Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

Addiction doesn't just affect the individual who is using drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse can also have devastating effects on families, loved ones, and friends. For some, substance use brings out violent or controlling tendencies toward their partner, children, or other loved ones.

woman distraught

It is important to note that drug or alcohol abuse may not be the root cause of domestic violence. It can, however, contribute to a person's violent or irrational tendencies, causing more frequent or excessive domestic violence. For example, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, more than 20% of male perpetrators report using alcohol or drugs prior to acts of violence.

Of course, committing acts of abuse while under the influence does not make it excusable. Domestic violence of any kind is not acceptable. However, this may not always be clear to victims.

Many victims of domestic abuse do not realize just how bad things really are. The nagging, controlling behaviors, manipulation, and physical violence may be perceived as acts of love or protection. One moment your spouse or partner is loving and compassionate. Then, often without warning, their behaviors can become degrading, cause fear, or lead to physical injuries. The extreme highs and lows of the relationship may have you always walking on eggshells or struggling to find balance in life.

Sadly, many victims of domestic violence think, at least in part, that the abuse is their fault. They may think that they didn't do enough, that they weren't a good partner, or that their actions triggered this abusive behavior. Sometimes they don't seek help because they think they can work to change their partner. The victim may also fear for their life or the well-being of other family members.

Domestic violence is not your fault. You don't deserve to be degraded, controlled, or physically harmed. No one does. Both you and your partner may need assistance to break out of the vicious cycle of substance use, domestic violence, and the toxic relationship.

Signs of Abusive Behavior

The beginnings of an abusive relationship may be hard to detect. A few extra phone calls to your workplace, a couple of degrading comments, a shove while your partner was high or drunk. You may dismiss it as your partner having a bad day or something you did.

In time, however, the constant controlling behavior, manipulation, and deception create a distortion of reality where the abuser's actions begin to seem normal. This sort of tunnel vision can be very dangerous for the victim.

Identifying the red flags of abusive behavior is the first step in getting the help that you and your loved one truly need. If any of these behaviors are common in your relationship, you may need to take some important steps that will make you safer and ensure the well-being of your family. 

Telltale signs you may be in an abusive relationship include:

  • Being accused of cheating for no apparent reason
  • Feeling controlled or powerless
  • Making excuses for your partner's erratic behavior
  • Covering up injuries after violent outbursts
  • Receiving threats toward yourself or your loved ones
  • Unwanted (sometimes violent) sexual advances
  • Losing the ability to create or maintain friendships
  • Being forced to act, talk, or dress in certain ways
  • Being degraded or continuously insulted by your partner
  • Being stalked at your workplace or while out with friends
  • Living in constant fear of what your partner will do next
  • Receiving threats or actual harm to you, your pets, or family members

These red flags are just a few of the signs of domestic violence. If any of these signs sound familiar, you should take a closer look at the types of domestic abuse. Abusive partners exert their control, dominance, and skewed versions of a perfect relationship in many different ways. 

Understanding the different forms of domestic violence and learning how to get help is often the only way to get out of a life based on pain, fear, and feeling that everything you do is not good enough for the person who claims to love you.

Types and Signs of Domestic Abuse

Many people associate domestic violence with physical abuse. In reality, that only scratches the surface of the behaviors and actions that are considered abusive. Recognizing the ways a partner or loved one can forcibly control or manipulate you can give you a better understanding of when to reach out for help.  Types of domestic violence include:

Physical Abuse

This includes aggressive behavior, including threatening or causing harm to another person. Physical abuse can include:

  • Hitting, kicking, or slapping
  • Biting, scratching, or pinching
  • Choking or drowning
  • Pulling hair
  • Forcibly pushing or pulling
  • Causing harm with an object or weapon
  • Burning, stabbing, or shooting
  • Locking you out of your house
  • Threatening harm to you or others
  • Hitting or kicking walls or doors as a means of intimidation

