Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

Written by Michelle Rosenker

Substance abuse and domestic violence are two extremely common issues that Americans experience today. For some, both substance abuse and domestic violence occur simultaneously, making for an even more stressful and destructive experience. 

Types of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is not just limited to getting hit or being called names. It is a much more complex issue that can present in several different ways. Consider the following types of domestic violence:

Physical abuse:

Physical abuse is arguably the most common form of domestic violence. This type of abuse occurs when one person incurs physical force from another person, including hitting, slapping, biting, punching, kicking, choking, stabbing, hair pulling. Forcing someone to use drugs or alcohol or withholding necessary health care is also considered physical abuse.

Sexual abuse:

Examples of this type of domestic violence include sexual harassment, unwanted touching, coercing someone to engage in sexual activity, making sexual contact without consent, rape (including marital), attacks on certain parts of the body, and forcing someone to have sex after being physically abused. Sexual abuse also includes forcing women to take contraceptives, which is commonly referred to as reproductive coercion. 

Psychological abuse:

While not physically harmful, psychological abuse is one of the most dangerous types of domestic violence. This type of abuse includes fear by intimidation, the threat of physical harm, controlling when a person can or cannot speak or interact with others, isolation from friends, family, and loved ones, blackmail, and requiring an individual to seek permission in order to do or even say certain things. 

Emotional abuse:

Emotional abuse occurs when one person attacks another person’s sense of self-worth. Someone who is emotionally abused often struggles with good self-esteem due to another person’s criticism, blatant dismissal of their feelings, attempts to destroy their relationships with others, name-calling and making negative remarks about physical appearance. 

Economical abuse:

Economical abuse happens when one person utilizes finances as a way of control over another person. This can include withholding money, keeping someone from getting a job, or only giving out a small amount of money to a person at a time as a means of controlling their behaviors. 

types of spousal abuse

Spousal Abuse

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), approximately 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. 

Spousal abuse typically refers to abuse that occurs between individuals who are married, dating, or living in the same residence. This type of abuse is usually cyclical, leading to extensive destruction, specifically in the life of the abused. Some common characteristics of spousal abuse include the following:

  • Physical abuse, including hitting, kicking, punching, smacking, shoving
  • Degrading language 
  • Intimidation tactics
  • Denying any sort of financial control

Unfortunately, spousal abuse is rarely reported. The victim usually fears what will happen to him or her if others are notified about the abuse. In many instances, the abuser will threaten the victim by saying that if they tell anyone about what is going on, he or she will continue to harm or even kill them. Men and women who find themselves trapped in a cycle of spousal abuse tend to remain with their spouses for extended periods of time because of this fear.

Sadly, the longer that an abuse victim remains with his or her abuser, the more physical and psychological damage he or she can incur.

Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence, or IPV, is defined by four behaviors:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual violence
  • Stalking
  • Psychological aggression

As previously described, physical abuse includes actions such as hitting, kicking, choking, biting, and slapping. Sexual abuse involves unwanted sexual acts, coercion to engage in sexual behavior, rape, sexual assault, and even sexting. What sets intimate partner violence apart from traditional domestic violence is the inclusion of stalking and psychological aggression. 

Stalking occurs when a person makes continuous unwanted contact with another person. This includes sending unwanted text messages, calling repeatedly, showing up at places where the victim is, and driving by the victim’s home on a regular basis. When someone is being stalked, he or she fears for his or her safety. 

Psychological aggression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is defined as “the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or to exert control over another person.” An example of psychological aggression would be verbally berating a person or attempting to intimidate them. 

The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) reports that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men have reported some form of IPV in their lifetime. That same survey states that 11 million of the 43 million women who experience IPV first experienced it before 18 years of age. For males, 5 million of the 38 million who have experienced IPV also encountered it before age 18.

Men and women who experience IPV are at risk of being severely physically harmed and even murdered. U.S. crime reports show that 1 in 6 homicides in the country come at the hands of an intimate partner. Additional risks and consequences of IPV include:

  • Nerve, muscle, joint, and bone damage caused by physical trauma
  • Psychological damage caused by head injury
  • Development of mental illnesses including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and depression
  • Development of substance use disorders 
  • Financial problems caused by legal bills, being unable to work full-time or at all, or having to start from the ground up as a result of being financially controlled by the abuser

Intimate partner violence is extremely distressing, disturbing, and dangerous. Anyone involved in a relationship where IPV is occurring is at risk for experiencing these and other effects.

intimate partner violence

Causes of Domestic Violence

Victims of domestic violence often feel as though they did something to either provoke or “deserve” being abused. Domestic violence, however, is not caused by provocation or “deserving” to be treated a certain way. It is also not caused by anger or loss of control, though it is a common misconception that both serve as the root causes of domestic violence. 

Someone who commits domestic violence is usually doing so as a means of gaining and asserting control. And his or her choices are deliberate. 

So, what causes domestic violence? 

Being a victim of abuse:

Not all individuals who are abused at some point in their lives go on to abuse others, but many do. In some instances, domestic violence is a learned behavior. 

Poor self-esteem:

Everyone has experienced bouts of poor self-esteem. But abusers often have a history of consistent poor self-esteem, sometimes dating back to childhood. Conversely, abuse victims tend to struggle with their self-esteem, too. They continue to engage in the violent relationship thinking they deserve this type of treatment or that their abuser will eventually change. 

Substance abuse:

Substance abuse in relationships can cause domestic violence in several ways. A user may decide to remain in an abusive relationship because their abuser is funding their addiction. Or, someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol might abuse his or her spouse, child, or loved one because of the mind-altering effects of the substances he or she is using.

