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Domestic Abuse and Alcohol

Some Doubt the Role Alcohol Plays

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Updated October 01, 2013

Crying Woman

Victim of abuse

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Statistics seem to indicate a connection between alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence, but some researchers question the cause-and-effect relationship.

Studies of domestic violence frequently document high rates of alcohol and other drug (AOD) involvement, and AOD use is known to impair judgment, reduce inhibition, and increase aggression. Alcoholism and child abuse, including incest, seem to be connected also.

High Rate of Alcohol Use

On the surface it seems hard to argue with the numbers reported in domestic violence research studies. Ninety-two percent of the domestic abuse assailants reported use of alcohol or other drugs on the day of the assault, according to a recent JAMA report.

Another study shows that the percentage of batterers who are under the influence of alcohol when they assault their partners ranges from 48 percent to 87 percent, with most research indicating a 60 to 70 percent rate of alcohol abuse and a 13 to 20 percent rate of drug abuse.

No Cause-and-Effect Relationship?

But those who study the dynamics of domestic abuse say there is no real research to indicate that alcoholism and drug abuse causes domestic violence. Although research indicates that among men who drink heavily, there is a higher rate of assaults resulting in injury, the majority of men classified as high-level drinkers do not abuse their partners.

Also, the majority (76 percent) of physically abusive incidents occur in the absence of alcohol use.

An Overlap in Social Problems

According to the Women's Rural Advocacy Program, no evidence supports a cause-and-effect relationship between the two problems. The relatively high incidence of alcohol abuse among men who batter must be viewed as the overlap of two separate social problems, it claims.

According to The Safety Zone, there is no evidence to suggest that alcohol use or dependence is linked to the other forms of coercive behaviors that are part of the pattern of domestic violence. "Economic control, sexual violence, and intimidation, for example, are often part of a batterer's ongoing pattern of abuse, with little or no identifiable connection to his use of or dependence on alcohol."

Battering Is Learned Behavior

Battering is a socially learned behavior, and is not the result of substance abuse or mental illness, advocacy groups claim. "Men who batter frequently use alcohol abuse as an excuse for their violence. They attempt to rid themselves of responsibility for the problem by blaming it on the effects of alcohol," they say.

Alcohol does not and cannot make a man abuse a woman, but it is frequently used as an excuse. Many men drink and do not abuse anyone as a result. On the other hand many men abuse women when they are sober. It can be easier for some men and for some women to believe that the violence would not have happened if a drink had not been taken.

Denial and Minimization

It's part of the denial process. Alcoholism and battering do share some similar characteristics -- both may be passed from generation to generation, both involve denial or minimization of the problem, both involve isolation of the family.

So, why do batterers do it? How can you tell if you are at risk? If you are in an abusive relationship, what can you do? our next article looks at these issues.

Has your relationship crossed the line to become an abusive one? Take the Abuse Screening Quiz.

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