary and recognize that you can always replace clothing, jewelry, or other items. Your safety is not worth risking over material goods.

Have a person that will keep you accountable for your decision. Change your phone number and seek out a restraining order.
Be kind and loving to yourself; this is a time of intense emotion, so it’s okay to be scared.

Find the courage within yourself to separate from an abusive partner, reach out to support groups and family, and remember: you are not alone.

Educational Sources

[1] Addiction Violence: Get Help, Get Out


[3] NCJRS Domestic Violence Publication

[4] ASAM: Intimate Partner Violence and Addiction

[5] NCJRS Publication on Grants

[6] NIH Domestic Violence Study

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