Domestic Violence & Substance Abuse

While substance use does not cause domestic violence, there is a statistical correlation between the two issues. Studies of domestic violence frequently indicate high rates of alcohol and other drug use by perpetrators during abuse. 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. The issues of domestic violence and substance use can interact with and exacerbate each other and should be treated simultaneously.1


Substance Use by Abusers

  • 61% of domestic violence offenders also use/abuse substances. Often they try to blame their battering on being under the influence; however, substance abuse treatment does not “cure” abusive behavior.1
  • Common misunderstanding is that those who batter are extremely intoxicated and out of control when they batter; intimate partner violence (IPV) is always a choice. IPV usually occurs in a safe setting (for the batterer), selected for the protection it affords them, at a time of their choosing, with a predictable victim. The fact that violence rarely occurs outside a batterer’s comfort zone suggests that those who batterer are very much in control, not out of control.
  • The relationship between substance abuse and battering is strongest for those men who already think IPV is appropriate in certain situations.2

 Substance Use by Victims

  • Women who have been abused are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 9 times more likely to abuse drugs than women who have not been abused.
  • In 2002, the Department of Justice found that 36% of victims in domestic violence programs also had substance abuse problems.
  • 51% of domestic violence program directors agree that a woman’s use of alcohol can be a barrier to leaving a violent relationship.
  • 87% of domestic violence program directors agree that the risk of intimate partner violence increases when both partners use/abuse alcohol or drugs.1
  • Acute and chronic effects of substance use may prevent victims from accurately assessing the level of danger posed by their perpetrators.
  • Substance use may be encouraged or forced by an abusive partner as a mechanism of control. Victim’s abstinence and recovery efforts may be sabotaged.
  • The compulsion to use and withdrawal symptoms may make it difficult for substance abusing victims of IPV to access services such as shelter, advocacy, or other forms of help. Recovering women may find that the stress of securing safety leads to relapse.
  • Victims who are using substances or who have used substances in the past fear they may not be believed.2

Substance Use/Intimate Partner Violence in the LGBTQ Community

  • Most studies find the rate of IPV is approximately the same among gay and lesbian couples as heterosexuals.
  • Prevalence of substance use/abuse in the LGBTQ community is a matter of debate, due to the absence of control groups, dependency on data gathered from bar samples, lack of a clear definitions, and large number of individuals remaining “in-the-closet” (hidden from study). Despite these limitations, the consensus is that prevalence of substance abuse in the LGBTQ community, however defined, is higher than the prevalence among heterosexuals.
  • The few studies that examine co-occurring same-sex intimate partner violence and substance abuse suggest that the prevalence of co-occurrence is not different from that among heterosexuals. 2

Click here to read more about LGBTQ victims/survivors.

The failure to deal with domestic violence and other trauma in substance abuse treatment programs or to deal with substance abuse in domestic violence programs interferes with the effectiveness of these programs.1

The trauma-informed approach to services promises to transform the way programs view men and women who have co-occurring situations. Integrating services, changing from a “what’s your problem” approach to a “what has happened to you?” approach, and attending to how our services may compromise or re-traumatize those who seek our help may improve service engagement and retention. 2seeking safety

 For more information on our Seeking Safety support group, click here.

New Beginnings serves victims/survivors of domestic, sexual, and stalking violence regardless of co-occuring substance use. We recognize the complexity of recovering from trauma and substance abuse, and their significant impact on one another. Our goal is to serve the whole person, not just resolve safety or trauma issues- but help victims/survivors to heal and reclaim their lives sober, and safe.



Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)

Bennett, L. & Bland, P. (2008, May). Substance Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet, a project of the NationalResourceCenter on Domestic Violence/Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.