October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For many people, abuse by a partner is their first experience of victimization; for others, interpersonal violence (IPV) occurs in the context of a lifetime of trauma. Substance use is never the cause of this violence – but it does impact it. And it’s complicated.
In one study of men and women entering substance abuse treatment, 47% reported victimization by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. Another study of people accessing substance abuse treatment services found that approximately 67% reported physical IPV in the past 6 months.
Interpersonal violence and substance use have what’s called a bidirectional relationship. This means that research shows victim alcohol and drug use increased following a physical or sexual assault – even among those with no previous substance use history. The study also found that victim use of drugs or alcohol is related to an increased risk of experiencing a subsequent physical or sexual assault.
Many survivors use alcohol and/or drugs to cope with the traumatic effects of abuse. Others are coerced into using by an abusive partner who is trying to sabotage their efforts toward recovery and undermine them with authorities (such as police, treatment providers, or the courts) by disclosing their substance use. For still others, the use of alcohol/drugs increases risk for being in unsafe situations where abuse can occur.
In all cases, abusers use violence, threats, and manipulation to maintain power and control of their victim – with a chilling effect on a survivors’ ability to access safety and support and to retain custody of their children. Emerging research demonstrates that substance use coercion is common within abusive relationships.
As for the perpetrators of interpersonal violence, their victims reported higher rates of abuser substance use than those who have not experienced IPV. When women reported that their partners drank heavily, they were five times more likely to also report experiencing abuse. In addition, women who reported that their partners use substances during sex were nearly four times more likely to also report IPV victimization, as compared to women who reported that their partners don’t use alcohol or drugs during sex
Don’t be silent. If you know a victim of interpersonal violence who needs help, contact L.A. CADA at (562) 906-2676
Learn about: Domestic Violence Services in California