Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse

Why it matters

While substance abuse does not cause domestic violence, there is a statistical correlation between the two issues. (1) Studies of domestic violence frequently indicate high rates of alcohol and other drug use by perpetrators during abuse (2). Not only do batterers tend to abuse drugs and alcohol, but domestic violence also increases the probability that victims will use alcohol and drugs to cope with abuse (3). The issues of domestic violence and substance abuse can interact with and exacerbate each other and should be treated simultaneously (4).


Did you know?

• Regular alcohol abuse is one of the leading risk factors for intimate partner violence. (5)
• A battering incident that is coupled with alcohol abuse may be more severe and result in greater injury.(6)
Alcoholic women are more likely to report a history of childhood physical and emotional abuse than are nonalcoholic women.(7)
• Domestic violence and drug and alcohol addiction frequently occur together, but no evidence suggests a causal relationship between substance abuse and domestic violence.(8)
• Alcoholism treatment does not “cure” abusive behavior.(9)
• Women who have been abused are fifteen times more likely to abuse alcohol and nine times more likely to abuse drus than women who have not been abused.(10)
• In 2002, the Department of Justice found that 36% of victims in domestic violence programs also had substance abuse problems.(11)
• 51% of domestic violence program directors agree that a woman’s use of alcohol can be a barrier to leaving a violent relationship.(12)
• 87% of domestic violence program directors agree that the risk of intimate partner violence increases when both partners abuse alcohol or drugs.(13)
• The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 69% of women in treatment for substance abuse say they were sexually abused as children.(14)
Substance Abuse and Batterers

• The U.S. Department of Justice found that 61% of domestic violence offenders also have substance abuse problems.15
• Batterers living with women who have alcohol abuse problems often try to justify their violence as a way to control their victims when they are drunk.(16)
• Men who batter frequently use alcohol abuse as an excuse for their violence. They attempt to rid themselves of responsibility for their violence by blaming it on the effects of alcohol.(17)
• A 1994 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice on murder in families found that more than half of defendants accused of murdering their spouses had been drinking alcohol at the time of the incident.(18)
Substance Abuse and Children

• Children of substance abusing parents are more likely to experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse than children in non- substance abusing households.(19)
• A survey of public child welfare agencies conducted by the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse found that as many as 80% of child abuse cases are associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs.(20)
• Children who have experienced family violence are at greater risk for alcohol and other drug problems later in life than children who do not experience family violence.(21)
• Evidence suggests that children who run away from violent homes are at risk of substance abuse.(22)

Services for Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse (23)

Although there is no causal link between domestic violence and substance abuse, the failure to deal with domestic violence in substance abuse treatment programs or to deal with substance abuse in domestic violence programs interferes with the effectiveness of these programs. Many service providers recognize tht correlation between substance abuse and domestic violence, but few domestic violence programs can offer adequate counseling or health services for substance abusers.
There are many reasons for the absence of substance abuse treatment programs within domestic violence services:
• Domestic violence programs typically have limited resources and cannot afford to pay for the equipment, staff, and other resources needed to provide substance abuse programs.
• Domestic violence programs primarily focus on providing safety and shelter.
• There is a fear that focusing on the substance abuse problems of victims will encourage victim blaming.
In 2004, the Department of Justice found that:
• 80% of domestic violence programs that cannot provide substance abuse treatment programs for victims or abusers refer them to substance abuse treatment programs in their communities.
• 92% of domestic violence programs would like to begin or continue working with substance abuse treatment facilities to develop enhanced services for substance-abusing women.
When domestic violence programs were asked why they did not provide substance abuse treatment:
• 75% of programs cited a lack of financial resources.
• 71% of programs cited a lack of staff resources.
• 60% of programs cited a lack of experience dealing with substance abuse problems.

To improve treatment for individuals with both substance abuse and domestic violence problems, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment recommends:
• Providing more federal funding for programs to be able to provide these much needed services in shelters.
• Furthering efforts to link domestic violence and substance abuse treatment programs in human services systems and to provide counseling, child care, substance abuse and mental health treatment, among other services, in one program.
• Creating mechanisms for interagency cooperation at the state and local level.
• Funding demonstration projects to test the feasibility and effectiveness of linking domestic violence and substance abuse treatment programs.



(1) Fazzone, Patricia Anne, et al. “Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence: Treatment Improvement Protocol.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.

(2), (3) “Making the Link: Domestic Violence & Alcohol and Other Drugs.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.

(4) Fazzone, Patricia Anne, et al.

