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Domestic Violence and Alcohol

What is the connection between domestic violence and alcohol? The answer may not be what you think. While it is true that a high percentage of reported intimate personal violence incidents involved an offender who had been drinking prior to the abuse, it isn’t the alcohol that directly instigates the violence.

Domestic Violence and Alcohol Abuse

While there isn’t a clear list of every factor that leads to domestic abuse, there are some common elements that many abusers share, and there are familiar patterns of alcohol and drug use among victims as well.

Most domestic violence affects women at the hands of men. However, the reverse also occurs, and there is partner violence in homosexual relationships as well.

Factors Contributing to Intimate Personal Violence

The Abusers

There is no single cause of domestic violence and not everyone who commits acts of violence against an intimate partner will necessarily be included in any particular demographic or statistic. However, in reported incidents involving abuse against women, the perpetrators in most cases shared one or more risk factors or behaviors, including alcohol or drug use.

Family History

Many men who abuse their partners grew up in an environment of domestic abuse. Often, these men witnessed their fathers physically or verbally attack their mothers. In many instances, one or both parents also abused alcohol or drugs.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Abuse of drugs and alcohol is a common element of domestic violence. Alcohol doesn’t cause violent behavior but can lower inhibitions, and drinking can exacerbate the violence.

In 55% of documented cases, women report that their abuser had been consuming alcohol before an incident of violence. People who drink do not necessarily have a propensity for violence and many abusers don’t drink. However, alcohol is often involved in occurrences of domestic violence.

Uneducated or Undereducated

While domestic violence can be found in any relationship regardless of the educational level of either or both partners, there are some notable statistics regarding partner abuse and education.

Uneducated or undereducated men are more likely to abuse their partners than men with higher levels of education. This is likely tied to poor prospects of employment and poverty; these factors go hand-in-hand. Violence can be related to low self-esteem. Some psychologists also suggest that the lack of communication skills due to poor education contributes to partner abuse.

Frustration and a sense of powerlessness over one’s circumstances are often cited by perpetrators as motivating factors for partner violence. Having few opportunities and little power in other aspects of life, and especially if violence is a learned pattern, abusers may lash out at an intimate partner to gain dominance and a sense of authority.

There is one other factor regarding education in an abusive relationship that bears note: Discrepancy in education matters as well. If a woman has more education, a better job, or makes a higher income than her male partner, she is more likely to be the victim of violence at his hands, particularly if he is dissatisfied with his own education, work, or salary.

Unemployed or Underemployed

Poor employment prospects or low wages can also contribute to intimate partner violence. In much the same way as being undereducated, having an undesirable job can be demoralizing. Men who have no choice in their occupation and no sense of control at work have a higher likelihood of committing abuse against their partners.


Lack of education or gainful employment leads to poverty. Most poor people are not involved in abusive relationships. Domestic violence and drug abuse happen in wealthy homes too. However, poverty is a common thread in many reported cases.

When money is tight, it is more difficult for perpetrators to seek help for their abusive behavior or for victims to leave the relationship or the home. Patterns of abuse in this situation will continue to cycle, simply because they aren’t addressed and remain uninterrupted.

Domestic violence is much more likely to be treated if the family can financially afford to break the cycle with physical distance and professional counseling.

Social Attitudes

Throughout history, women have largely been treated as the property of men. It’s a fairly recent phenomenon that women can vote, earn an income, and own property. Women who are not financially dependent on men are far less likely to tolerate an abusive male partner.

Nonetheless, there are ingrained social attitudes in cultures the world over that disregard these advances in the legal rights and freedoms of women. There are many men who wish to continue holding sway over their intimate partners and resent any semblance of equality.

Domestic abuse includes physical violence, but it also encompasses psychological and financial abuse. It can be subtle or overt, but if a man holds the social attitude that a woman should submit to his will against her own, he may turn to some form of abuse to try and force her to cooperate. This happens on every rung of the social and economic ladder.

