Drugs, Alcohol, and Their Role in Domestic Violence

We’ve long known about the link between domestic abuse and substance use. But is addiction ever an excuse for violence?

Addiction and Abusers

Multiple studies show that there is a link between drug and alcohol abuse and domestic abuse. But experts don’t believe that substance use or addiction is to blame for domestic abuse.

There are plenty of addicts who do not abuse their partners. And there are abusers who don’t use drugs or alcohol. The problem seems to come when those two spheres overlap. When perpetrators – who are already violent, manipulative, or otherwise abusive – take substances that numb their inhibitions, it’s a recipe for disaster. Drugs and alcohol magnify the abusive behaviors, sometimes leading to serious or even life-threatening circumstances.

Once sober, many addicts will blame the abuse on the drugs or alcohol.

“It was the booze that made me mean.”

“The drugs make me violent.”

“I would never have hit you if it weren’t for the whiskey.”

Here’s what you need to hear: There is no excuse for domestic abuse. Ever. 

Abusers might blame their abusive behaviors on drugs and alcohol, but addiction and abuse studies say these are two separate issues. While domestic abuse is made worse by substance use, one does not necessarily cause the other. Those who are controlling, violent, or otherwise abusive are that way with or without drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse merely puts a spotlight on these behaviors.

If you’re the victim of abuse, it is never your job to “fix” your abuser. Get out, get safe, and let them do the hard work themselves.

Addiction and Victims

Domestic abuse is traumatic for victims. Whether the abuse happened once or was ongoing for several years, there are long-lasting consequences. Learning to cope with the trauma can be difficult. Unfortunately, some survivors turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to lessen the physical, emotional, and mental pain they experience.

Female victims of domestic violence are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol and nine times more likely to abuse drugs than those without a history of domestic abuse. For those still living with an abuser, substance use can escalate into further arguments and violence. It’s a compounding issue that often requires professional intervention.

Getting out of the abusive environment and finding safety is the first step. Learning healthy coping skills – without relying on drugs or alcohol – is the next.

Getting Help

It’s hard enough experiencing domestic abuse. But it’s even more difficult living with an abuser who is also an addict. While addiction and abuse sometimes go hand in hand, they are two separate issues – but they’re issues that you, as the abused, cannot fix. Only the abuser can decide to tackle addiction and abusive behaviors. You cannot make them change, nor can you save them.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, tell someone. Talk to a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker: anyone who can help you make a plan to get out safely. You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at TheHotline.org or 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Read more about ways to safely report domestic violence here.

For help addressing your own drug or alcohol abuse, contact your healthcare professional, local rehab center, or local addiction recovery group. There is no shame in asking for help.


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