Alcohol and Violence

Alcohol has been linked to violence in intimate relationships for decades. However, domestic violence experts caution that these are two separate problems and should be treated as such. Here we will explore the issues and ways to protect yourself and your children should you be faced with violence or the threat of violence.  

Abuse Defined

By definition, violence is an act against another person or oneself that involves some sort of injury. The World Report on Violence and Health describes violence as:

“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

Violence against spouses or partners is known as domestic abuse or domestic violence. Many spouses/partners who experience hitting, shoving/pushing, choking/strangling, domination, coercion, yelling, name-calling, humiliation, threatening, withholding financial resources, forced sexual contact and other forms of abuse do not consider themselves victims of violence. Nonetheless, all of these are examples of violence as defined above.


Clarifying the Connection Between Alcohol/Drugs and Violence

Most would agree that alcohol lowers one’s inhibitions, can lead to impulsive behavior and poor judgment. All of these issues can result in interpersonal difficulties. The research related to alcohol/drug use and domestic abuse can be confusing. Most have concluded that alcohol/drug use does not cause people to become violent. However, violence may be triggered by conflict over alcohol or drug use, ending alcohol or drug use or while getting or using alcohol or drugs. Another important finding from the research on alcohol/drug use and domestic abuse is that the act of drinking, rather than the effects of drinking, that increases the risk for violence. In one study, the average amount of alcohol consumed before a violent incident was only a few drinks.  Practically speaking, this means that if your addicted loved one acts violently (or has a history of acting violently) you will need to be on alert for warning signs of violence (e.g., loud voice, swearing, pacing) during these types of situations so that you can quickly keep yourself and your children safe.

It is wise to seek support before things get to the point of violence. Talk to a friend, family member, minister or counselor. Take your safety and that of your children seriously.

The primary indicators that you may be involved with someone who is abusive are simple – you feel afraid of his/her behavior and/or the way s/he speaks to you makes you feel ashamed or unlovable.  Here are further risk factors:

  • Extreme jealousy
  • Repeated accusations of affairs or interests in other people (that are untrue)
  • Demanding and controlling
  • Rigidity (dinner must be on the table at 6:00 or there is an outburst)
  • Isolating you from friends and family
  • Controlling what you say to people outside the home
  • Behavior that makes you feel afraid
  • Aggression toward pets and/or children
  • Repeatedly tells you that you are unlovable and nobody else will have you
  • Uses put-downs, name-calling and humiliation to make you feel bad about yourself