Mental Health

Violence is not a mental illness; it is a behavior. Abusing an intimate partner is an unhealthy response to feelings of inadequacy or frustration. A violent tendency can be complicated by substance abuse or a stress disorder, but it is not an illness in and of itself. It is a pattern that results from many elements of an individual’s experience, and it is a pattern that can be improved or even eradicated with treatment.

Intimate Personal Violence and Alcohol

The Abused

Victims in abusive relationships share some common life elements and histories as well.

Alcohol and Drug Use

Many victims of violence will turn to alcohol or other substances to cope with the stress and complex emotions stemming from the abuse. Alcohol and drugs can numb thoughts, memory, and feelings, creating a temporary refuge from guilt, anger, and helplessness.

Substance abuse in women is strongly tied to being the victim of violence. Up to 90% of women who abuse drugs or alcohol have been abused physically or sexually.

Alcohol abuse is common among victims of violence. Alcohol and drug use are unlikely to improve without also changing a violent situation; addiction will generally persist if the woman remains in an abusive relationship.

Mental Health

Victims of domestic violence commonly suffer from mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Alcohol or other drug abuse can complicate or intensify mental health disorders.

Women who’ve been victimized often feel shame, anger, or guilt. They may engage in denial or attempts to cover up the abuse. They may also develop eating disorders and other unhealthy or self-harming behaviors such as smoking or having unprotected sex.

PTSD, anxiety, and depression are serious issues that can affect the long-term mental health of victims of domestic violence.

Family History

Like the perpetrators, victims who are involved in abusive relationships were often raised in a home where domestic violence occurred. Children who witness abuse are more likely to be involved in an abusive situation as adults, both as abusers and as victims.

The violence witnessed within the family may be perceived by a child as a normal part of an intimate relationship, even if the child is not directly involved as a victim of physical or sexual abuse. Children learn gender roles and relationship dynamics from their parents.


The effects of poverty on the victims of abuse can be devastating. A lack of money can mean that a woman cannot escape an abusive situation, particularly when there are children involved. She may not seek treatment for injuries or be able to afford shelter away from her abuser.

At least one in four homeless families are without a place to live as a direct result of domestic violence and poverty.

Warning Signs of Domestic Violence and Alcohol Abuse

What do professionals look for when trying to discern if a person is suffering the effects of domestic violence or substance abuse?

There are obvious physical indications of substance use, such as frequent or unexplained absence from work or social situations. There are many more subtle indications as well.

  • Low self-esteem or self-denigration
  • Withdrawal from relationships or activities
  • Avoidance of conflict
  • Sudden change in personality
  • Symptoms of severe stress

If someone abruptly loses interest in activities they once enjoyed or seeks isolation from friends and family, it’s cause for concern and may indicate that the person is experiencing addiction and/or abuse. Coupled with any unexplained physical injuries or a noticeable increase in alcohol consumption, these behaviors likely indicate that there is a problem.

The only way to know definitively what someone is experiencing, however, is to ask. Open-ended questions will usually elicit more detailed information than leading questions or those phrased in expectation of a yes-or-no answer.

Any interview involving these personal issues should be private and should happen in a safe location without the domestic partner in the room. Many health care providers have a standard list of questions regarding domestic abuse as well as alcohol and drug use, although screenings don’t happen as often as they would in an ideal world.

Alcohol, Addiction, and Abuse

Substance use is entwined with intimate partner violence on both sides of the issue. Abusers often consume alcohol as a precursor to violence. Victims of domestic assault have a high incidence of addiction, often as a means of self-medicating for the trauma of abuse. Left unaddressed, the cycle will perpetuate, affecting the entire family, including the children.

Breaking the cycle of violence requires addressing the full picture, with all of the inherent complexities. When substance abuse and violence are present in the home, both problems must be treated in order to achieve a good prognosis.

Offenders are sometimes legally required to attend therapy addressing anger management and violence prevention, as well as alcohol rehabilitation. Victims generally are not compelled to seek therapy, but will benefit greatly by learning about domestic abuse and substance use disorder.

