The Connection Between Substance Abuse & Domestic Violence
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Identifying a Connection Between Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau, MSCP, LPCI, NCC

February 11, 2019

Certainly, not everyone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is abusive (whether physically, mentally, or both) towards his or her partner. Likewise, not every domestic violence abuser has an issue with substance abuse or misuse. However, statistics tell us that, far too often, the two do go hand in hand.

What Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence Statistics Tell Us

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, substance abuse occurs in conjunction with intimate partner violence anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of the time. Additionally, approximately 20 percent of abusive males admit to consuming some type of drug and/or alcoholic beverage before acting aggressively toward their partners. They also define “intimate partner violence” using Futures Without Violence’s description of “a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors that may include inflicted physical injury, psychological abuse, sexual assault, progressive social isolation, stalking, deprivation, intimidation, and threats.”

Furthermore, while an estimated 85 percent of domestic violence victims are female, with women having a five to eight times greater chance of being victimized than men, there is also a true and real concern about abuse in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) relationships. In fact, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one out of every two lesbians will experience some type of domestic violence in their lives and two out of five gay and bisexual men will as well—a rate which they point out “is comparable to the amount of domestic violence experienced by heterosexual women.”

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence reports statistics relating to domestic violence and substance abuse that are just as grim. For instance, they indicate that some studies have found that as many as 50 percent of men in batterer intervention programs have some type of substance addiction. Moreover, violence on their part is eight to eleven times more likely on days in which they’ve consumed alcohol.

Substance abuse doesn’t just affect the abuser, either. The National Resource Center goes on to explain that somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of all female victims have some sort of substance abuse issue themselves, with an additional 55 to 99 percent of substance-abusing women being victimized at least once in their lives. In this way, being abused can increase your risk of developing a substance addiction and developing a substance addiction can increase your risk of being abused.

This creates a perpetual cycle that can oftentimes be difficult to stop. Why are substance abuse and partner violence so interconnected?

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The Connection Between Substance Abuse and Partner Violence

When most people think about a relationship that involves substance abuse and partner violence both, it’s not uncommon for them to believe that it is the use of drugs and/or alcohol that leads to the violence toward a partner or significant other. However, some professionals warn that this isn’t the case.

For instance, Dr. Larry W. Bennett with the University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work is a well-known researcher in this field and he wrote a piece titled “Substance Abuse and Woman Abuse by Male Partners,” which was printed by VAWnet (the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women).

In this article, Dr. Bennett explains that alcohol can increase the severity of the abuse, but it does not cause the abuse due to what is customarily considered a loss of control over one’s temper. He explains that this is actually contradictory to what domestic violence is, as it is violence intended “to exert power and control over another; it does not represent a loss of control.”

That being said, Dr. Bennett does concede that a person under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both may misperceive or misinterpret a partner’s behaviors or actions, potentially increasing the likelihood of a violence-based response. He goes on to say that misuse of substances can also “increase the user’s sense of personal power and domination over others.” It is the exercising of this control that can turn abusive in nature.

Overall, Dr. Bennett concludes that, while there is a link between substance abuse and domestic violence, it is “not a direct link.” In other words, a person’s consumption of drugs and/or alcohol may increase the risk of violence, but it’s also important to realize that it’s not an excuse for abusive behavior. Additionally, it is just one of many other factors that can affect or agitate a person’s violent tendencies, some of which include growing up around violence, being taught that violence is acceptable, and wanting power or control.

The Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) for Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence agrees. It states that the connection between substance abuse and domestic violence include factors such as the abuser growing up in a home that had one or both issues present and the abuser having the belief that substance abuse contributes to more abusive and violent behavior, thus continuing to perpetuate that belief. This TIP goes on to indicate that over 50 percent of individuals accused of killing their spouses did so while under the influence of alcohol, further highlighting this strong connection.

Negative Consequences of Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

When it comes to domestic violence, there are many negative consequences to being in this type of relationship, a number of which are lesser known or not often considered. Futures Without Violence (FWV) brings up several of them:

Lower Quality of Health

Experiencing violence in a relationship increases the victim’s risk of stroke by 80 percent, heart disease by 70 percent, and asthma by 60 percent.

A Greater Likelihood of Developing a Substance Abuse Disorder

FWV says that they are “70 percent more likely to drink heavily” than those who have not experienced some type of intimate partner violence.

An Increase in Health and Productivity Costs

Higher costs associated with more necessary medical and mental care, in addition to missed work (costs that FWV estimates to be in the billions when considering the effect to society overall).

