Domestic Violence and Addictions

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I recently read a great article on that highlighted the link between domestic violence and substance abuse. To see the article, click here.

Some people believe that an abuser using drugs or alcohol causes domestic violence. This is not true. Taking drugs and alcohol does not cause someone to become abusive. Most substance abusers are not abusive toward their partners. Abuse has more to do with a sense of entitlement, and needing to have power and control over the partner.

However, a person who is already prone to using power and control with his* partner and who uses drugs and alcohol may be more violent more often than he would be without an addiction. Tweet This

When Abusers Use Drugs and Alcohol

Heavy substance use is a major risk factor for domestic violence. Abusing drugs or alcohol may exacerbate an abuser’s pre-existing violent tendencies. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, research has found that both victims and abusers are 11 times more likely to be involved in domestic violence incidents on days of heavy substance abuse, and that forty to sixty percent of domestic violence incidents involve substance abuse. More than one in five male abusers admitted to using substances before the most recent and extreme acts of violence.**

Abusers Often Use Substances to Gain Power and Control

Abusers often use drugs and alcohol to gain power and control over their victims. They might:

  • Introduce their partners to drugs and alcohol
  • Force their partners to carry, sell or buy drugs
  • Prostitute their partners in exchange for drugs or money
  • Prevent their partners from seeking substance abuse treatment.

Abusers may use drugs and alcohol to incapacitate their partner so they can perform sexual acts their partner would otherwise not agree to. These acts can include videotaping sex (to be used in blackmailing the victim later), having sex with multiple partners, and prostitution.

Abuse Victims May Use Drugs or Alcohol to Cope with the Emotional Toll of Their Abuse

Abuse victims often deal with stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation and physical pain. These victims may resort to abusing substances to self-medicate their pain, or to dissolve their traumatic memories. Because of the anxiety and depression associated with domestic violence, doctors will often prescribe tranquilizers, sedatives and painkillers to address their symptoms, which may lead to substance abuse. And, as stated above, abusers often force their victims to use drugs and alcohol to keep power and control over them.

Barriers to Victims Getting Treatment

Domestic violence and substance abuse often cause feelings of loneliness, shame, fear, anger, lack of control, confusion and denial, and self-blame. These combine to discourage victims from seeking treatment for their substance abuse.

Societal Stigma – Many people view substance abuse as a moral issue. They often express little sympathy toward domestic violence victims because they blame the victim for the abuse they have suffered. These people often look at the victim’s drug and alcohol consumption as the reason for the abuse.

Unreliable Memory – Because substance abuse often causes drowsiness and lethargy, victims may not remember events that led to a domestic violence incident. They may think their blurry memory will cause others to not believe them, so they don’t report the incident.

Fear of Repercussions – Abusers may threaten their victims if they seek treatment. Victims who have been forced to use illegal drugs or prostitution may fear legal trouble (arrest, deportation or loss of child custody).

Choosing Between Work and Treatment – Treatment hours often coincide with work hours, causing the victim to have to choose between their job and getting help for their addictions.

What If You Are a Victim of Domestic Violence, and Have an Addiction?

This will be just one more hurdle for you to jump over on your way to healing. Your addiction is not something to feel guilty about, but it is something to do something about. Be honest with yourself, and seek the help you need.

How Can a Victim Seek Substance Abuse Help?

For a domestic violence victim to benefit from substance abuse treatment, health service providers must be sensitive to the DV victim’s unique needs. Addressing the underlying causes of the addiction will prove more successful than addressing the substance abuse alone.

Searching for a specialized treatment program for domestic violence victims would be wise. Look for treatment that provides a safe and supportive environment and understands the link between domestic violence and substance abuse. Many domestic violence crisis centers have addiction programs, or a list of addiction programs they recommend.

If you are looking for a treatment center, you can begin your search by checking out or

Also, many who have substance abuse issues have had great results from joining support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or Celebrate Recovery. Meeting with others who have walked the same road you are on can be immensely healing.

Does God sit up in the sky and shake his head at you if you have an addiction? No. Psalm 86:15 says:

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Question: Did your abuser use drugs or alcohol, or force you to use them?

If you struggle with an addiction, I pray you will feel God’s compassion. I also pray you will seek help, so that your future will be better than your past.

May the Lord bless you all,



*Abusers can be male or female, and so can their victims.



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