Updated on February 6, 2024
7 min read

The Link Between Addiction and Domestic Violence

Are addictions driving violent behavior and domestic violence in your home, or is the reverse true? Both of these issues are closely intertwined. As such, they need to be addressed for those seeking help. 

Addiction and domestic violence can create an insidious cycle. Moreover, it can feel as though it’s almost impossible to escape from. Fortunately, there are ways out. 

This blog post explores how substance abuse and addiction negatively impact relationships within the family unit. It hopes to shed light on strategies that may improve outcomes for at-risk people and offer guidance on developing healthier home environments free from abuse.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, is abuse that takes place within personal relationships. It’s not limited to heterosexual couples or legal marriages.

It most often occurs within intimate partner relationships and families where the abuser attempts to gain power and control over another.

They do so by the following maltreatment forms:

  • Physical
  • Verbal
  • Sexual
  • Psychological
  • Economic

What Causes Domestic Violence?

There are many causes of domestic violence. In most cases, a combination of factors triggers violent incidents.

People with deep-seated trauma and biological and psychological issues often struggle to find ways to release their anger healthily. As a result, they have a higher risk of committing violent acts.

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

  • Mental disorders, especially those that increase the risk of substance abuse
  • Experiencing abuse earlier in life
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trauma
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What Are the Types of Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is often linked to physical violence, but other types exist. The primary classes are physical, verbal, and emotional. 

However, you can further break them down into specific categories. These include:

  • Physical violence: When a person hurts or tries to hurt you by hitting, kicking, or another type of physical force
  • Sexual violence: Forcing or attempting to force you to participate in a sex act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when you don’t or can’t consent
  • Stalking: A pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for your and others’ safety.
  • Psychological aggression: Verbal and non-verbal communication intending to harm you mentally or emotionally or to exert control over another person.

Prevalence and Types of Domestic Violence

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that approximately 11 million women and 5 million men experience the following in their lifetime:

  • Sexual abuse or violence
  • Physical violence
  • Stalking by an intimate partner 

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What Are the Signs of Domestic Violence?

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

Here are some symptoms of domestic violence:

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

Drugs and Domestic Violence

According to experts, violence stems from an insatiable desire for control. Despite denying or feeling shame, abusers persist in their destructive patterns, perpetuating a vicious cycle of suffering.

When substances like alcohol or drugs take hold of you, your ability to regulate behavior and actions diminishes—the likelihood of engaging in abusive conduct increases, with inhibition control slipping away.

You can't think rationally. Consequently, your likelihood of resorting to violent outbursts significantly amplifies.

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Impact of Substance Use on Domestic Violence Risk

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

Potentially violent situations worsen when victims also abuse alcohol or are under the influence of drugs. They may consequently have poor judgment and cannot accurately assess the danger they face. Their condition might also exacerbate the situation.

What Are the Impacts of Domestic Violence?

Physical and Emotional Consequences 

Domestic violence significantly affects victims, both physically and psychologically. Physical injuries from domestic abuse may range from minor scratches to major trauma or death. 

As such, many victims of domestic violence suffer deep emotional scars as a result. Victims may also experience: 

  • Social isolation and shame
  • Difficulties maintaining relationships with others
  • Trust issues

Financial Troubles 

Domestic violence can also lead to economic hardship. Victims often struggle to secure stable employment and meaningful and fulfilling careers. 

Substance Abuse

When an abuser has a drug or alcohol addiction, domestic violence also tends to occur more frequently. It also escalates faster. Additionally, there's a higher risk for victims to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the situation.

Consequences of Domestic Violence on Mental Health and Behavior

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 of engaging in risky behaviors, such as:

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

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)

How Addiction and Domestic Violence Worsen Over Time

Though addiction isn’t always the cause of violence, and violence isn’t the cause of addiction, the two are linked. Both also worsen over time.

Staying in the situation leads to heightened violence and often results in the victim's death. Without treatment, both addiction and domestic violence worsen over time. This increases the risk of a situation having a fatal end.

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

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

Likelihood of Victims Developing Addiction to Drugs or Alcohol

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 likely to develop a substance use disorder (SUD). Abused pregnant women are also more prone to abuse multiple substances before and during pregnancy.

Addiction Treatment Options

Treating drug or alcohol abuse and addiction might lessen the risk of domestic violence. However, treating both issues simultaneously and addressing their underlying causes is essential.

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

Addressing Anger and Control Issues in Treatment

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 control-related issues.

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

Summary

Domestic violence and addiction are inextricably linked, and both worsen over time. Without treatment, this could lead to a fatal end.

People with SUDs have an increased risk of committing or experiencing domestic violence. Fortunately, treatment options are available to address the addiction and underlying causes of violence.

If you or a loved one is facing domestic violence and substance use disorder, seek help from a reputable treatment center. It's never too late to begin the journey to recovery.

And if you're concerned for your safety or the safety of a loved one, don't hesitate to call 911 or reach out to local domestic violence hotlines and support services. They can provide the tools and resources to take charge of your life and stay safe.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
6 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Fast Facts: Preventing Intimate Partner Violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Effects of domestic violence on children” Office on Women’s Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary, 2021.
  3. Rich et al. “The Impact of Abuse Trauma on Alcohol and Drug Use: A Study of High-Risk Incarcerated Girls” Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, 2016.
  4. Drug Abuse Statistics” National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 2023.
  5. Moore et al. “Drug Abuse And Intimate Partner Violence: A Comparative Study Of Opioid-Dependent Fathers.” The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2011.
  6. U.S. Department of Justice. “Domestic Violence.”Office on Violence Against Women, 2023.

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