This is all in addition to the other negative consequences of domestic violence, such as living in fear, dealing with physical injuries that are a direct result of the violence, and the mental ramifications that can affect someone not only year after year, but over the course of a lifetime.

Substance abuse comes with its own significant costs as well. The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that the medical consequences alone of this type of addiction include facing major issues with organs like the heart, liver, and lungs. This in addition to suffering with weakened immune systems, which can take a huge toll if you’re battling a disease such as HIV, AIDS, and a form of cancer.

There are mental effects of substance abuse to consider too, says, such as depression, paranoia, and anxiety. And this doesn’t take into consideration the impact drug and alcohol abuse can have in other areas of a person’s life. It can likely negatively affect his or her relationships (with both family and friends) and the ability to retain a job. It sometimes even impact one’s freedom if the drug or alcohol abuse is illegal in nature or releases the person’s inhibitions enough to allow them to engage in criminal behavior, resulting in a jail or prison term.

Add these two together and it becomes clear that substance abuse and domestic violence can wreak havoc on a person’s life. But how do you know whether or not these two issues are impacting yours?

Potential Warning Signs of Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence in a Relationship

When you’re in a situation yourself, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether you’re headed down a rocky, if not outright deadly, road. However, there are some signs that could indicate that trouble lies ahead in the form of domestic violence.

Here are a number of warning signs to watch for, courtesy of the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

  • Your partner exhibits jealousy toward your friends, disliking any time that you spend without him or her, thus encouraging you to break your connections or distance yourself from those you normally hang out with.
  • Threatening to hurt or take away your kids because you are a “bad parent.”
  • Using some type of weapon to intimidate you.
  • Constantly telling you that you do things incorrectly, embarrassing you, or making you feel bad in front of others for your actions (or inactions).
  • Stopping you from working, going to school, or having any other outside activities that may bring you joy or enable you to advance yourself personally or professionally.
  • Hurting or killing your pets, or threatening to hurt or kill them.
  • Controlling your finances to the point where you can’t make any purchases or money-related decisions on your own—even if it’s only a couple dollars.
  • Damaging your personal items, especially those that mean something to you emotionally.
  • Not allowing you to make any sort of decision whatsoever, even simple decisions such as those related to eating and sleeping, without his or her input or approval.

A potentially abusive partner with a substance abuse problem may also push you to use drugs and alcohol too, start to abuse these types of substances themselves more frequently, or begin to experiment with new substances he or she has never before tried.

Other warning signs that a relationship may likely contain both issues include the other person consistently using drugs or alcohol to deal with life’s ups and downs, using these types of substances in a reckless manner (such as when driving or at their job), and them getting easily frustrated or upset if they don’t have access to their substance of choice. All of these can be indicators that domestic violence mixed with substance abuse is what lies ahead.

Risk Factors Associated with Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

In addition to there being warning signs of a relationship’s propensity toward being violent in conjunction with substance addiction, there are factors that can place you at higher risk of being either an abuser or a victim of abuse.

The American Psychological Association reports that, based on research, you are at greater risk of being a victim of partner-related violence if you are:

  • Young and/or Female
  • Not very well educated
  • Low income or living in a low-income area
  • Dependent on drugs or alcohol

On the other hand, some factors that put you at risk of becoming an abuser in the relationship include:

  • Being young
  • Having a low income and/or low achievement academically
  • Being depressed or angry, or having feelings of insecurity
  • Being physically or mentally abused yourself
  • Having limited friends
  • Believing in very clearly defined gender roles

Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence: Dual Treatment Exists

Treatment of substance abuse and domestic violence on their own can oftentimes be difficult, but add them together and finding a suitable and sustainable treatment program suddenly becomes tremendously more complex. That’s why it is so important to choose a dual-diagnosis treatment facility that is knowledgeable and experienced with both.

That’s what we want to do for you. The skilled and compassionate staff at is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you locate the best treatment center for you. One that can meet all of your needs, connecting you with the help you require based on your specific situation to create a happier, healthier, and more satisfying life.

American Psychological Association - Intimate Partner Violence

National Domestic Violence Hotline - What Is Domestic Violence?

National Library of Medicine, NIH - Health Consequences of Drug Misuse

Futures Without Violence - Key Statistics

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence - Substance Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence

American Society of Addiction Medicine - Intimate Partner Violence and Co-Occurring Substance Abuse/Addiction

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