Domestic violence and addiction very often have a close and toxic relationship that can have lasting negative effects on everyone involved in the dynamic, including the victims, the abusers, and witnesses. Drug and alcohol abuse in the household drastically increases the possibility of domestic abuse issues. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reports that substance abuse occurs in between 40 to 60 percent of all issues of intimate partner violence, and the domestic abuse victims advocacy organization Futures without Violence reports that 15.5 million children in the US live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year.
The Link Between Addiction and Domestic Violence
Domestic violence doesn’t just mean physical aggression, nor is it confined to romantic partners. The United States Justice Department stresses that domestic violence can also cover emotional abuse and spousal rape. The agency also stresses that the legal and moral definition of domestic violence covers children as well. Very often, there’s more to co-occurring domestic abuse and addiction than the obvious changes in temperament and psychological state brought on by neurobiological changes associated with substance use. While drug and alcohol use does in fact create serious and profound changes in the brain’s chemistry that often leads to erratic and violent changes in behavior and co-occurring mental health issues such trauma, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Victims and witnesses of domestic violence are at high risk for a distinct set of physical and emotional health issues; however, many of these issues overlap and include but are not limited to:
- Anxiety disorder.
- Substance use.
- Fear of intimacy.
- Inability to trust.
Many childhood victims of domestic abuse wind up becoming abusers themselves. Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that domestic violence victims are:
- Two to six times more likely to develop substance use disorder (SUD).
- Three times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression and inflict self-injury or harm.
- Four times more likely to attempt suicide.
Between a quarter and two thirds of women seeking help for intimate partner violence report substance use issues.
The considerable majority of intimate-partner violence victims are women; thus, women are at much higher risk for domestic violence-related SUD than men.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that:
- One in four women have experienced physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, compared to one in seven men.
- 52 percent of women experience PTSD symptoms related to domestic violence compared to 17 percent of men.
- Nearly 23 million women and 1.7 million men have been the victims of rape or attempted rape at one point in their lives.
Substance abuse is not solely an issue for the assailant in a domestic violence dynamic. Very often, victims and even witnesses turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the trauma they’ve experienced. Research from the University of Texas indicates that teenagers who experienced domestic violence and other trauma during their childhood grow up with problems in specific areas of their brains, specifically the regions of the brain that connect emotions to thoughts and that regulate behavior. These effects can be compounded by other parental fallout associated with substance abuse, such as neglect or long periods of abandonment.
Treating Co-Occurring Addiction and Domestic Violence–Related Mental Health Issues
The relationship between SUD and domestic violence manifests itself differently in aggressors, victims, and witness. While detox and withdrawal management to address the immediate medical issues associated with addiction must be deployed for all SUD victims, subsequent behavioral rehab can vary greatly depending on each patient’s position in the dynamic (whether victim, aggressor, or witness).
- Victims – If it is identified that the patient’s SUD is the result of domestic violence, both conditions must be treated simultaneously. This can include trauma-informed therapies, occupational modalities for anxiety, and in-depth group and individual counseling.
- Aggressors – Treatment for aggressors should consist of therapeutic modalities that explore the cause of anger and their violent tendencies and behavioral coping mechanisms they can utilize to avoid violent outbursts.
- Witnesses – SUD treatment for those who have been the witnesses of domestic violence within the home should include exploration through therapy of the role their violent and abusive environment played in their drug and alcohol use, as well as their ability to process their dysfunctional past without reliving it or adopting similar behaviors.
The individual symptoms that arise of from sustaining and witnessing domestic violence may be able to treated with certain types of medications and ongoing psychiatric counseling. If you or a loved one have been the victim, aggressor, or witness to domestic violence and have developed drug or alcohol addiction as a result, you don’t have to suffer alone. Get the help you need to break the cycle of trauma and substance abuse that has consumed your life.
Meta – The combination of domestic violence and addiction is toxic and traumatic, but it doesn’t have to destroy your life. There is help out there to address this life-altering series of events.
- asam.org – intimate Partner Violence and Co-Occurring Substance Abuse/Addiction
- justice.gov – DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
- samhsa.gov – Complex Connections: Intimate Partner Violence and Women’s Substance Abuse and Recovery
- cdc.gov – Violence Prevention – NISVS Infographic
- healthland.time.com – How Childhood Trauma May Make the Brain Vulnerable to Addiction, Depression