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How Addiction and Mental Health Factor Into Domestic Violence

How Addiction and Mental Health Factor Into Domestic Violence | Turning Point of Tampa

An Unseen Epidemic

Common rhetoric about “stranger danger” obscures the fact that we are much more likely to face violence or death at the hands of someone we know than a stranger. Between 2005 and 2010, 6 out of 10 violent injuries were inflicted by a loved one or acquaintance, and 60% of those attacks occurred in the home. In 2011, almost 80 percent of murders were committed by someone known to the deceased-and these trends show no signs of stopping. The old adage “better the devil you know” does not seem to apply in this case: on average, it is much more probable that you will be hurt or killed by someone close to you than by a stranger. That probability increases significantly more if your loved one (or yourself) suffers from a substance use disorder. As we leave October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, let’s take a moment to explore the links between domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health.

Addiction and Abuse Go Hand in Hand

A study by the Journal of Alcohol and Drugs found that among people seeking treatment for substance abuse, 50 percent of women and 72 percent of men reported having engaged in violent acts. Another study found that more than ¾ of individuals beginning treatment had engaged in acts like physical assault or use of a weapon to harm another. Clearly, addiction plays a role in increasing an individual’s propensity for violence. Sadly, those who suffer most are those who are closest to the addict. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has identified alcohol abuse as both a contributing factor for and a consequence of child abuse. Parents with a history of alcohol and other drug abuse have higher child abuse potential than parents without such history. Other studies have found that being abused as a child raises a woman’s likelihood of being arrested for alcohol and drug related offenses.

Intimate Partner Violence

While domestic violence refers to any kind of violence occurring between two people who share a household, people frequently use the term to describe violence between people in a romantic or sexual relationship. The CDC has found that during any given minute, an average of 20 people are being physically abused by a romantic partner. This type of abuse is more precisely referred to as intimate partner violence, and it is firmly linked with substance abuse. Drinking and cocaine abuse have been found to be correlated strongly with aggression between two people in an intimate relationship. And this correlation goes both ways, affecting both perpetrators and victims. Women who have suffered from intimate partner violence are 15 times more likely to develop alcohol use disorder and 9 times more likely to abuse drugs. Heavy drug and alcohol use makes an incident of domestic violence 11 times more likely for both victims and abusers.

Why Addicts Lash Out

Victims may drink or use drugs to cope with the feelings of despair and worthlessness that accompany abuse. Abusers may have some of the same feelings, and may drink or use more to rid themselves of the guilt of hurting someone close to them. But the links between their abuse of substances and their abuse of others can be explained in other ways as well. Drinking to excess or using intoxicating psychotropic drugs lowers a person’s inhibitions, leading them to lash out in ways that they may not while sober. Additionally, the stress of going through withdrawal can make heavy users extremely irritable and angry, meaning an addict might be violent even when they are not intoxicated. Another hypothesis is that alcohol abuse interferes with a family’s communication, leading to misinterpreted cues, impaired ability to evaluate threats, and underestimation of the potential consequences. Still another theory is that perpetrators are able to attribute their violent acts to their impairment from substances in order to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

Domestic Violence is Linked with Mental Illness

As with addiction, mental illness affects victims of domestic violence at elevated rates when compared with the general population. Between 60 and 90 percent of female victims of domestic abuse have significant mental health issues, while 81 percent of women who have been treated for psychiatric disorders reported histories of abuse. The experience of living in fear of one’s loved ones, and of associating the home (a place most people feel safe) with pain, has long-term effects on a person’s self-image and ability to relax. Many individuals who have faced domestic violence later develop post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorders, rendering them incapable of feeling calm even when their abuser is no longer in the picture. Mental health treatment can help these individuals find peace and adjust to life without the constant threat of violence.

A Troubling Trend Emerges During COVID-19

One effect of the COVID-19 pandemic that many may not have anticipated is an increase in cases of domestic violence. Well-intentioned measures to keep the public safe, like stay-at-home orders, have led to more friction between members of households, who may have less contact with one another during normal times. Researchers note that the pandemic has also increased drug and alcohol consumption and exposed individuals to the habits of their intimate partners. The stress of layoffs and reduced wages has also played a part. As the pandemic gradually abates, it’s important that we attend to the unexpected ways that it has impacted families and individuals, and seek out ways to help the millions of women, men, and children who face violence in their homes.

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-733-5931866-782-1417 or

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