The Connection Between Domestic Violence and Addiction

The relationship between addiction and domestic violence can manifest in multiple ways. One example of this is when alcoholics and drug addicts create an atmosphere of violence and abuse in their home.  Another is the relationship that exists between substance abuse and the trauma associated with experiencing domestic violence.

Domestic violence may be defined as one or more types of physical, sexual, mental, emotional, psychological or verbal assault perpetuated by one relational partner upon another, typically a spouse or partner in a committed relationship. Domestic violence involves an effort to control another person by force, coercion and /or intimidation. This can occur between partners, parents and children, or even siblings. Incidents of domestic violence can be either singular or ongoing, although two-thirds of all domestic violence cases consist of multiple incidents. Domestic abuse is also unfortunately common among adults and elderly relatives.

Numerous studies have documented the rampant presence of alcohol and drugs in domestic violence incidents. According to the United States Justice Department, 61 percent of domestic abusers have substance abuse problems. Alcohol addiction is one of the leading risk-factors in abuse among domestic partners. 87% of domestic violence program directors agree that risk increases when alcohol or drugs are involved. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that two-thirds of all domestic violence incidents involve alcohol.

Children also commonly bear the brunt of an addicted loved one’s domestic abuse. Nearly 80% of all child abuse cases involve the presence of drugs and/or alcohol, to say nothing of the three million children that witness repetitive patterns of domestic violence in their homes each year. Many of these children absorb this behavior and carry it over into their adult lives, becoming abusers themselves. Domestic violence is a learned behavior that is very often passed down from parent to child.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 25% of all women experience rape or physical assault of some kind throughout their lives. Many of these women go on to develop substance abuse issues due to their inability to properly cope with the trauma. Additionally, children who experience domestic abuse are at a much greater risk for underlying substance abuse.

It’s common for women in abusive relationships to feel trapped. They’re often physically intimidated by their abusive partner or have become too financially dependent on them to provide for themselves and/or their children. All of this often causes the victims to suffer in silence and develop problems with drugs or alcohol to help cope with the abuse so it won’t hurt as much physically and mentally.  These drugs are also effective in temporarily relieving emotional pain. The temporary nature of the drug effect feeds the cycle of addiction, as the user will often experience a rebound effect after the drug wears off, resulting in greater physical and emotional pain.

Many victims will use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate the physical pain as well, in order to avoid seeking medical attention that may arouse suspicion of violence, thus requiring the medical practitioner to report the abuse. In some cases, the abuser serves as a supplier of drugs or alcohol to the victim, creating an even more intense dependence.

It’s important to note: Drugs and alcohol do not cause violence.  Many people who use drugs or alcohol are not violent and are protective of their families. Additionally, not all adults who were abused as children become violent.

Addiction and domestic abuse are linked in more ways than one. There is no cookie-cutter formula for helping individuals overcome this issue.  While it can be difficult to ask for help, it can also be lifesaving. Particularly if you are in a long-term abusive relationship, you may feel alone and that no one will understand or help you.   Professionals who work with family violence are often educated and trained to understand the link between substance abuse and family violence. There is help available, which can be accessed through many sources.  Seek out counselors in your community, many accept insurance and will work with those who cannot afford to pay in full.

Don’t wait until there’s a criminal justice or medical intervention.  If you feel you or someone you care about could benefit from counseling treatment, seek help now.  The longer it takes to seek help and heal from an abusive relationship, the higher likelihood the cycle of violence will continue through you and the addiction to get worse.

Life can change in an instant, there’s always time to seek help and become a healthy and thriving individual.



This column is not intended to be a substitute for any medical or legal advice.



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