Chronic drug and alcohol abuse may lead to diminished performance at work and school and impacts our ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. It can also contribute to a dramatic decline in mental and physical health. However, one of the most overlooked risks surrounding long-term drug and alcohol abuse lies in its potential to give rise to angry, irrational, and potentially violent behavior in some individuals who struggle with the issue.
What you need are understanding, answers, and options if violence is a result of alcohol or drug addiction. You may need guidance in sorting through the vast amount of alternatives so that you can make the best possible choices for your unique situation.
Interpersonal violence is often associated with substance abuse and occurs when one person uses power to control another person through coercive behavior or physical, sexual, or emotional threats.1 While substance abuse does not always result in interpersonal violence, the statistical connection between the two issues is overwhelming.
Domestic abuse against women is 2 to 4 times more common among men with alcohol use disorders, and in 2010, 47% of domestic assaults involved substance use.1 A 2003 study found that “over 80% of men who killed or abused a female partner were problem drinkers in the year before the incident.”1 And people arrested for domestic violence who also abuse substances are more likely to be served with a restraining order and are more likely to be incarcerated.1
Even if you aren’t the person abusing substances, you can still be a victim of alcohol- or drug-induced anger and aggression because physical abuse is more likely to occur within intimate partner relationships where one partner has a problem with alcohol or drugs. In some instances, abusers rely on drugs or alcohol as an excuse for becoming angry and violent, allowing the substance to justify the abusive behavior.1
Not only do batterers tend to regularly abuse drugs or alcohol, but often the victims of abuse will also end up abusing alcohol and drugs for a number of reasons, including:2
- Victims begin using alcohol and drugs to cope with the physical and emotional pain of domestic abuse.
- Consumption of alcohol and drugs may be encouraged or even forced by the abuser 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 suffer from chemical dependency, which may have preceded their victimization.
- Under the influence of drugs 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 when children are in the home.
Interpersonal violence is disturbingly common in the United States: As of 2014, there were 4.2 domestic violence cases for every 1,000 American citizens over the age of 12 and approximately 2.4 intimate partner violence incidents for every 1,000 Americans older than 12 years old.3 Additionally, a North Carolina study found that 20% of victims report being under the influence of drugs at the time of their abuse, and 72% of these victims were abused by partners who were also under the influence of drugs.2
Addressing Substance Abuse
Seeking out treatment for any kind of substance abuse is an important step toward preventing violence since drugs and alcohol are often a contributing factor. Unfortunately, many people who are prone to violence while under the influence of alcohol or drugs often deny that they have a problem. As a result, friends, family members, and significant others may encounter a lot of resistance in securing help for them.
Even if families have the financial resources for drug and alcohol prevention and treatment, they can’t force someone to get the help they need — but the following steps can lead family and friends in the right direction:
- Make a conscious effort to stop rescuing the person when they get into trouble. Sometimes, the person needs to accept the consequences of drinking or doing drugs to truly understand the severity of their situation.
- Have a serious conversation with the person when they are sober, but do so as soon as you can 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. Be willing to accompany your loved one to an initial meeting for moral support, if necessary.
Stages of Treatment
Treatment for alcohol or drug abuse or addiction is offered in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings, with a major treatment goal being to help the user recognize and acknowledge how drug and alcohol use is negatively impacting their life and the lives of those they love.
Drug and alcohol abuse treatment usually takes place in one or more general stages:
- inpatient, residential, or outpatient rehabilitation
Depending on factors such as the severity of addiction, and the specific substance type being abused, the first stage of treatment may involve detox, often in a medically supervised setting. When detoxing from drugs such as heroin, prescription opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine, it is common for the user to go through an unpleasant, painful, or otherwise difficult withdrawal period. In the case of alcohol, benzodiazepines, and some other sedative medications, withdrawal can be not only uncomfortable, but quite severe—with serious, sometimes life-threatening side effects. Medical supervision during withdrawal ensures that the user detoxes from the substance safely and that any complications are addressed immediately by trained professionals.
Following the detox stage—which can last from 2 to 7 or 10 days—patients may then enter an inpatient treatment facility. Inpatient or residential treatment facilities offer programs where patients live on site and receive around-the-clock care, support, and activities for anywhere between 30 days and 18 months. During inpatient treatment, most programs use a combination of treatment methods, including:
- Group therapy.
- Individual counseling.
- Skills-building classes.
- Community resource education.