Emotional & Psychological Abuse

Emotional abuse can be more dangerous than physical abuse because it is harder to detect. While there may not be any visible scars, the effects it causes to one’s self-esteem, sense of security, and general well-being can be just as, if not more, damaging. Emotional abuse can include:

  • Refusing or withholding affection
  • Deliberately creating an atmosphere of fear
  • Screaming, yelling, terrorizing, or refusing to talk
  • Excessive criticism that undermines your self-confidence
  • Consistently neglecting or ignoring your basic needs and requests
  • Insulting your physical, emotional, or personality traits
  • Public humiliation
  • Compulsive lying or misleading
  • Threatening you, loved ones, pets, or objects you hold dear
  • Manipulating or brainwashing you to act or think in certain ways
  • Excessive jealousy or accusations that clearly aren’t true

Sexual Abuse

This can include forcibly using sex or sexual acts to exploit or degrade a person. Even if you have had consensual sex in the past, the abuser does not have the right to force or demand it at any point in your relationship. Sexual abuse can include:

  • Rape or forcing sexual actions
  • Unwanted groping, grabbing, or sexual advances
  • Using guilt or coercion to obtain sex
  • Forcing sex with others or prostitution
  • Engaging in sexual intercourse while you are intoxicated, sleeping, drugged, or unable to refuse
  • Sexual acts with a minor
  • Forcing a person to act or dress in a sexual manner
  • Withholding sex as a means to manipulate behavior
  • Offensive statements about your body or sexuality

Controlling Behaviors

This form of domestic violence is a way to assert dominance over a victim. This may be due to an abuser's jealousy, fear, or need to be in control. This may include:

  • Constantly checking your cell phone, social media, or other devices
  • Making you act or dress in a certain way
  • Not allowing you to have friends or contact family members
  • Appearing at your home or work unexpectedly to check on you
  • Putting you in a position where you must rely on your abuser for food, shelter, etc.
  • Excessive calls or texts to check up on you
  • Constantly invading your privacy or personal space

Economic Abuse

This includes the manipulation of your finances or economic resources as a means to control you. It includes:

  • Putting you on a strict (often unreasonable) allowance
  • Keeping financial secrets
  • Requiring you to turn over your paycheck
  • Causing you to lose your job
  • Showing up unexpectedly at your workplace and causing a scene
  • Harassing or excessive phone calls to your job
  • Spending the family's budget on drugs, alcohol, or other nonessential items

Of course, many of these categories are interrelated and often feed upon one another. If you feel that you have lost control of your life due to the abusive and addictive behaviors of your partner, it is time to get help. Many people think that these relationship issues will somehow clear up on their own. Unfortunately, this is not only wishful thinking. It can put you in serious danger. 

Help is Available for Victims of Domestic Violence

Many victims of domestic violence wonder what will happen if they choose to leave their partner or seek additional support. A victim may wonder if they are putting their life at risk by doing so. Often, the abusive partner threatens to harm you or your loved ones if you leave him or her. The choice to get help or leave the relationship altogether can be intimidating. It may even seem impossible to get away and regain control of your life.

There are ways you and your family can safely escape a violent relationship.  Some of the ways that you can finally free yourself of the fear, pain, and uncertainty of an abusive relationship include:

  • Talking to your healthcare provider. During any medical appointment, you can speak with a healthcare provider confidentially. In turn, they can give you information and resources.
  • Calling 911 or your local emergency number. If you feel you are in immediate danger, calling the police or emergency services may save your life. They also can connect you with local shelters to ensure your safety.  
  • Contacting services like the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Domestic violence hotlines give you the ability to call or chat any time of the day or night. They can quickly put you on a path to safety, provide legal help, and even direct you to pet-friendly shelters.

Choosing to enter a domestic violence shelter can be difficult. After all, if you want to remain anonymous and undetected by your abuser, it may require some drastic changes to your life. These changes, however, can ultimately be the exact thing you need to get the life you deserve.

