The links between alcohol and domestic violence are complex and not always well understood. While there is a lot of talk about alcohol and the effects of drinking too much alcohol on the body and mind, there’s less talk about its ties to domestic violence. Indeed, alcohol abuse and domestic violence do seem to be inextricably linked, and while alcohol use may not necessarily “cause” domestic violence, alcohol can be a factor in increased aggression.
With the enormous pressures on families locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic and incidences of substance abuse and mental health issues skyrocketing, understanding what percentage of alcohol abuse is domestic violence-related or the reverse is eye-opening. The truth is that both alcohol use—(particularly alcohol abuse, addiction, and alcoholism)—and domestic violence are often escalating situations posing risks and dangers to all involved.
Understanding Alcohol’s Influence on Self-Control/Aggression
Much is known through research about how alcohol influences an individual’s self-control and aggressive tendencies. The common perception that drinking loosens inhibitions is accurate, as alcohol is a sedative that dulls adherence to rules and helps mask shyness and insecurities, which may lead to the drinker doing and saying things they otherwise wouldn’t.
Binge or heavy drinking causes a serious erosion in self-control that in some people can manifest as aggressive actions at the least provocation. Cases of alcohol and sexual assault after excessive drinking, most notably college drinking and sexual assault, are not uncommon.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 10 million people each year suffer physical abuse at the hand of an intimate partner. Furthermore, domestic violence hotlines across the U.S. receive some 20,000 calls daily. The World Health Organization estimates that 55 percent of perpetrators of domestic violence drank alcohol before the assault. The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Domestic Violence Survey found that 48.4 and 48.8 percent of women and men, respectively, suffered psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Also, more than one woman in three in the U.S. has experienced physical violence, stalking, or rape by an intimate partner during their lifetime.
Domestic Violence Is Serious and Must be Addressed
Domestic violence occurs in many different forms. It does not always include physical abuse, at least not initially. Domestic violence includes:
- Physical abuse – including hitting, shoving, slapping, punching, kicking, forcing someone to have alcohol or drugs, physically restraining an individual, and aggravated assault (assault with a weapon).
- Emotional abuse – including threatening physical or sexual violence, displaying extreme jealousy, possessiveness, intimidation, degrading the other person’s comments and beliefs, or being disrespectful of them, preventing a partner from seeing friends or insisting on social isolation, blaming the other individual for their problems, and hiding or withholding forms of communication.
- Sexual abuse – including forced intercourse, sexual activity that follows an incident of physical abuse, sexual acts that are coerced, and threats of infidelity.
- Verbal abuse – including public humiliation, putdowns, yelling, name-calling, and criticizing another person’s beliefs, actions, and appearance.
- Economic abuse – including preventing someone from going to a job, taking away access to family finances, controlling behavior by withholding money, destroying personal property, or selling possessions and property without the other person’s consent.
Domestic Violence Fueled by Alcohol Abuse
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found high percentages of women who abused alcohol reporting histories of abuse: 88 percent reported physical abuse, 89 percent reported emotional abuse, and 76 percent reported sexual abuse. In the study, women said the abuse predominantly occurred during childhood (35, 33, and 20 percent, respectively).
With such traumatic histories of abuse and witnessing or being victimized by parents who may have been alcoholics or suffered from other forms of drug abuse, these women often found it difficult to break patterns of dysfunctional behavior and a tendency to seek out partners who were themselves drinkers or abusers. Thus, alcohol use and domestic violence may well play out in future generations, unless the cycle is stopped through intervention, treatment, perhaps legal recourse.
What are the Dangers Involved?
When one partner exerts coercive control over another and engages in repeated physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of that individual, numerous dangers exist, including unintended pregnancies, sexual diseases, HIV/AIDS, hospitalizations, even death. Children in the family who may witness parental drinking and domestic violence or intimate partner violence are likely to be themselves traumatized and may, according to research, go on to become abusers and heavy drinkers in adulthood.
For victims of domestic violence, turning to alcohol as a means of coping is cited across numerous studies. While ineffective and doing nothing to change the situation, alcohol use helps to mask, at least temporarily, some of the stresses, fears, and insecurities inherent in abusive relationships. Unfortunately, reliance on alcohol can lead to alcohol dependence and addiction, as well as worsening the family dynamic, endangering adults and children in this toxic atmosphere.
Suggestions for How to Remedy the Situation
If You are Committing Violence, Seek Help Immediately
The situation is not going to get better on its own. While you may profusely apologize following violent episodes and vow never to repeat such behavior, the fact is that domestic violence worsens over time without help. It takes a great deal of courage to face the truth and to be willing to get professional help to overcome behavior that falls under the category of domestic violence. If you drink and commit violence against loved ones and family members, you are destroying lives needlessly. Surely this isn’t something you want to do. Take steps to find help so you can overcome problems with alcohol and address any tendencies to be overly aggressive toward and threatening or controlling others you’re close to.
If You are Receiving or Near Someone Who May be Capable of DV, Seek Immediate Help
You don’t have to suffer alone or think it’s impossible to get out of the excessive control and power exerted over you by the perpetrator of domestic violence. This may be a spouse, partner, sibling, parent, adult child, or an extended family member living in the same house that is putting you in increasing danger, escalating threats, intimidation, stalking, harassment, usurping your freedom, and stepping up control over everything you do.
While seeking the advice and counsel of a psychiatrist, member of the clergy, a marriage counselor, or other helping professional is a good idea, many of these individuals are not trained to specifically deal with domestic violence. As such, while you can get advice from them, it’s probably to your benefit to contact the local domestic violence service provider or call or access the domestic violence hotline online. If a local hotline isn’t available, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.
It may be that you’re close to someone whom you suspect or know is a victim of domestic violence or see the trajectory of explosive outbursts and patterns of behavior associated with domestic violence and believe the partner or individual is capable of committing violence against your friend. They are in desperate need of help and could potentially be able to avoid serious harm if you offer to assist on a confidential and inconspicuous basis.
The best approach is to provide non-judgmental support while simultaneously encouraging that friend to seek professional help. Be willing to listen, be sympathetic, and point them to available community services. These include domestic violence advocates that are accessible through local domestic violence hotlines and crisis centers. If the friend decides to leave, have them get in touch with domestic violence shelters or the local domestic violence hotline, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. If the situation is currently violent, contact the police without delay. Time is critical for help to intervene when domestic violence erupts into a physical assault.
First Step for the Alcoholic: Seek Help
If there’s an alcoholic in the family, getting help for that individual should be a high priority. Yet the alcoholic will likely be resistant to seeking help and this may not be something family members can convince them to do. Still, self-protection for each member of the family is vitally important. You must do all you can to protect yourself, even if that means planning a safe exit from the home environment to escape repeated or potential domestic violence fueled by alcohol or other substance use, abuse, and addiction. Alcohol and domestic violence, once both reach a noticeable stage, demand action on the part of whoever can intervene.
Getting into an alcohol and drug rehab program, going into detox, and following up with counseling, therapies, and treatments tailored to meet the alcoholic’s needs is the most important next step. Finding a treatment center that can also address issues of domestic violence with appropriate treatments, counseling and therapies is also vitally important. For those who have had problems with alcohol and sexual assault, including the victims of such abuse, treatment, family therapy, couples counseling, women’s programs, and support groups can provide ongoing help.