Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence


According to numerous alcoholism research studies, there is a correlation between alcohol abuse and domestic violence.

Many studies show a strong relationship between alcohol abuse and domestic violence. That is, research has demonstrated a high rate of alcohol abuse among men who batter their female partners.

Due to the fact, however, that this correlation evidence does not support a cause-and-effect relationship between the two problems, it is questionable whether a causal link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence exists.

In short, the relatively high occurrence of alcohol abuse by men who batter women, though correlated, must be seen as the overlap of two separate but frequently occurring social problems.

Battering is a socially learned behavior that is not necessarily the result of mental illness or substance abuse.

Men who batter women often use excessive drinking as an excuse for their violence. That is, they try to shirk personal responsibility for the problem by blaming physical violence on the effects of alcohol.


Male Alcoholics and the Predisposition For Physical Violence

It is important to note that many male alcoholics do not batter their female partners and many men who beat their female partners do not drink excessively.

Some men with alcohol problems batter their female partners when they are drunk while others beat their female partners when they are sober.

Men who have a predisposition for physical violence toward their female partners and who drink alcohol are more likely to be violent on the days they drink alcohol.

This study was undertaken by the University of Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) and reported in the February 2003 issue of the American Psychological Association's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

It is important to note that the participants in this study were men who had exhibited domestic violence and who had entered outpatient treatment for alcoholism or for battering their partner.

It is not clear, however, how these results would generalize to the general population. In fact, according to research, heavy alcoholic drinking by men in the general population does not necessarily lead to domestic violence.

Similarities Between Alcoholism and Battering

Alcoholism and battering, however, do share some similarities, including the following:

  • Both may be centered around control and power.

  • Both can be transmitted from generation to generation.

  • Both involve denial or the attempt to down play the problem.

  • Both can involve the isolation of the family, the perpetrator, or the victim.

  • A battering incident that is coupled with alcohol abuse may be more severe and result in greater injury.

  • Alcoholism treatment does not "cure" battering behavior; both problems must be addressed separately.

Alcohol abuse and violence in a relationship can exist before a couple gets married. Indeed, alcohol abuse and physical or verbal abuse often develop before a relationship begins.

In abusive relationships where alcohol abuse also exists, the key issue frequently is the need of one partner to exercise power and control over the other.

This need to control the partner, however, is also found in abusive relationships in which there is no alcohol abuse.

A woman's substance abuse problems do not necessarily relate to the cause of her physical abuse, although some women may resort to alcohol and other drugs in response to the physical abuse.

Interestingly, men who abuse their partners at home do not typically get into fights outside the home. Abusive men who need power and control usually abuse individuals that are seen as weaker, more submissive, or more vulnerable.

Not surprisingly, the target of abusive men frequently is their female partner or their child. Men who experience relationship problems often engage in drinking excessive alcohol in an attempt to maintain control.

Ironically, alcohol abuse has the reverse effect: The more the man drinks, the more he loses control.

It appears that many if not most people see women on the receiving end of physical abuse due to the alcohol abuse of their husbands.

There is another viewpoint: that women who are battered resort to alcohol and eventually abuse alcohol as a response to the physical battering. That is, women who become a victim of battering are at risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs as an attempt to cope with their pain and shame.

Women of all ages can become victims of sexual, economic, physical, and emotional abuse. Some abusive male partners force women to take drugs or to drink alcohol under the threat of further physical violence if the women refuse.

Some women do not understand that alcohol and drugs put them at risk for physical, sexual, or psychological abuse.

Domestic Violence and Alcohol Abuse in Women

Women who have experienced domestic violence and alcohol abuse have reported the following:

  • Repeated episodes of substance abuse or returning to a relationship involving battering before making lasting change.

  • Isolation, guilt, and shame.

  • Behaviors and actions that others describe as dysfunctional or weird.

  • Experiences of trauma.

  • Initial denial or rejection of the problem.

  • Loss of personal support systems.

  • Fear of losing their children as a consequence of her problem.

  • Low self esteem.

  • A belief or conviction that the problem will simply disappear or go away.

  • Diminished logical decision-making capabilities.

  • Involvement in the criminal justice system, either as an offender or as a victim.

  • A propensity to seek professional help only when facing a crisis.

Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships

Women stay in abusive relationships for numerous reasons, including the following:

  • She might be fearful of what he may do to her, to their children, or to their animals if she leaves.

  • She might be pregnant.

  • She may not have experienced another relationship, so she might think abuse is normal for all relationships.

  • She might feel pressured to stay in the marital relationship because of her family or religious beliefs.

  • She believes that she is at fault for the abuse.

  • She loves the abuser and believes that he will change.

  • She might have a substance abuse problem and ironically, her partner may be her drug supplier.

  • She might believe that his jealousy and abuse are indications of his love for her.

  • She might not have a place to stay if she leaves.

  • She might be afraid to tell her family, especially her parents, because they might make her break up with him.

  • She feels guilt, shame, or embarrassment about the abuse.

  • She is unaware of the community resources that are available for getting help.

  • She might not have the financial resources to support herself or her children without him.

Alcohol-Related Violence Statistics

The following represents some the statistical findings of alcohol-related violence:

  • A national survey of female college students found that 15 percent of them had been raped at some time since the age of 14. In 53% of these cases, the victim was drinking and in 64% of these cases, the offender was drinking.

  • A woman involved in alcohol abuse is at risk for becoming the victim of sexual assault due to the fact that many perpetrators see a woman's drinking as sexual consent.

  • Drinking by both victims and offenders has been correlated with assaults taking place in unplanned social situations such as at wedding receptions or bars in which the victim did not know the offender before the assault.

  • Abused women of all races report less support from their partners, more substance abuse, higher levels of stress, lower self-esteem, and less support from others than women who are not abused.

  • Men who abuse alcohol and who commit sexual assault frequently commit more severe sexual assaults than men who do not drink excessively but who commit sexual assault.

  • Continued alcohol abuse is one of the major risk factors for violence in intimate relationships.

  • The correlation between the battering of women and alcohol abuse is the highest for men who believe that male control and power over women are acceptable in certain situations.

Alcohol and Abusive Men

The following represents the relationship between abusive men and alcohol abuse.

  • Alcohol abuse in men increases the chance of partner abuse eightfold. It also doubles the risk that they will kill or attempt to kill their female partners.

  • Among men who batter their partners and who abuse drugs, a third of the violence happens when the men are sober.

  • Being physically abused as a child is a risk factor for substance abuse as an adult.

  • Alcohol or drug abuse remains a major risk factor for men who become violent.

  • Men who have been a victim of violence or who have seen violence in the home may imitate the violence they have seen or experienced.

  • Men tend who resort to violence when they are frustrated or angry may not have learned the nonviolent ways of expressing these emotions.

  • Approximately 46% of men who commit acts of violence with their partners also have substance abuse problems.

  • Not all men who are dependent on drugs or alcohol resort to violence. In a similar manner, not all violent men abuse drugs or alcohol.

  • Men living with women who have alcohol abuse problems often try to justify their violence as a way to control their female partners when they are drunk.


Conclusion: Abuse of Alcohol and Domestic Violence

Numerous research studies show a strong relationship between the abuse of alcohol and domestic violence. Since this correlation evidence does not support a cause-and-effect relationship between the two problems, however, it is questionable whether a causal link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence exists.

In a word, the relatively high occurrence of alcohol abuse by men who batter women, though correlated, must be seen as the overlap of two separate but frequently occurring social problems.