(5) Connecticut Clearinghouse. “Making the Link Between Alcohol and Other Drugs and Domestic Violence” Plainville, CT: A Program of the Wheeler Clinic.

(6) Women’s Rural Advocacy Programs. “Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence.”

(7)National Institutes of Health, National Library of MEdicine. “Effects of Domestic Violence on Substance Abuse Treatment.”

(8) Alle-kiski HOPE Center. “Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence.”

(9) Women’s Rural Advocacy Programs.

(10) Shipway, Lyn. (2004) “Domestic Violence: A Handbook for Health Professionals.”

(11), (12), (13) Collins, James J. and Donna L. Spencer. (2002) “Linkage of Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse Services, Research in Brief, Executive Summary.” U.S. Department of Justice.

(14) Online News Hour. “Substance Abuse Rises in Women.” April 21, 2006.

(15) Collins, James J. and Donna L. Spencer. (2002) “Linkage of Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse Services, Research in Brief, Executive Summary.” U.S. Department of Justice.

(16) Women’s Rural Advocacy Programs.

(17) Alle-kiski HOPE Center.

(18) Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1994) “Violence Between Intimates: Domestic Violence.” NCJ Pub. No. NCJ-149258. Washington, DC: Beureau of Justice Statistics.

(19) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. (2002) “Substance Abuse and Child Maltreatment.” National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect and Information.

(20) McCurdy, K., and Daro, D. (1994) “Current Trends in Child Abuse Reporting and Fatalities: The results of the 1993 Annual Fifty State Survey.” Chicago: National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.

(21), (22) County of Yolo. “Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse.”

(23) Collins, James J. and Donna L. Spencer. (2002) “Linkage of Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse Services, Research in Brief, Executive Summary.” U.S. Department of Justice.


Information from – The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.



Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence

Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence
Many studies show a high rate of alcohol abuse among men who batter their female partners. Yet is there really a link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence? 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 widespread social problems.
Efforts to link alcohol abuse and domestic violence reflect society’s tendency to view battering as an individual deviant behavior. Moreover, there is a reluctance to believe that domestic violence is a pervasive social problem that happens among all kinds of American families. For these reasons, it is essential to emphasize what is known about the relationship between alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
• Battering is a socially learned behavior, and is not the result of substance abuse or mental illness. 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.
• Many men who batter do not drink heavily and many alcoholics do not beat their wives. Some abusers with alcohol problems batter when drunk, and others when they are sober.
• In one batterers program, 80% of the men had abused alcohol at the time of the latest battering incident. The vast majority of men, however, also reportedly battered their
partners when not under the influence of alcohol.
• Data on the concurrence of domestic violence and alcohol abuse vary widely, from as low as 25% to as high as 80% of cases.
Alcoholism and battering do share some similar characteristics, including: both may be passed from generation to generation both involve denial or minimization of the problem both involve isolation of the family
• A battering incident that is coupled with alcohol abuse may be more severe and result in greater injury.
• Alcoholism treatment does not “cure” battering behavior; both problems must be addressed separately. However, provisions for the woman’s safety must take precedence.
• A small percent (7% to 14%) of battered women have alcohol abuse problems, which is no more than that found in the general female population. A woman’s substance abuse problems do not relate to the cause of her abuse, although some women may turn to alcohol and other drugs in response to the abuse. To become independent and live free
from violence, women should receive assistance for substance abuse problems in addition to other supportive services.
• Men living with women who have alcohol abuse problems often try to justify their violence as a way to control them when they’re drunk. A woman’s failure to remain substance-free is never an excuse for the abuser’s violence.

Excerpts from The Domestic Violence Sourcebook by Dawn Bradley Berry, J. D.