After completing an inpatient treatment program, many patients are ready to step down to outpatient services—though outpatient programs are a starting point for many people. They offer individual counseling, group therapy, 12-step programs, and other non-12-step, self-help meetings at an office or treatment facility while patients live at home and come in to attend treatment on specified days.
Meetings can be as frequent as daily groups or as infrequent as weekly appointments, depending on the patient’s recovery progress and strength in sobriety. The goal of outpatient therapy is to provide patients with a comprehensive treatment program that allows them the flexibility to live at home. Often, life stressors such as work, school, and relationships can tempt a patient to return to drugs, so outpatient services help patients develop coping skills to fight those urges and handle stress in healthy ways.
Once a patient has demonstrated successful coping skills and has maintained sobriety for several months, they may be ready to move on to aftercare, which refers to periodic sobriety maintenance in the form of occasional therapy sessions, group meetings, or psychiatric appointments. Most patients in aftercare regularly meet with a therapist or group weekly or monthly. As they begin to feel more confident in their sobriety and go longer without violent incidents or urges to use drugs, aftercare helps the patient maintain continued success.
Throughout the course of treatment, behavioral health and mental health professionals will use certain techniques to help the patient make significant changes in thinking and behavior, which is particularly helpful in managing violent impulses. A common treatment modality is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches patients to recognize unhealthy ways of thinking and to make deliberate changes in the way they react to those thoughts.
For example, a drug user may react to feelings of anxiety by drinking alcohol in excess, which can lead to acting out violently. CBT helps the patient to recognize those anxious feelings and turn to healthier coping skills, such as meditation, exercise, reading, talking with a friend, and other options. It also allows the patient to observe their violent actions more clearly and take ownership for their choices while learning to make new ones.
Another common treatment option is family or couples therapy. Because drug abuse is commonly associated with domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, behavioral health professionals will often recommend family therapy (in which any involved family members meet with the therapist) or couples therapy (therapy sessions between romantic partners). Family and couples therapy is a powerful tool used to heal relationships and rebuild trust.
Substance abuse and violence are top priorities for law enforcement and behavioral health professionals around the country. As a result, there are numerous educational programs offered by governmental, state, and local organizations.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists on its website several local and national programs that address the combined problems of substance abuse and violence.4
- The Caring School Community Program is a universal family-and-school program designed to teach elementary-aged school children about drug use, violence, and mental health while promoting a sense of community.4
- The Classroom-Centered and Family-School Partnership Intervention program also offers interventions that serve to reduce incidents of violence, aggressive behavior, and drug use in children and families by teaching behavior management, communication, and school-based strategies.4
Several globally recognized organizations have violence education programs available to the public too. For example, the World Health Organization began the Violence Prevention Alliance to share evidence-based public health initiatives that address risk factors that contribute to violence.5 The Family and Youth Services Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also offers educational programs on state, city, and tribal levels.6
Violence often escalates over time and it is in your best interest to seek help today.
Advocacy refers to gathering public support around a particular issue. There are numerous advocacy groups around the country that fight to combat substance abuse, violence, child abuse, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and more.
Domestic violence advocacy groups include:
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV): This countrywide organization works to create a culture in which domestic violence is not tolerated. Too often victims are made to feel at fault for being abused, which is exactly what NCADV fights to stop. NCADV works to encourage victims and survivors to seek help, come together, and hold abusers accountable.7
- Advocates to End Domestic Violence (AEDV): Since 1979, AEDV has recruited volunteers to help women and children who have been victims of domestic violence. While their primary services are based in Carson City, Nevada, AEDV welcomes contact from victims and advocates all over the country. The advocacy group is dedicated to helping victims find the help they need, no matter where they are.8
- Most American cities have a Department of Women’s Protective Services or a Department of Family Protective Services that offer immediate local help.
- Other national domestic violence organizations can be found on the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health website.9
Other violence-prevention groups that focus on ending all forms of violence include:
- Futures Without Violence: This national organization has provided programs and worked to enact policies to protect victims of violence for the past 30 years. Futures Without Violence was integral in passing the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and continues to educate the public through TED talks and more.10
- Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE): SAVE works to get the younger generation involved in recognizing, stopping, and preventing violence of all forms. SAVE specializes in crime prevention, conflict management, and service projects.11
- Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE): Founded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, STRYVE helps educate youth and stop youth violence on a national level through education and interactive programs.12
If you or someone you know suffers from domestic violence or abuse, get help immediately. Violence often escalates over time and it is in your best interest to seek help today. If someone involved in an abusive relationship also suffers from a substance abuse disorder, reach out to a treatment consultant today to find the right help: .