One of the less talked about issues that coincide with substance abuse is domestic violence. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that substance abuse occurs together with domestic violence 40-60% of the time. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), the 2020 statistics exhibited the following:
- On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
- 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.
- Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.
- Victims of domestic violence are also at higher risk for developing addictions to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
Despite these statistics being public knowledge and campaigns such as the #METOO movement encouraging victims to speak out, domestic violence is still highly stigmatized.
A Volatile Combination
As domestic violence, on its own, is a harmful and societal issue that demands urgency, the situation can worsen if and when substance abuse comes into play. Using drugs and alcohol can further exacerbate domestic violence, and vice versa. As research on both problems and their effects on our society as a whole continues to progress, we learn about the psychological effects turbulent environments can have on us and those in our life. To put it simply, the ways in which we react to stress and anxiety, for example, can alter how we act toward those around us.
Drugs and alcohol can increase a person’s irritability in many ways. For those who drink alcohol, it can increase volatility and aggression and simultaneously lower inhibitions. A person who is sober may never lift a hand to anyone, but with the false confidence alcohol can sometimes bring on, they may become violent and resort to physical aggression when they are angered, confronted, confused, threatened, etc. Different substances have different effects on people, but cocaine and alcohol are notable in terms of their reactive psychological effects.
Domestic violence can present itself in many different ways. Some of the most common forms of abuse include:
- Beating, punching, kicking
- Sexual assault/rape
- Denying medical care
- Physically restraining
- Preventing partner from going out in public
- Verbal abuse
- Inciting fear through intimidation
- Mind games
- Isolation from family and friends
- Dictating what they can wear
- Controlling of finances
- Embarrassment/humiliation (such as name-calling)
An abusive partner can gaslight the abusee into thinking they are being disloyal by questioning their fear or minimizing the violence that is taking place. They may say the abusee are trying to control them or create more stress if by questioning them. Because active addiction can already make people feel very possessive and controlling, mixing it with feelings of distrust—imagined or real—or anything less than compliance, can lead to anger and possibly violence.
Why the Silence?
Intimate partner violence (IPV), when both abuse and substance use disorder is involved, is incredibly difficult to disentangle from. If both partners in a relationship are suffering from substance abuse, there is likely less chance that one will escape because of the codependency that forms. Much like the way a person becomes dependent on a substance, if a person has an addictive personality, they likely will feel they need their partner regardless of how well things are going. Codependency can easily masquerade as stability and a false sense of security for both parties, but in reality drains both of accountability, responsibility, and self-worth.
For people in an intimate relationship who are abused by their significant other, there are often certain aspects of the relationship that prevent them from reaching out for help, leaving the person, or informing the authorities. They may avoid doing so in an effort to keep some kind of peace, or because of loyalty they feel they have to the person. If they have children together, they may fear them being taken away if the violence in the home is reported. Oftentimes, victims may sympathize with their abuser. This can be due to the years of manipulating or mental conditioning that has taken place, leaving them unable to see the danger that is being exhibited. They may also know that what is going on, but be unable to act because they so fear the abuser. The thought of retaliation renders them silent and unable to act.
If both partners suffer from substance use disorder, they may enable the other and allow their substance use to perpetuate, and this can keep them from reaching out.
Some of the other hurdles a person can face with domestic violence include:
- Finances: If the abuser is the ‘breadwinner,’ they may use that as leverage and convince the victim they will be destitute, without a home, etc.
- Family ties: If a victim is the only one who sees the violence firsthand, they may not speak out for fear of not being believed. Sometimes people who abuse their partners are able to fool the rest of the world into thinking they are good and pure, which would make convincing any outsiders more difficult.
- Lack of resources: Feeling they have nowhere to turn to or anyone to talk to can be especially difficult for women in situations of domestic violence. If they primarily stay at home with children, for example, they may not have the opportunities they normally would.
- Reporting issues: If a person has spoken out and was not believed or was countered by the abuser, they may fear it will happen again, and the repercussions from doing so could be worse. The can also not be enough evidence to convict for police officers, so if a report is made with no finding, the victim’s life at home can worsen further.
- Impaired judgment: Should both parties be suffering from substance use disorder, the person is likely not thinking clearly about the situation. Their substance use may make them think they deserve the abuse, that it’s normal, or that it “isn’t that bad.”
Finally, a victim can also turn to substances as a way of coping with ongoing abuse or the trauma of past abuse. For this reason, they are at high risk for substance abuse, whether at the time it is happening or after the fact. If the person is already susceptible to codependence, they can easily become addicted to a substance they might find any comfort in.
Seeking Safety + Treatment
There is hope for those who suffer from domestic violence and/or substance abuse, and they do not have to become a statistic. If you are concerned for your safety in speaking out, consult the confidential National Domestic Violence Hotline first.
If you would like to explore the Dual Diagnosis options we offer at Green Mountain Treatment Center, we would be happy to discuss our programs with you. It is through our trained medical professionals and evidence-based treatment that we can begin to address the trauma and substance use in your life, and from there determine the course of rehabilitation for you. If discretion is needed it can be facilitated, as well as safe and private transportation.
Our staff is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to discuss your options and find the next right steps for you to begin your recovery journey. You do not have to live your life in fear of either a violent partner or substance. Please give us a call today to begin your healing journey.