Excerpts from The Domestic Violence Sourcebook by Dawn Bradley Berry, J. D.
Approximately 50% of all homeless women and children in America are fleeing domestic violence.
• 25 to 33% of men who batter their wives also sexually abuse their children.
• 25% of all women who are battered are abused while they are pregnant.
• 33% of women treated in emergency rooms are victims of violence.
• Studies indicate that between 25% and 50% of all women will be abused at least one time in their lives.
• Rape is a regular form of abuse in about 50% of violence relationships.
• More women leave the workforce permanently because of domestic violence than leave to raise children.
• According to the March of Dimes, battering during pregnancy is the leading cause of birth defects and infant mortality-more than the birth defects caused by all diseases for which people are routinely inoculated combined.
In one study of violent homes, all sons over fourteen attempted to protect their mothers. 62% were injured in the process. Another study found that 63% of the males between the ages of 15 and 20 who are incarcerated for homicide are there because they killed their mother’s batterers.
• Businesses lose about $100 million annually in lost wages, sick leave, absenteeism, and non- productivity as a direct result of domestic violence.
• Medical expenses for treating victims of domestic violence total at least $3 billion to $5 billion annually.
• According to a 1995 FBI survey, a woman is battered in the United States every seven seconds.
• According to the national Centers for Disease Control, more women are treated in emergency rooms for battering injuries than for muggings, rapes and traffic accidents combined.
• Battering contributes to one quarter of all suicide attempts by women generally, and half of all suicide attempts by African American women.
• 74% of abused woman who work outside the home are harassed by their abusers at work, either in person or by telephone. 56% are late for work at least 5 times a month because of their abusers. 54% miss at least three full days of work a month, and 20% lose their jobs because of abuse.
• Weapons are used in 30% of domestic violence incidents.
• According to FBI data, four women a day are murdered by a male partner. Over 30% (some estimate over 50%) of all murders of woman in America are committed by intimate partners.
• Studies of woman killed by a husband or boyfriend show that 90% of the victims had reported at least one prior incident of abuse. The average number of calls to a scene before a domestic homicide is eight.
• Up to 6 million women are believed to be beaten in their homes each year. 4 million single incidents are reported. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that up to 90% of battered women never report their abuse.
• Women who have divorced or separated from their abusers report being battered I-I times as often as those still living with their partners do.
• It is estimated that 73% of the emergency room visits, and up to 75% of calls to the police for domestic violence incidents occur after separation.
• According to the American Medical Association, family violence kills as many women every five years as the total number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War.
• Homicide is the second leading cause of death for woman ages fifteen to twenty four.

Myths and Facts: Why do domestic violence perpetrators do what they do?

Commonly held misconceptions about why batterers batter
Alcohol and/or drugs cause the violence
• Stress causes the violence
• Uncontrollable anger
• The batterer witnessed his father abusing his mother
Why do batterers batter?
• Because they can
• Because it gets them what they want
• Opportunity and self-interest
Common characteristics of batterers:
• Exhibits discrepancy between public and private behavior
• Uses obfuscation to minimize or confuse survivor about behavior
• Externalizes by blaming others and using external factors to justify behavior
• Uses controlling behaviors to get survivor to do, or stop doing, something
• Feels a strong sense of ownership over the survivor
• May use controlled substances
• Is resistant to change
Factors that increase the likelihood of male violence against women
• Ideology of familial patriarchy
• Male peer support
• Alcohol consumption/use
• Exposure to pornographic media


We live in a society where:
° Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. (Population Reports, Series L, No. 11, December 1999).
o Seventy-eight percent of stalking victims are women. Women are significantly more likely than men (60% and 30%, respectively) to be stalked by intimate partners. (Center for Policy Research, Stalking in America, July 1997).
o Intimate partner violence is primarily a crime against women. In 1999, women accounted for 85 percent of the victims. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99, October 2001).
o On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day. In 1999, 1,642 murders were attributed to intimates; 74 percent of the murder victims were women. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99, October 2001).
MCADSV New Service Provider Training Manual and Resource Guide (May 2006)
• Hold rigid sex role stereotypes

Warning Signs
• History of Violence
Substance abuse
• Breaks or strikes things in anger
• Jealousy
• Controlling Behavior
• Quick Involvement
• Unrealistic Expectations
• Isolation
• Use of Privilege
Cruelty to Animals or Children
• Rape or use of force in sex
• Blames others for Problems
• Blames others for Feelings

MCADSV New Service Provider Training Manual and Resource Guide (May 2006)

Separation Violence

Most people believe that battered women will be safe once they separate from the batterer. They also believe that women are free to leave abusers at any time. We have all heard, “All she had to do was leave; she brought it on herself.” The unfortunate fact is that leaving does not usually put an end to the violence. Batterers may, in fact, escalate their violence to coerce a battered woman into reconciliation or to retaliate for the battered woman’s perceived rejection or abandonment of the batterer. The man who believes that he is entitled to a relationship with a woman or that he “owns” her; views the woman’s departure as an ultimate betrayal which justifies retaliation. Evidence of the gravity of separation violence is overwhelming. One study revealed that 73% of the battered women seeking emergency medical services sustained injuries after leaving the batterer. Another study showed that over ¼ of the women killed by their male partners were attempting to end the relationship when they were killed.
Although leaving may pose additional hazards, at least in the short run, the research data and experience demonstrate that ultimately a battered woman can best achieve safety and freedom apart from the batterer. Leaving requires planning and legal intervention to safeguard victims and their children. Victim advocates and battered women must work in partnership to assure that the risk of violence is minimized the separation process. Getting out of an abusive relationship is not easy, but it can provide an opportunity for you and your children to live a life free of violence. Seeking counseling and support when you end a violent relationship is crucial for you and your children.

