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Updated on December 10, 2022
6 min read

Substance Addiction and Domestic Violence

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is abuse that takes place within personal relationships. It most often occurs within intimate partner relationships, but any type of violence - physical, verbal, or emotional - inside of a family or home is domestic violence.

When an abuser has a drug or alcohol addiction, domestic violence tends to occur more frequently and escalate faster. There's also a higher risk that the abuse victim will go on to abuse drugs or alcohol themselves.

Types of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is most often linked to physical violence, but there are other types as well. The primary types are physical, verbal, and emotional, but these can be further broken down into specific categories.

These include:

  • Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.
  • Sexual violence is forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when the partner does not or cannot consent.
  • Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.
  • Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or to exert control over another person.

Domestic abuse is perpetrated on people of all ages, from newborn to elderly.

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Drugs and Domestic Violence

Experts think violence comes from a desire to control others, and thus explains why addiction and violence are so closely linked. When someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he or she loses inhibition control, which increases the risk for abusive actions.

Someone addicted to drugs or alcohol cannot think rationally and is more likely to act out violently. Domestic violence and addiction involve someone exhibiting a lack of control. They might deny or be ashamed of their behavior, yet still continue their actions despite the negative outcome.

Domestic Violence Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that approximately 11 million women and 5 million men experience sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Victims of domestic violence have a higher risk for mental health problems, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They also have a higher risk for engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking, binge drinking, and sexually risky activity.

Victims and abusers are 11 times more likely to be involved in a domestic violence incidence after heavy alcohol consumption or drug use.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)

The risk of violence increases when both parties involved have a substance use disorder (SUD). It’s also difficult for someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs to evaluate the danger of his or her situation, which increases the likelihood of serious injury linked to abuse.

Studies show potentially violent situations worsen when victims are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is due to poor judgment and the inability to accurately assess the danger they face. Their condition might also exacerbate the situation.

What Causes Domestic Violence?

There are many causes of domestic violence, and in most cases, there is a combination of factors that trigger violent incidents.

People with deep-seated trauma and biological and psychological issues who struggle to find ways to release their anger in healthy ways have a higher risk for committing violent acts.

Other factors that increase a person’s risk for acting violently include:

  • Mental health issues, especially those that increase the risk for substance abuse
  • Experiencing abuse earlier in life
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trauma

Signs of Domestic Violence

It can be difficult for those involved in domestic violence to admit there's a problem. Facing the problem leads to an upheaval in a person’s life and can pose a threat to their security, as well as the safety of loved ones.

Some victims of domestic violence also feel guilt or shame about their situation. Others are financially dependent on their abuser, which makes it difficult to end the relationship.

Having the support of friends and family makes it easier to cope with and change a situation mired by domestic violence.

Some of the symptoms of domestic violence include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Missing important events
  • Taking the blame for altercations with an abuser
  • Minimizing arguments and altercations with their abuser
  • Lying about injuries
  • Making excuses to remain in a relationship with the abuser
  • Acting nervous around their abuser
  • Describing their abuser as jealous or possessive

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Addiction and Domestic Violence Worsen Over Time

Though addiction is not the cause of violence and violence not the cause of addiction, the two are linked. Both also worsen over time.

Data shows of those convicted of murdering an intimate partner, 45 percent were drinking alcohol at the time of the incident. Their average blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was three times the legal limit.

Furthermore, addiction counselors have found that a woman’s addiction tends to prolong her from leaving an abusive relationship. Over time, there are greater physical, emotional, and psychological consequences and repeated assaults.

Staying in the situation leads to heightened violence and often results in the death of the victim.

Without treatment, both addiction and domestic violence worsen over time, increasing the risk of a situation having a fatal end.

Is Someone Who Is a Victim of Domestic Violence at Risk for Developing Addiction To Drugs or Alcohol?

Yes. Spousal and intimate partner abuse is a common predictor of developing a drug or alcohol addiction. Women in abusive relationships are often forced into buying and using drugs or alcohol by an abusive spouse or partner.

Women who have suffered from domestic violence are more likely to develop a substance use disorder (SUD) than women who have never experienced domestic violence.

Abused pregnant women are also more likely to abuse multiple substances before and during pregnancy.

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Addiction Treatment Options

Treating a drug or alcohol addiction might lessen the risk of domestic violence. However, it’s important to treat both issues simultaneously and address the underlying causes of both.

Several specialized treatment programs are available that help both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and support them with addiction recovery.

Many programs also work with abusers and the abused to help them overcome addiction and improve their quality of life. In some cases, this includes anger management programs and one-on-one counseling to address issues related to control.

It may be beneficial to incorporate anger management classes to the learning and rehabilitation process. Counseling sessions with a therapist can help address issues related to control and find the underlying cause of the violence and offer more resources.

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Updated on December 10, 2022
6 sources cited
Updated on December 10, 2022
  1. Preventing Intimate Partner Violence. 2019.
  2. Klostermann, Keith, and Michelle Kelley. “Alcoholism and Intimate Partner Violence: Effects on Children’s Psychosocial Adjustment.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 6, no. 12, 10 Dec. 2009, pp. 3156–3168.
  3. Liebschutz, Jane et al. “The relationship between sexual and physical abuse and substance abuse consequences.” Journal of substance abuse treatment vol. 22,3 : 121-8. doi:10.1016/s0740-547200220-9.
  4. Mauro, Tara. “The many victims of substance abuse.” Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)) vol. 4,9 : 43-51.
  5. Moore, Barbara C et al. “Drug abuse and intimate partner violence: a comparative study of opioid-dependent fathers.” The American journal of orthopsychiatry vol. 81,2 : 218-27. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.2011.01091.x.

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