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  • Domestic violence is dangerous under any circumstances. When drugs and alcohol are added to the violence, that danger can escalate to extreme heights. 

    Many people who commit or experience domestic violence deal with a substance use disorder, which is a disease that compels people to use substances in spite of negative consequences. 

    Like other mental health conditions, addiction is not a choice. However, committing domestic violence absolutely is a choice, and an addiction is never an excuse for abusing another person. 

    Furthermore, when the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it does not mean that they were at fault for the violence. 

    If you are being harmed by a partner, whether or not either of you has an addiction, contact the domestic violence hotline at 800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788. 

    What Is Domestic Violence?

    Domestic violence is sometimes called “family violence” or “intimate partner violence.” It refers to acts that one person commits to maintain control and domination over another. 

    When many people think of domestic violence, they think of physical abuse such as hitting or pushing another person. 

    However, abuse is not always physical in nature. According to the United States Department Of Justice, domestic violence may also include any of the following types of abuse: 

    • sexual abuse – rape, sexual coercion, harming sexual parts of the body, and demeaning somebody in a sexual way
    • emotional abuse – harming a person’s sense of self-worth through constant criticism, name-calling, and other actions designed to attack self-esteem
    • psychological abuse – harming the psyche through fear, intimidation, personal property destruction, harming pets or threatening to do so, threatening self-harm, or forced social isolation
    • technological abuse – controlling, stalking, impersonating, or otherwise harming someone through technological means

    If your partner is harming you in any way, you do not have to endure it simply because they have not hit you or otherwise physically abused you. Help is available for all forms of domestic violence. 

    Types Of Domestic Violence

    Domestic violence is a broad category. Intimate partner violence may be the most familiar type to many people, but it can also include violence against other household members. 

    In all of the following categories, abuse is committed by one person who has a lot of power in the relationship against a person who has limited or no power. 

    Intimate Partner Violence

    Intimate partner violence is abuse perpetrated against a spouse, former spouse, or another intimate partner. 

    Both victims and perpetrators can be of any gender, and this type of violence occurs in both same-sex and different-sex couples. 

    Couples involved in intimate partner violence may or may not reside in the same house. 

    Child Abuse

    Domestic violence may also include child abuse, which is abuse against a child under 18 years of age by a parent, caregiver, or another adult. 

    Child abuse often occurs in the same homes where intimate partner violence occurs, and witnessing violence between parents can add to a child’s trauma. 

    Elder Abuse

    Elder abuse is abuse committed against a person over the age of 60 by somebody they should be able to trust, such as a family member or caregiver. 

    While abuse can happen to any elderly adult, those who are disabled or need help with daily activities are at the highest risk of experiencing abuse. 

    Intimate Partner Violence Against Women

    Though intimate partner violence can affect people of all genders, women face the highest risk of experiencing this type of trauma. 

    Research on intimate partner violence states that 85% of victims are women. The same research says that women are up to eight times more likely than men to experience abuse by an intimate partner. 

    Worldwide, one in three women has been subjected to abuse during her lifetime. 

    Much of this disparity comes from misogyny and patriarchal gender ideals. In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), adherence to traditional gender roles is itself a manifestation of domestic violence. 

    When male partners believe themselves to be entitled to all power and control in a relationship due to their gender, they may react violently to any deviation from that dynamic. 

    Research on online behavior adds further evidence to the ties between misogyny and violence. 

    According to this research, people who tweet misogynistic ideas are more likely than others to commit domestic and family violence. 

    How Substance Abuse Fuels Domestic Violence

    Multiple sources on domestic violence note that abusers often use addiction as an excuse for their actions. 

    However, as the Ohio Supreme Court notes, those who abuse partners while under the influence of drugs also generally abuse partners while sober and in recovery. 

    Nevertheless, drugs and alcohol do heighten domestic violence situations, and victims of abuse are usually in more danger when their abusers have consumed substances. 

    Domestic violence research states that 25% to 50% of men who commit domestic violence have a substance abuse problem. 