Attending group therapy sessions for survivors of violence is helpful too; having a support system is a critical element in preventing further abuse.

Changing Behavior of Violent Offenders

Domestic violence doesn’t happen because the abuser was drunk. It doesn’t happen because the violence was provoked or deserved, either. When you’re trying to help an abuser to change their behavior, remind them consistently that their actions are a choice, not an inevitability.

Validate their feelings of frustration or anger, but do not excuse the violent behavior or allow them to minimize it. Don’t accept excuses or permit them to shift the blame to the victim. Feeling angry is okay; hurting someone because you are angry is not.

Encourage the abuser to seek professional counseling for the violent behavior and treatment for substance abuse. Expect recovery to take time. Maintain your support. The behavior of the abuser is often rooted in childhood experiences and early life lessons. It takes a great deal of courage and strength for someone to address these patterns and change them.

Supporting Healthy Choices for Victims of Violence

The first step in supporting victims of intimate partner violence is to ensure their safety. If they are under threat in their home, alternative housing will be necessary. Shelters can be a great first step, as they are staffed with people who understand what the victim is going through and the dangers that may still persist.

If a restraining order has been issued, copies of it should be in the hands of everyone who might stand between the abuser and the victim and any children involved. This list includes colleagues at the victim’s place of work as well as teachers, principals, or other school or daycare personnel who have custody of the children during the day.

It’s important to understand that abusers commonly lash out when served with these orders. A heightened level of security for the victim and children may be necessary during this volatile time.

To successfully prevent further abuse, victims need a good support system. The network can be comprised of family and friends, church members, work colleagues, or fellow members of a domestic violence support group. Victims can’t overcome an abusive situation in isolation.

Listen to the victim and don’t assign blame for current circumstances. At the same time, accept no excuses for substance use or other avoidance strategies. The condition will not improve if the victim won’t face it; nor will it get better if you are critical of past choices.

Encourage the victim to take advantage of every means of help available, and to seek professional counseling and addiction treatment if at all possible. The best outcomes are the result of addressing the causes of substance use, which in the case of a victim of partner abuse includes facing the trauma of domestic violence.

Expect healing and recovery to take significant time. As with abusers, it is a complex and difficult battle for victims to overcome addiction and learn how to live a healthier and happier life. Relationship patterns are often lifelong; learning new ways to interact with intimate partners is challenging and often foreign to victims of abuse.

Treatment Phases for Domestic Violence and Alcohol Abuse

The first step is alcohol detoxification.


Treatment for addiction begins with getting sober. You can’t address the reasons that you abuse substances while you are still using them. Sobriety can be difficult to achieve and maintain, and will require time, patience, and consistent support.

If you are eliminating toxic substances from your system and you have been drinking heavily or using for a long period of time, detoxification can be dangerous. Your detox process should be monitored by an experienced health care professional, preferably around the clock. You may need medical support to safely rid your body of alcohol or other substances.

Once you are clean and sober, you will be able to begin addressing the reasons that you became dependent on alcohol or drugs.

Individual and Group Therapy

If you have been abusive with an intimate partner, you will start to understand the roots of your violent behavior and learn methods to overcome old patterns. Likewise, if you have been abused by a partner, you will learn how to recognize the subtle signs of abuse and avoid future incidence of violence in your life and personal relationships.

Ideally, this stage of your recovery will involve both individual therapy and support groups with others who have similar histories and are also working toward a better future. Surrounding yourself with people who truly understand the complexities of addiction and the emotional impact of trauma and facing your past is one of the most effective means of breaking the cycle of substance abuse and violence.

Breaking the Cycle of Substance Abuse and Violence

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship or suffering from substance abuse disorder, take the first step in breaking the cycle. Explore your options for dealing with addiction and the disruption it causes in your life, as well as the violent behavior that so often goes hand in hand with substance abuse.

Call us today at 888-330-2532 to learn about our treatment programs for substance abuse disorder and some of the mental health issues that arise from alcohol abuse and intimate partner violence such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Recovery is the beginning of a better life.



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