Shelters aren't just a place to stay. They provide a variety of resources where you can once again get a solid footing on a happy, independent life. Services at a domestic violence shelter can include:

  • Counseling
  • Case management
  • Legal help
  • Job placement
  • Financial assistance
  • Services for your children
  • Access to support groups
  • Educational opportunities

If you feel your situation will not get any better, a shelter or extended time away from a partner may be the best choice.

Help for Domestic Abusers

You shouldn't blame yourself for the abuse you have endured. In many cases, the root causes of abuse were the result of issues that were present well before you met your partner. In some cases, drugs and alcohol may have made it worse.

People who are struggling with addiction often turn to their drug of choice to cope with difficult emotions, previous trauma, and life stress. As a result, they don't develop the appropriate coping mechanisms needed for successfully navigating interpersonal relationships and dealing with everyday life.

This isn't an excuse for their behavior. It is just an affirmation that they truly need help to find their way.

Substance abuse treatment centers can be the first step in the process of true change. After someone gets control over their addictive behaviors, they can start to regain balance in their lives. Counseling during drug addiction treatment often includes challenging and changing the negative thought patterns that cultivate anger, jealousy, and other irrational beliefs. As a result, an individual in treatment can get a solid footing in sobriety and concurrently develop positive interpersonal relationships.

People who complete a drug or alcohol treatment program often get referred to other resources that can help them continue their journey of self-discovery and improvement.

Although there is help available for perpetrators of domestic violence, not everyone is truly willing to change and begin the difficult process of recovery. It is important to realize that abusers may promise to change again and despite having no actual intent of getting help. Often, these are no more than empty promises meant to get you to stay in the relationship.

Sometimes, however, the abusive partner may be willing to truly get help. In moments of clarity, the promise to finally seek help may actually be genuine. This can be very difficult to determine. Often, agreeing to get help is done out of desperation or manipulation instead of a true intent to change.

There are some signs that an abuser is not willing to change his or her behaviors:

  • Minimizes past abuse or behaviors
  • Blames others for their actions
  • Demands another chance
  • Claims he or she can change without your support
  • Expects something from you in exchange for getting help
  • Pressures you to make decisions about the relationship
  • Tries excessively to get sympathy out of you or your loved ones

If you notice these signs, it may be best to focus more on yourself and bettering your own life. If your partner has finally met a crossroads where he or she believes help is necessary without using the above behaviors, encourage them to get help but also proceed cautiously.

The Sad Statistics of Domestic Violence

On an average day, three women are murdered by their husband or boyfriend in the United States. Almost one in four women report experiencing some sort of domestic violence by a current or former partner. Women who have partners who use alcohol are much more likely to be a victim of domestic abuse.

Nearly half of domestic assaults occur after substance use. Additionally, domestic violence is 11 times more likely to occur on days where substances are heavily abused.

Being a victim of domestic violence can increase your chances of developing an addiction. For example, one report suggests victims of domestic abuse are 70 percent more likely to drink alcohol heavily.

Men are also victims of domestic violence. Nearly 25% of domestic abuse is committed by women.

Sadly, domestic violence doesn't just affect adults. Over 15 million children live in families where an incident of domestic violence occurred at least once in the past year.

Getting help now is the first step in securing a better future for yourself.

Resources for Domestic Violence Victims

Here are a few resources to help you:

After Silence offers a free and safely moderated online support group complete with message boards and chat rooms. It is an opportunity for survivors to tell their stories, get information, and begin the process of healing. 

Arizona Department of Economic Security

The Domestic Violence Program set up by the Arizona Department of Economic Security includes mobile and community-based advocacy. In addition, it can set you up with emergency shelter and other services. Visit the website or call the 24-hour national domestic violence hotline at (800) 799-7233.

2-1-1 of Arizona

This website can connect you with a variety of services including shelter information and a directory of support groups. 


Has the alcohol or substance use of a loved one affected you or your family? Many others have been in the same situation and found guidance and wisdom during Al-Anon support groups.

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