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Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

Having an alcoholic father, I have witnessed his drunkenness and how it fueled his rages and meanness. I have found that substance abuse also made him bolder and blunt, showing a side that you did not see as easily when he was not drunk. Substance abuse can ratchet up abuse and violence. It alone can’t be blamed, but it can make matters worse (Angela Cain, personal communication, 2016).

Angela’s experience rings true to many who experience violence directly or witness it at home. While it may seem that substance abuse motivates domestic violence, it is clear that it is not a causal relationship, but rather a correlative one. Substance abuse removes inhibitions and allows those who abuse to act violently without reservation. The relationship between substance abuse and battering is strongest for those men who already think domestic violence is appropriate in certain situations (Bennett & Bland, 2008). Research shows that substance abuse does not cause someone to be violent, but unleashes violent tendencies.

Even though substance abuse does not cause violence, the correlation between the two is apparent. Just as there is a significant correlation between those who perpetrate domestic violence and substance abuse, there is a similar connection between those who experience violence and abuse substances. For some, illegal drugs or heavy alcohol use is encouraged by an abusive partner as a method of control, leaving the person being victimized dependent on an abuser to access these substances. Jenni White, Vice President of Mission Impact for Coburn Place, a service provider for domestic violence victims in Indianapolis says:

Unfortunately, substance abuse is often linked to domestic violence as another form of power and control — getting someone hooked on a substance, then withholding it unless they do XYZ, for example. The person hooked is then dependent on the substance and the person with the substance, using it to manipulate them into doing whatever they want (Jenni White, personal communication, 2016).

Subsequently, those who experience violence are also at greater risk for substance abuse after leaving an abusive relationship as a coping mechanism to deal with trauma. “Victims of IPV [intimate partner violence] are 70 percent more likely to drink alcohol heavily than the non-experienced IPV cohort” (Soper, 2014).

As the community addresses domestic violence, it must also be understood in the context of substance abuse. As part of Intersections, DVN will bring together domestic violence advocates, service providers, and experts in substance abuse. Much of this group’s focus will center around substance abuse as a tool of control, the role of substance abuse in violent relationships, and prevention work on these issues.

By bringing together service providers, experts in a variety of fields, and the community, DVN will facilitate discussions and action plans on the following topics:

  • Chemical dependency as a tool of abuse
  • Self-Medication associated with domestic violence
  • The role of alcohol and domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Advocating for those with substance abuse issues
  • Risk factors for substance abuse