Domestic Violence & Substance Abuse
Both domestic violence and substance abuse are community issues. They can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, marital status, socioeconomic status, education level, and profession. While substance abuse DOES NOT CAUSE domestic violence, the two often co-occur and may exacerbate each other. Recognizing this relationship, A Woman’s Place (AWP) and The Council of Southeast, Pennsylvania, Inc.(The Council) are partnering to address the intersection of these issues in Bucks County. This collaborative effort was made possible by a grant from the First Hospital Foundation.
Drugs, Alcohol, and Domestic Abuse: The Intersection
Substance use does NOT cause domestic violence (DV) but may be present in abusive relationships.
- Abusers believe it is their right to exert power & control over their partners – substance use does not cause a person to feel this way but may increase the risk that he/she will assault his/her partner.
- Abusers often use substance abuse as an excuse to justify their abusive behavior.
- Abusers may force their partner to use drugs or alcohol – the victim’s sobriety may threaten the abuser’s power and control. Victims may also be encouraged to engage in drug or alcohol use to please the abusive partner.
Substance use and DV often exacerbate each other, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to address either one of the issues.
- Victims who are using drugs and/or alcohol may not be able to accurately assess their own level of danger, their ability to defend themselves, and their ability to safety plan.
- Victims with substance use issues may be reluctant to call the police – or even DV programs – for fear that they will face repercussions for their drug or alcohol use.
- Victims of DV may turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism or may become addicted to medicine prescribed to treat injuries caused by the abuse (e.g., painkillers or sedatives). Additionally, the outcomes of victimization (feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, depression) can set a victim up to fall further into a cycle of substance abuse.
Substance use and domestic violence are separate problems that often go hand-in-hand but treating one does not treat both.
- Abstinence from drugs or alcohol does not mean that the violence (verbal, emotional, sexual, and/or physical) will end.
- Use of drugs or alcohol – on the part of the abuser, the victim, or both – does not mean that violence will automatically ensue.
For many people, the decision to seek help for an abusive relationship, for substance use treatment, or both is a complicated one. Victims of abuse and substance users often face similar barriers when trying to access help. Below are just some of the challenges people may face.
Myths vs. Facts
Myth: Substance use and domestic violence are two separate problems that do not impact each other.
Fact: Although substance use and DV are separate problems, both often occur at the same time and exacerbate each other. This can make it increasingly difficult for someone to effectively address either of these issues. For example, victims may be encouraged to engage in drug or alcohol use to please or appease the abusive partner. Abusers may also force their victims to use drugs or alcohol as a means of gaining or maintaining power over their partner – in fact, the victim’s sobriety may be seen as a direct threat to the abuser’s control in the relationship. Furthermore, a victim may be reluctant to call the police or a DV agency for fear of being blamed or punished if her/his substance use is discovered. A victim may also hesitate to access help because the substance use has affected her/his ability to make safe, logical decisions.
Myth: Most women in substance abuse treatment have no history of trauma (such as domestic violence).
Fact: A large proportion of women in substance abuse treatment programs have extensive histories of trauma, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in their childhood and adult lives.
Barriers to Ending an Abusive Relationship
FEAR... Of death or serious injury, of the abuser hurting him/herself or others, of not being believed about the abuse, of exposing one’s substance use or addiction, of being stalked by the abuser.
ISOLATION... Abusive relationships often result in the deterioration of the victim’s support systems including friends and family members, access to money, transportation, childcare, housing, and social services. Soon, the abuser’s voice is the only one the victim can hear.
ECONOMIC REALITY... Victims may not be able to support themselves (and often children) on their own. She/he may not have marketable skills, may have limited access to economic assistance, and may have no access to important documents due to the abuser’s economic abuse.
CHILDREN… The abuser may threaten to take custody of the children. The victim may not want to further disrupt a child’s life by moving him/her away from friends, family and school. The children may also resent the parent for taking them away from their father or mother figure.
SOCIAL PRESSURES OR EXPECTATIONS... It can be a heart-breaking decision to leave any relationship, especially when the consequences can mean losing the support of family, friends or other social relationships. Cultural and religious values may limit a victim’s options within the relationship.
HOPE & LOVE...Abusive relationships are not abusive 100% of the time. They may still have many happy moments. Abusers often apologize for their actions, making empty promises not to do it again. This gives the victim false hope for the future. Many just want the abuse to end, not the relationship.
Barriers to Accessing Substance Use Treatment
An abusive partner may be threatened by the victim’s attempts to stop using and may undermine her/his efforts to get clean or sober.
Victims of domestic violence may turn to substance use as a way of coping with the abuse – without an alternative coping mechanism it is difficult for the victim to address her/his substance use. Additionally, outcomes of victimization such as feelings of shame, guilt, powerlessness, depression can contribute to substance use and an inability to seek help.
Lack of resources, lack of coverage for treatment – few inpatient facilities that can take children; few facilities that can accommodate pregnant women; lack of child care to make outpatient appointments; may be denied access to emergency shelters due to substance use; many insurance policies do not cover the cost of substance use treatment programs, which may discourage people from seeking help
Social pressures – oftentimes getting treatment for substance use can mean the loss of a shared activity between friends, family members, and other support systems; many also worry about the stigma of labeling themselves “users” or “addicts”.
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AWP and The Council are offering FREE trainings to service providers and community organizations to help groups identify and intervene to assist individuals and families experiencing one or both of these issues. Trainings can be tailored to meet each group’s unique needs and time constraints.
For more information or to schedule a training, please contact:
Christina Baer, Education and Training Manager, at 215.343.9241 x 110 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org,
Sandy Lochrie, SBIRT Project Nurse, at 215.489.6120 or by email at email@example.com,
Stacey Conway, Information and Intervention Manager, at 215.489.6120 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help Is Available
In Bucks County
The Council of Southeast, Pennsylvania, Inc.
24-Hour Helpline: 1.800.221.6333
A Woman's Place
24-Hour Hotline: 1.800.220.8116