It’s no secret. Domestic violence and substance abuse tend to go hand in hand. To begin, let’s define these two phrases. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Domestic Violence (also known as Intimate Partner Violence or IPV) “is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” Drug Addiction (also known as substance abuse) is defined by drugabuse.gov “as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”
There are many risks associated with drug use, including sexual assault, addiction, having unsafe sex, problems at school or with the law, and behavioral changes. However, many students don’t identify abusive relationships as one of the symptoms of drug use. I was recently in one of the Elgin high schools were some of the students were role-playing various situations. One of them was acting as a concerned boyfriend whose girlfriend is currently using marijuana. The character sheet that the student had to go use stated that the girlfriend has been acting differently and gets upset when her boyfriend doesn’t want to smoke marijuana with her. When asked how his girlfriend’s marijuana use affects their relationship, the student immediately said that she becomes violent, especially when she is using.
While most of the class laughed this off, as marijuana usually doesn’t cause people to become violent or abusive, it struck me that the students don’t realize how serious of a problem this is. Domestic violence agencies get many calls from victims whose partner is using hard drugs, which completely change the personality of the abuser. These victims often stay with their abusers because the good times are when the abuser isn’t impaired, at least until a serious incident occurs. The abusers use the excuse, “I didn’t mean what I said, I was drunk” or “I would never hit you sober.”
While we can’t prove that one causes the other, there are many statistics out there that show the correlation. For instance, according to various studies, substance abuse co-occurs in 40-60% of intimate partner violence incidents. Women in abusive relationships often reported being coerced into using alcohol and/or drugs by her partner. Not only does substance abuse appear in unhealthy relationships, but spousal abuse has been identified as a predictor of developing a substance abuse problem and/or addiction.
Do drugs and alcohol cause domestic abuse? Does intimate partner violence cause substance abuse? There is no solid answer to these questions, but Love is Respect believes that “drugs and alcohol do affect a person’s judgement and behavior, but they are not a reason for violent behavior.” There is no excuse for abuse-of any type.
*If you’re looking for more information on healthy teen relationships, please check out loveisrespect.org for more information and support. Advocates are available 24/7 for information and help.