The Link Between Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse: How to Combat Both

Jan 18, 2017
12:21 PM

(Photo by Paolo Monti)

Domestic violence and substance abuse are serious problems, and unfortunately they are tied together in a complex web that can continue over many generations. Substance abuse is not necessarily believed to cause domestic violence, but it has been shown that domestic abusers have a higher rate of drug and alcohol usage in comparison to non-abusers. The cycle continues because the victims of abuse also have a higher probability of turning to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

The Victims of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence can be defined as the intentional use of physical, emotional, psychological or sexual force by one family member or intimate partner to control another. The spouse, partner o child of an abuser can manifest trauma related to domestic violence immediately or over a period of time. The abuse can take a massive toll on them physically and mentally.

Many victim spouses or partners stay with their abusers out of fear and dependency. Substance abuse by the victim often happens as a coping mechanism to deal with or escape from the pain of the abuse. Often this leads to a deeper dependency on the abuser who is helping them obtain the drugs or alcohol in the first place.

Just like substance abuse, domestic violence usually increases in frequency and severity over time. Children caught in a home with domestic violence and substance abuse problems are at great risk of long term psychological problems and substance abuse later in life. They even have a greater probability of ending up in their own abusive relationship as an adult abuser or a victim.

How to Break the Cycle

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get solutions from within an abusive household. The most effective support is going to have to come from family or friends on the outside. The abused partner and children must receive help and support, and a safe place to get away from the abuser. Any substance abuse issues by the victims need to be addressed while making them feel safe. Treatment staff need to validate and empower the victim to take part in problem solving and planning for long term support.

Treatment for a substance abusing batterer is more complex. Treating the substance abuse alone or just going to a rehabilitation center will not end domestic violence tendencies. Many times the abuser uses substance abuse such as alcohol as an excuse for violent behavior and has a hard time taking full responsibility for their actions. Taking responsibility and being accountable for their actions is extremely important to the successful rehabilitation of a domestic violence abuser.

A problem that occurs for substance abusing batterers is that there are more long-term support groups for maintaining sobriety than there are for domestic violence support. Even when they are found, there is no collaboration between the two for realistic treatment approaches that would help rehabilitate abusers better.

Both the victims and abusers who have substance abuse dependencies need and should seek specialist support to address long-term problems and habits that need to be reversed. It is important for violent behavior and past victimization to be explored along with substance abuse issues during the recovery process. If they are not dealt with simultaneously, the cycle will continue.


Michelle Peterson has been in recovery for several years. She started to help eliminate the stigma placed on those who struggle with addiction. The site emphasizes that the journey to sobriety should not be one of shame but of pride and offers stories, victories, and other information to give hope and help to those in recovery.