Why Women Stay: The Barriers to Leaving

Why Women Stay: The Barriers to Leaving

One of the most frustrating things for people outside a battering relationship is trying to understand why a woman doesn’t just leave. A letter to Dear Abby on the subject was signed “Tired of Voluntary Victims.”

The most important thing to keep in mind is that extreme emotional abuse is always present in domestic violence situations. On average, an abused woman will leave her partner 6-8 times. The reasons they return or stay in the relationship vary from case to case. Some of these include:
Situational Factors

  • Economic dependence. How can she support herself and the children?
  • Fear of greater physical danger to herself and her children if they try to leave.
  • Fear of being hunted down and suffering a worse beating than before.
  • Survival. Fear that her partner will follow her and kill her if she leaves, often based on real threats by her partner.
  • Fear of emotional damage to the children.
  • Fear of losing custody of the children, often based on her partner’s remarks.
  • Lack of alternative housing; she has nowhere else to go.
  • Lack of job skills; she might not be able to get a job.
  • Social isolation resulting in lack of support from family and friends.
  • Social isolation resulting in lack of information about her alternatives.
  • Lack of understanding from family, friends, police, ministers, etc.
  • Negative responses from community, police, courts, social workers, etc.
  • Fear of involvement in the court process; she may have had bad experiences before.
  • Fear of the unknown. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
  • Fear and ambivalence over making formidable life changes.
  • “Acceptable violence”. The violence escalates slowly over time. Living with constant abuse numbs the victim so that she is unable to recognize that she is involved in a set pattern of abuse.
  • Ties to the community. The children would have to leave their school, she would have to leave all her friends and neighbors behind, etc. For some women it would be like being in the Witness Protection program–she could never have any contact with her old life.
  • Ties to her home and belongings.
  • Family pressure; because Mom always said, “I told you it wouldn’t work out.” or “You made your bed, now you sleep in it.”
  • Fear of her abuser doing something to get her (report her to welfare, call her workplace, etc.)
  • Unable to use resources because of how they are provided (language problems, disability, homophobia, etc.)
  • Time needed to plan and prepare to leave.

Emotional Factors

  • Insecurity about being alone, on her own; she’s afraid she can’t cope with home and children by herself.
  • Loyalty. “He’s sick; if he had a broken leg or cancer–I would stay. This is no different.”
  • Pity. He’s worse off than she is; she feels sorry for him.
  • Wanting to help. “If I stay I can help him get better.”
  • Fear that he will commit suicide if she leaves (often he’s told her this).
  • Denial. “It’s really not that bad. Other people have it worse.”
  • Love. Often, the abuser is quite loving and lovable when he is not being abusive.
  • Love, especially during the “honeymoon” stage; she remembers what he used to be like.
  • Guilt. She believes–and her partner and the other significant others are quick to agree–that their problems are her fault.
  • Shame and humiliation in front of the community. “I don’t want anyone else to know.”
  • Unfounded optimism that the abuser will change.
  • Unfounded optimism that things will get better, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • Learned helplessness. Trying every possible method to change something in our environment, but with no success, so that we eventually expect to fail. Feeling helpless is a logical response to constant resistance to our efforts. This can be seen with prisoners of war, people taken hostage, people living in poverty who cannot get work, etc.
  • False hope. “He’s starting to do things I’ve been asking for.” (counseling, anger management, things she sees as a chance of improvement.)
  • Guilt. She believes that the violence is caused through some inadequacy of her own (she is often told this); feels as though she deserves it for failing.
  • Responsibility. She feels as though she only needs to meet some set of vague expectations in order to earn the abuser’s approval.
  • Insecurity over her potential independence and lack of emotional support.
  • Guilt about the failure of the marriage/relationship.
  • Demolished self-esteem. “I thought I was too (fat, stupid, ugly, whatever he’s been calling her) to leave.”
  • Lack of emotional support–she feels like she’s doing this on her own, and it’s just too much.
  • Simple exhaustion. She’s just too tired and worn out from the abuse to leave.

