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Chronic drug and alcohol abuse can cause an array of problem behaviors at work, home, school, and even in relationships. It can also lead to dramatic physical changes and even severe mental health problems. However, one of the most overlooked risks surrounding long-term drug and alcohol use is the angry and irrational behavior it causes.
"Chronic drug and alcohol use can cause an array of problem behaviors at work, home, school, and even in relationships." Interpersonal violence is often associated with substance abuse, and occurs when one person uses power and control over another person through coercive behavior or physical, sexual, or emotional threats. While substance abuse does not always result in interpersonal violence, the statistical connection between the two issues is rather overwhelming.
Even though you may not be the person abusing substances, you can still be a victim of alcohol or drug-induced anger and aggression. Physical abuse is more likely to occur within intimate partner relationships where one partner has a problem with alcohol or other drugs. In some instances, abusers rely on drugs and/or alcohol as an excuse for becoming angry and violent, allowing the substance(s) to justify his or her abusive behavior. And, not only do the batterers tend to regularly abuse drugs and/or alcohol, but often times the victims of abuse will also end up abusing alcohol and drugs. There are a number of reasons for this:
- They begin using alcohol and drugs to cope with the physical and emotional pain of domestic violence.
- Consumption of alcohol and drugs may be encouraged or even forced by the partner or family member as a mechanism of intimidation and control.
- When people are victimized, they often feel shame, guilt, powerlessness, depression, and sexual dysfunction. All of these emotional triggers provide a foundation for the development of substance abuse.
- Victims may already have the disease of chemical dependency, and this may have preceded their victimization.
- Under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, victims may feel a sense of increased power, leading them to believe that they would be able to better defend themselves against physical assaults.
In other situations, people who are victimized might be afraid to leave a violent relationship because they have nowhere else to go; or they are reluctant to contact the police about their abuse for fear of their own arrest or referral to the Department of Children and Family Services.
Youth Substance Abuse and Violence
Drug and alcohol-related youth violence continues to be a significant problem in the United States. However, the National Youth Violence Prevention Center notes that drugs do not necessarily cause violence amongst teens. Instead, teens who exhibit antisocial and risk-taking behavior gravitate towards violence, substance abuse, and other risky or illegal behavior.
According to the Institute for Youth Development, it is estimated that more than 53% of teenagers will use drugs by the time they graduate, and approximately 32% will have done so as early as 8th grade. Studies have also found that violence and drug use are linked: individuals who engaged in violent behaviors were two to three times more likely to have binged on alcohol or used marijuana or other illicit drugs. And the risk for overt aggression and violent behavior stems from there: Research has shown that people who begin drinking before the age of 17 were found to be three to four times more likely to have been in an alcohol-induced fight at some point in their life compared to adults who started drinking at age 21.
Many adolescents continue to abuse alcohol and other substances and engage in violent behavior as they exit their teenage years. Every year on college campuses, more than 600,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. In fact, alcohol and drugs play a large role in abusive relationships amongst adolescents: more than 60 percent of sexual assaults involve alcohol and/or drugs. And, one in four adolescents will experience sexual or nonsexual abuse by the time they finish college or turn 21.
Abusive adolescent relationships follow some of the same patterns as those of older couples. However, the effects of violence on adolescent women may have different effects, including but not limited to:
- Eating disorders
- Abuse of alcohol and drugs
- Stress-related physical illnesses
- Depression and suicidal tendencies
- Increased isolation from friends
- Lack of concentration and lower grades in school
How to Get Help
The effects of drug abuse are quite serious, which is why so many people choose to seek help. Unfortunately, many violent individuals who abuse alcohol and/or drugs often deny that they have a problem. As a result, friends, family members, and significant others feel at a loss for helping the person.
While many families have resources for drug and alcohol prevention and treatment, there is no easy way to get an adult the help he or she may need. However, the following steps can help family and friends in the right direction:
- Make a conscious effort to stop rescuing the person when he or she gets into trouble. Sometimes, the person needs to accept the consequences of drinking and/or doing drugs in order to truly understand the severity of their situation.
- Have a serious conversation with the person when they are sober, but do so immediately after an incident has occurred so that the event or problem is fresh in their minds.
- Talk to an addiction counselor or treatment specialist for information about rehabilitation.
- Be readily prepared with information about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or other helpful community resources. And always be willing to accompany the person to an initial meeting for moral support, if necessary.
Treatment for alcohol or drug abuse or addiction is offered in a wide variety of inpatient and outpatient clinics. One major goal of treatment for addiction is to get the user to recognize and acknowledge how drugs and/or alcohol use is negatively impacting the user's life.