Other causes associated with domestic violence include cultural beliefs, mental illness, poor education, and adverse childhood experiences. Again, domestic violence is not caused by anger or loss of control on behalf of the abuser. These characteristics are simply symptoms of a bigger, deeper problem.

Drug and Alcohol Dependency

Drugs and alcohol are common “characters” in many domestic violence situations. This is because both abusers and their victims are prone to abuse mind-altering substances to cope with the emotions they are experiencing. When either an abuser or a victim becomes dependent on drugs or alcohol, however, the situation becomes much more dangerous. 

Dependence occurs when a person continues to abuse drugs or alcohol in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms to develop. When someone is dependent on drugs or alcohol, their bodies are so accustomed to the presence of drugs and alcohol that they cannot function without them. What ends up happening is that these individuals have to keep using unless they want to develop painful symptoms of withdrawal.

Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence

Drug abuse and domestic violence are two issues that often go hand-in-hand. When someone is under the influence of drugs, he or she is not able to think rationally or fully control his or her behaviors. Due to lowered inhibitions, some people who abuse drugs become more likely to exhibit violent behaviors. One reason for this is that both drug abuse and domestic violence share a number of core symptoms, including:

  • Continuation of negative behavior despite the consequences it causes
  • A worsening of symptoms associated with both issues
  • Frequent loss of control (and attempts to gain it back)
  • Feelings of guilt and shame that perpetuate the continuation of the behaviors

Drug abuse is not only reserved for those who conduct violent behaviors linked to domestic violence. It is also a threat to victims of domestic violence, as it can be easy to begin abusing drugs to mask the pain experienced by this type of violence

Studies suggest that women who have been domestically abused are nine times more likely to abuse drugs than those who have not. Additional reasons for drug abuse in domestic violence victims include using to:

  • Self-medicate physical pain caused by an injury
  • Make the pain of being beat less intense by being under the influence
  • Help disconnect from reality when their victim is emotionally and psychologically abusing them 
  • Help induce sleep 
  • Help increase energy and focus throughout the day

A person is going to lean toward the abuse of specific drugs, depending on what effects he or she is looking to obtain. For example, someone who wants to sleep but struggles to might abuse a sleep aid like Ambien or a depressant like prescription oxycodone. Someone who needs to increase his or her energy might lean towards a prescription drug like Adderall or illicit drugs like cocaine or meth. 

Regardless of what substance is being abused, those who abuse drugs while experiencing domestic violence put themselves at greater risk for staying with their abuser, suffering side effects related to that abuse, and possibly being permanently injured or even killed.

Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence

Side Effects of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence does not come without risk for lasting effects. Victims of domestic violence experience physical, mental, and emotional effects that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Long-term physical complications caused by physical abuse, such as acute arthritis caused by torn muscles or broken bones
  • Long-term psychological complications resulting from emotional and psychological abuse, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or low self-esteem
  • Increased risk for substance abuse as a means of self-medicating the pain associated with domestic violence
  • Financial struggles for those who struggle to obtain or maintain a job due to physical or psychological complications
  • Strained relationships with loved ones 
  • Increased risk for becoming an abuser after witnessing domestic violence, specifically in children who grew up with domestic violence
  • Hospitalization as a result of a domestic violence incident
  • Abuse victims experiencing unhealthy sexual relationships in the future 
  • Suicidal ideations, behaviors, plans, and actions

Domestic Violence Recovery

Each victim of domestic violence has his or her own set of issues to sort through when the time comes to heal from the experience of domestic violence. There is no timeline on how quickly recovery occurs, rather, it is a process that each person can take his or her time getting through.

Because domestic violence is a form of trauma, the complications that have developed from this experience are treated as such. Therefore, individuals are encouraged to engage in the three stages of recovery:

  1. Safety and stabilization: It is extremely common for a victim of domestic violence to feel unsafe and unstable after leaving their abuser. For many, these feelings may last for years. However, during recovery, these individuals are supported in ways that promote their sense of safety so they can move forward in their recovery. 
  2. Remembrance and mourning: Individuals work with a trained professional to process the experiences they have endured by putting names to emotions, mourning the loss associated with domestic violence, and expressing grief in a safe place.
  3. Reconnection and integration: By this stage, individuals are beginning to view their experience less as “traumatic,” and are starting to develop a way to forge a new path forward.

Recovering from domestic violence can take a lifetime. However, with every step a person takes, the closer he or she gets to living a happy, healthy life free from this type of abuse.

Domestic Violence Rehab

The effects that domestic violence have on a person can cause them to require professional treatment. At most domestic violence rehabs, individuals receive the appropriate mental care so that the impacts of their experiences do not continue to negatively alter their lives.

In domestic violence rehab, individuals usually engage in some or all of the following evidence-based therapies:

  • Psychodrama
  • Group counseling
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Each individual has his or her own needs, meaning that no two people are going to have the exact same program outline. This personalized approach to rehab helps individuals address what is most important in their lives.

Trauma Therapy

Because domestic violence is inherently traumatic, victims tend to require trauma therapy when recovering from their experiences. Some of the most common trauma therapies include:

  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Exposure therapy 

When domestic violence victims also struggle with a substance use disorder, trauma therapy can help address those specific issues so that both concerns can be treated properly.

Do You Or A Loved One Need Help?

If you have a loved one who is in need of help with substance abuse issues or domestic violence, do not hesitate to reach out to us at JourneyPure. We can help you get your loved one the care that he or she needs. You are not alone.

So, call us today. We can help.

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