Personal Beliefs

  • Parenting, needing a partner for the kids. “A crazy father is better than none at all.”
  • Religious and extended family pressure to keep the family together no matter what.
  • Duty. “I swore to stay married till death do us part.”
  • Responsibility. It is up to her to work things out and save the relationship.
  • Belief in the American dream of growing up and living happily ever after.
  • Identity. Woman are raised to feel they need a partner–even an abusive one–in order to to be complete or accepted by society.
  • Belief that marriage is forever.
  • Belief that violence is the way all partners relate (often this woman has come from a violent childhood).
  • Religious and cultural beliefs.

Other Reasons Women Stay…


  • Battered women usually have no job, few friends, and little support from family due to the batterer’s manipulative and abusive tactics.
  • The assailant’s inconsistent behavior represents an intermittent reinforcement and punishment schedule that is confusing to the battered woman and prolongs her commitment to the relationship.



  • Many abusers do not want their partners to work so that they will be dependent upon them and will not leave.
  • For women who are employed, it is common for an abusive man to sabotage her job by making sure she does not have transportation or by showing up and engaging in behavior that creates problems for her and her employer.
  • Many abused women feel they cannot leave because they are in severe financial debt. Often spending all disposable income, eliminating any savings balances. He may withhold his earnings, causing the abused woman to spend all of her salary on family necessities.


Social Attitudes and Family Pressures


  • Society generally blames women for abuse.
  • Courts and police do not take women seriously until it is too late.
  • The stigma of single parenting and financial implications are a greater burden for women. Single fathers are often viewed as exceptional whereas single mothers are viewed as failures.
  • Women will hide abuse so as not to disappoint extended family. Some women are encouraged to “try and make things work,” or “try not to do things to upset him.”

There is no excuse for domestic violence.

Domestic Violence and Employment Wheel

The Domestic Violence and Employment Wheel describes how a job can act as a “protective factor” in prevent abuse. It describes the benefits that work provides to victims and conversely the reasons why abusers try to prevent the victim from being employed. While being “gainfully employed” does not prevent abusive relationships in every situation, employment does provide the key support systems that can help a victim in different ways. The purpose of the model is to illustrate the value of work in preventing and leaving abusive relationships.

Domestic Violence Employment Wheel



Especially when the victim and abuser cohabitate, money may provide the victim the literal means to leave the abusive relationship. Getting the taxi or gas to travel to a hotel room or another city requires financial resources. Establishing a new place to live may include a down payment for mortgage or rent, setting up utilities and other costs of moving possessions. Civil legal actions, medical bills and other services require resources which would be difficult for a person financially dependent on the abuser. Money simply provides flexibility and more options for victims.

Job Skills

Just by being employed, victims are gaining skills that make them more independent. Every job provides a person with problem solving skills which will have direct application towards their ability to be independent. While employed, new skills are developed which allow for promotion and advancement. Having a consistent work history is more attractive to potential employers. If a victim chooses to relocate, these skills make it easier for them to begin their life anew.


While support services vary, employment often offers programs such as Employee Assistance Programs, Occupational Health, Wellness and Security. It is these services which may provide contact with the local community victim service agency. Just as important is the additional financial support of heath care insurance which may include mental health services.

Challenge Traditional Roles

While not a benefit per se, employment does challenge stereotyped gender-roles. As domestic violence often impacts women, it is the conventional position that men should be the “bread-winners” while the women stay at home. It is this perpetration of male dominance that denies women the right to obtain meaningful and rewarding employment. While there have been strides in ending such discrimination, this view is still held to deny a woman’s right to work. Even if they do work, it often still the woman’s responsibility to care for the house-hold (laundry, cooking, cleaning, care of children) and lapses often become the excuses for the demand for her to quit.

Social Interaction

While abusers commonly use isolation as a means to control, employment provides the victim opportunity to find friends and be exposed to positive relationships. Supervisors and co-workers can offer praise and encouragement, a different message from the criticism and put-downs that the victim often continually hears from the abuser. Friendship is a powerful support mechanism in that it can offer a listening ear, advice, a place to stay and other assistance.


All of these components, including the simple fact that they are employed, provide a victim with building blocks for greater self-esteem. Having a position and being part of an organization, no matter the title or company, gives a person a sense of identity. Knowing that they have a role, responsibility and a place that they are needed, a victim may recognize their own self-worth. Combined with money in the bank, employability, belief that they have the right to work and knowing others who respect and care for them, a victim is more likely to refuse the abuse that endangers their well-being and even their life.