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SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE - A CORRELATION, BUT IS NOT THE MAIN CAUSE
Domestic violence and substance abuse are intimately linked and often occur simultaneously.
Studies from the American Psychological Association, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and countless other organizations reveal a distinct relationship between the two issues and show how they can co-occur. But regardless of which issue is present first, drug use and acts of violence only exacerbate each other’s effects.
The Nature of Domestic Violence
To understand the relationship between substance abuse and domestic violence, it’s imperative to study the root causes of this specific type of aggression. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as a willful intimidation, assault, battery or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control, perpetrated by one intimate partner (or family member) against another.
The key to understanding why domestic violence occurs and why it’s so closely followed or preceded by substance abuse is that domestic violence is part of a systematic pattern of dominance, or a need for control. A need to have control over another person’s behavior often stems from distorted thought processes and deep-seated psychological distress, whether the perpetrator realizes it or not. The use of alcohol or illicit or prescription drugs only makes neurotic thought patterns more intense and destructive.
There are several emotional dynamics that contribute to domestic violence. The most prevalent involves a destructive “critical inner voice” that perpetuates irrational thoughts such as “You’re not a man if you don’t hit her,” or “She is making fun of you. Who do they think they are?” Acting on the lies this voice tells can convince aggressors to attempt to control their partner (or loved one) by taking violent measures toward their seemingly “insubordinate” or “disrespectful” partner. This unhealthy, and often delusional, inner monologue can be seen in both male and female perpetrators of this kind of aggression.
Issues Intertwined: Drug Use and Domestic Violence
Substance abuse is a shared affliction between domestic violence perpetrators and victims.
According to the American Psychological Association, excessive drug or alcohol use increases the risk of being a victim of domestic violence — and of becoming an abuser. Heavy use of drugs or alcohol increases a person’s chances of becoming abusive, and the mental anguish of domestic violence causes many victims to turn to dangerous substances. Numerous studies affirm that substance use often plays a facilitative role in violent behavior, and always exacerbates preexisting patterns of abuse.
For victims of domestic violence, this weight of repeated abuse is an extremely heavy burden. To ease the strain, many people turn to substances for relief. And in some cases, women in abusive relationships are coerced (Editor's note: review and explore the substance abuse connection in the government fact sheet, below) into using drugs or alcohol by their partners. Victims can experience panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a host of other mental ailments as a result of domestic violence.
The percentage of individuals who consider their mental health to be poor is almost three times higher among individuals with a history of domestic violence than those in healthy relationships. As a result, intimate partner victimization is often correlated with an alarmingly high rate of depression and suicidal behavior.
Facing the Facts: Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence
Examining the research on when and how these issues occur can shed light on their correlation, and further discourage the use of dangerous substances.