    Drugs and alcohol may heighten abusive situations due to their tendency to lower people’s inhibitions and impulse control. 

    For abusive partners, this means that substances may increase their desire to cause harm, allowing them to commit this harm more quickly and impulsively than they would have otherwise. 

    Alcohol And Domestic Violence

    Alcohol abuse is very common in domestic violence situations. 

    According to research on drug use and addiction, alcohol abuse increased incidents of intimate partner violence. 

    The study, which focused on men who had committed violence against female partners, found that these men were 11 times more likely to direct severe physical aggression toward their partners on days when they had consumed alcohol than on days when they had abstained. 

    Stimulants And Domestic Violence

    Stimulants are drugs that speed up functions in the central nervous system (CNS). They boost dopamine, which is a chemical that promotes positive mood, focus, and motivation. 

    Prescription stimulants such as Adderall are useful for people with certain medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. 

    Some stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, are used almost exclusively for illegal purposes. 

    When these substances are misused, including the use of stimulants without a medical purpose, the resulting surge of dopamine causes euphoria. 

    In domestic violence research, stimulants such as meth and crack cocaine are cited as drugs that are commonly used by perpetrators. 

    The connection between stimulants and domestic abuse may occur for several reasons. 

    Some of these possible reasons include: 

    • increased aggression 
    • agitation and irritability 
    • risky behaviors 
    • paranoia 
    • psychosis 

    Opioids And Domestic Violence

    Research on opioids and domestic violence shows that opioid use is high among people who have abused partners. 

    Opioids are drugs that are prescribed for pain relief, but they have a high potential for misuse and addiction. 

    They work by connecting to the brain’s opioid receptors and blocking pain signals. When misused, they can also create a euphoric high. 

    Because opioids are not known for causing aggression, the connection between opioid use and domestic violence is unclear. 

    One potential connection could come from clouded thinking and impaired decision-making skills, both of which are common symptoms of opioid abuse. 

    Another connection may come from opioid withdrawal symptoms, which include agitation. 

    Others who became addicted to opioids after major surgery, traumatic injury, or a painful chronic condition may be plagued by intense discomfort. 

    This can increase mental health issues, such as depression, and cause frustration and anger, all of which may increase the likelihood of physical or verbal abuse.

    Substance Abuse Among Domestic Violence Survivors

    Domestic violence survivors also often struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. 

    According to research compiled by SAMHSA, women in recovery from addiction are highly likely to have a history of violent trauma. 

    SAMHSA also states that women with alcohol use disorders are more likely than women without alcohol use disorders to report abuse during childhood. 

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    People who have experienced domestic violence may deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. 

    PTSD is a disorder that can result from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, including domestic violence. 

    Symptoms of PTSD include: 

    • hypervigilance 
    • insomnia 
    • experiencing flashbacks 
    • anxiety 
    • depression 
    • irritability 
    • nightmares 

    PTSD and substance abuse commonly overlap. Often, people with PTSD abuse substances as a means of self-medication. 

    Those who experience domestic violence may also use substances as a form of escape. 

    For example, opioids, including heroin, can create a false sense of safety in an unsafe environment. 

    Opioids and other drugs may be used as a way to leave a violent situation mentally and emotionally when a physical exit does not seem possible. 

    Substances As A Means Of Physical Abuse

    The U.S. Justice Department notes that forcing another person to consume drugs or alcohol is itself a form of physical abuse. 

    In some cases, a person may force a partner to consume addictive substances, and the partner may develop a dependence on the substance as a result. 

    This form of abuse may be used as a way for the abusive partner to prevent their victim from escaping the situation. 

    If the victim relies on their partner as a source for substances, they may not have other options for relief from withdrawal symptoms. 

    Effects Of Addiction And Domestic Violence

    Both addiction and domestic violence have wide-reaching effects, and those effects often overlap with one another. 

    When a person has dealt with both substance abuse and domestic violence, the conditions below should be addressed during the treatment process. 

    Physical Injury And Drug Abuse

    Drugs create several physical health effects, and certain effects may be exacerbated by domestic abuse. 

