Domestic violence is a common problem in the United States, and it can lead to several other consequences for victims. Consistent episodes of abuse from a close family member or an intimate partner can cause psychological trauma, depression, PTSD, and anxiety. These issues can lead to coping with drugs or alcohol, causing a substance use disorder.
Addressing substance misuse with underlying problems like domestic violence and a history of abuse can be complicated. But effective addiction treatment needs to offer help for a variety of problems, including physical, psychological, and social issues.
Learn more about substance abuse and domestic violence and how they might be related.
Domestic violence or abuse is a pattern of physical, emotional, and psychological harm between members of a household. Domestic abuse also involves a power imbalance and a pattern of coercive or controlling behavior. The classic picture of a domestic abuse case would be a physically imposing man that controls or manipulates a woman through violence or threats of violence. However, anyone can be a domestic abuser or victim, regardless of demographics.
Domestic violence between couples is one form of domestic abuse called intimate partner violence. But Domestic abuse can also involve children, older adults, and other people within a household or family relationship. Domestic violence can also involve stalking and harassment outside of home relationships, especially after a breakup or divorce.
Domestic abuse is the easiest to identify when there is a physical component. If someone close to you is inflicting bodily harm with or without a weapon, that’s physical domestic violence. Threats of violence or throwing objects at or near you to intimidate you is also physical. Even in physical violence cases, victims may be reluctant to escape or report their abuser because they feel they are to blame or that they provoked it in some way. Coercion, extortion, and manipulation are often used by abusers to keep victims under control.
Yes, it’s possible for abuse never to become physical but still qualify as harmful domestic abuse. Emotional abuse can involve insults, yelling, cheating, degrading, embarrassing, or surveilling you. Though this form of domestic abuse leaves no physical marks, it can damage you psychologically and emotionally, especially if it occurs over a long period of time. Psychological abuse can take a toll on your physical or mental health, leading to insomnia, depression, and thoughts of suicide.
Yes, domestic abuse is a risk factor for several mental health issues, including anxiety disorders. It can also contribute to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Domestic violence is often thought of as abuse between people in intimate relationships, but it also includes children and elders within a household. It’s so prevalent that it’s considered a national public health problem. Domestic violence is thought to affect 10 million people in the United States every year. Domestic violence can include economic, physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological forms of abuse. Children that experience domestic violence are more likely to be involved in domestic violence as adults.
Intimate partner violence can extend outside the home with stalking, sexual assault, and physical violence against former partners. It’s estimated that as many as one in four women and one in nine men are the victims of domestic violence.
Addiction is often in the background of many health and social problems. But how significant is the link between addiction and domestic violence? According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), substance use disorders occur in between 40 and 60 percent of incidents of intimate partner violence. Alcohol alone was found in 30 to 40 percent of male abusers and 27 to 34 percent of female abusers at the time of the event. Abusers often use alcohol or drugs when they commit violent acts. ASAM reports that a study found that physical violence was 11 times more likely on days of heavy drinking or drug use.
But the relationship doesn’t stop there.
Spousal abuse is a risk factor for developing a substance use disorder. That means addiction doesn’t just occur in abusers, but it can also occur in victims. Women who experience domestic violence have a higher risk of misusing drugs or alcohol. Victims of domestic violence often report being coerced to use drugs or alcohol by an abusive partner.
But abuse can also lead to substance misuse indirectly. Mental health issues are commonly associated with increased addiction risk. Anxiety, depression, and trauma all increase your risk of a substance use disorder. Violent attacks and serious injuries can lead to mental health problems, especially when they frequently occur over a long period of time. For instance, violence can cause post-traumatic stress, which can lead to using drugs or alcohol as a coping response. PTSD is often associated with high rates of addiction, and people with both disorders often have more complicated problems that make recovery more difficult.
The link between substance use disorders and co-occurring issues is a hotly debated topic, specifically over the question of which issue is the cause and which is the consequence. Addiction seems to accompany a variety of other problems, including mental health issues, socio-economic problems, and physical issues. For instance, as much as 50 percent of people that experience substance use disorders also experience some other mental health issues at some point in their lives. Addiction is a complex issue with a variety of causes and consequences that accompany it. It tends to affect multiple aspects of your life, including your health, relationships, and finances.
But what comes first, violence or substance misuse?
It’s a complicated question. Things like mental health issues and substance misuse often share similar genetic, environmental, and developmental risk factors. It’s possible that some of these factors can cause both a mental health issue and a substance use issue simultaneously. Still, according to ASAM, there’s evidence to suggest that substance misuse serves to facilitate violent tendencies. That means if addiction doesn’t cause violent behavior, it may make it more likely in someone who already has violent tendencies.
Substances like alcohol decrease your inhibitions. The restraining line between violent thoughts and actions may be blurred in someone who’s intoxicated. Addiction, in general, may cause people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. As an example, violent crimes are associated with alcohol and sedative drug misuse.
Substance use disorders often come with deeper underlying issues that can worsen substance use problems. Mental health issues, physical problems, social disorders, poverty, and many other factors can worsen or contribute to a substance use disorder. This can complicate treatment. If you try to treat the substance use disorder but ignore the deeper issues, it may slow down treatment progress or lead to a relapse.
Issues like a history of abuse or ongoing domestic violence are extremely significant in addiction treatment, and they likely need to be addressed for treatment to be successful. Domestic violence may also cause depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, and other problems that should be treated. In addiction treatment, you’ll sit down with a therapist and go through an assessment process. Collaborating with your therapist can help root out all the problems that may be related to domestic abuse. Then you can work to form a treatment plan that works through these problems.
Caetano, R. (2001). Alcohol-related intimate partner violence among white, black, and Hispanic couples in the United States. from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11496968/
Håkansson, A., & Jesionowska, V. (2018, January 15). Associations between substance use and type of crime in prisoners with substance use problems – a focus on violence and fatal violence. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5774467/
Huecker, M. (2020, October 15). Domestic Violence. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499891/
Flanagan, J., Korte, K., Killeen, T., & Back, S. (2016, August). Concurrent Treatment of Substance Use and PTSD. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4928573/
Soper, R. G., M.D. (2014). American Society of Addiction Medicine. from https://www.asam.org/Quality-Science/publications/magazine/read/article/2014/10/06/intimate-partner-violence-and-co-occurring-substance-abuse-addiction