    The specific effects may depend on the type of drug that the survivor has consumed. 

    Meth addiction, for example, can cause skin problems, as people who abuse meth often scratch their skin or pull their hair. 

    Those wounds often become infected because meth use can slow wound healing

    Domestic violence injuries, particularly injuries that involve broken skin, may also be slow to heal in people who have a meth addiction. 

    Mood Disorders

    Both addiction and domestic violence have a connection to mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. 

    When substance abuse and mood disorders overlap, it is unclear if one condition directly caused the other because both addiction and mood disorders are so closely intertwined. 

    Mood disorders can cause people to abuse substances as a form of self-medication, but drugs and alcohol can also worsen the symptoms of mood disorders. 

    Domestic abuse may also lead to mood disorders, particularly depression, as repeated trauma can impact brain chemistry. 


    Anxiety is also common among survivors of domestic abuse, especially as a symptom of PTSD. 

    Anxiety may include feelings of long-term fear and dread as well as short bursts of intense anxiety called panic attacks.

    Anxiety is also common among people with substance use disorders. Sometimes, people abuse substances as a way to numb anxious feelings. 

    Furthermore, many drugs can exacerbate anxiety, especially during withdrawal. 

    How To Get Help For Domestic Violence And Substance Abuse

    If you are experiencing domestic violence, whether you or the perpetrator have an addiction, the first step of recovery is ensuring your own safety. 

    Note that even if your partner apologizes, buys you gifts, and promises never to repeat the abuse again, they will not follow through with that promise. 

    Help For Domestic Violence

    Begin by creating a safety plan for yourself, your children, and your pets. A safety plan will help you minimize your risk of further violence as you begin your escape. 

    The National Domestic Violence Hotline has an interactive safety tool that can help you create a personalized plan for yourself. 

    If you suspect that your phone or computer is being monitored, you can create your plan on a safer computer, such as a library computer. 

    Next, you’ll need a safe place to stay. A domestic violence shelter is often the best choice, as a shelter can connect you to further resources. 

    You can find help and guidance by calling 800-799-7233, or text “START” to 88788. 

    Help For Addiction

    If you also have an addiction, you can seek treatment after you have established physical safety. 

    If you are staying in a domestic violence shelter, the shelter may offer resources to help with addiction recovery. 

    If you are staying with a friend or relative, look for addiction treatment programs in your area. 

    In addiction treatment, your counselors may ask screening questions concerning domestic abuse. These questions help them determine your treatment needs and provide the best care. 

    For example, they may offer trauma-centered therapies that can help you cope with the connection between addiction and abuse. 

    Breaking The Cycle Of Abuse

    Perpetrators of abuse tend to wear down their victims’ self-esteem. As a result, it is very common for survivors to believe that they deserve the abuse or don’t deserve help. 

    Abuse is always the choice of the perpetrator and never the fault of the victim. 

    If you have experienced domestic violence, you did not do anything to cause it, nor could you have prevented it. You deserve to reclaim your life from abuse. 

    Resources For Domestic Violence Survivors

    The following resources are available for victims of domestic abuse, including people whose trauma has been compounded by drug and alcohol addiction. 

    Understanding the connection between domestic violence and substance use:

    Resources for people seeking asylum from domestic violence:

    Resources for people seeking treatment for addiction:

    • Find a Physician: a search tool from the American Society of Addiction Medicine that connects people to substance abuse treatment providers 
    • FindTreatment.gov: a United States government website that helps people find addiction treatment options in their area
    • Mental Health and Substance Abuse: a resource from USA.gov for veterans and their family members who need mental health and substance use disorder support
    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2022 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Centers for Disease Control And Prevention - National Intimate Partner And Domestic Violence Survey
    National Institute On Aging - Elder Abuse
    National Institute On Drug Abuse - Drugs And The Brain
    National Library Of Medicine - Posttraumatic Stress Disorder And Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders: Advances In Assessment And Treatment
    United States Office On Women’s Health - Effects Of Violence Against Women
    World Health Organization - Child Maltreatment

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on November 14, 2022
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