Every 15 seconds a woman becomes a victim of domestic violence in the United States. An estimated 1 out of every 4 women will be raped or physically abused at least once in their lifetime.
Staggering numbers like these indicate that no matter how anyone appears to the outside world, often times what goes on behind closed doors is something different entirely.
This means the nice family living next door, the friendly coworkers you exchange pleasantries with around the water cooler, the fellow soccer moms or cub scout dads, even your favorite stars, all could be battling this Trojan horse wreaking havoc on American couples and families.
What is Domestic Violence?
Some of the more common forms of domestic violence include the following:
- Physical, emotional or verbal intimidation
- Physical threats or blackmail
- Forcible sex
- Harming or killing of family pets
- Destruction of family property
- Physical abuse such as kicking, hitting, slapping, punching, stabbing or burning
An estimated 8% to 13% of marriages involve abuse of some sort, however, victims are not always women. Victims may include significant others, spouses, intimate partners, children, parents or stepparents or elderly relatives.
Is Substance Abuse to Blame for Domestic Violence?
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that according to a 1994 study, 61% of offenders of domestic abuse are substance abusers and over 50% of spouses accused of murdering their spouse were under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the day of the murder.
There is a definite statistical correlation between substance abuse and domestic violence, indicating that the regular abuse of drugs or alcohol is the highest leading risk factor to violence within a family or intimate relationship.
Incidents of violence in which alcohol or drug abuse is a factor tend to be more severe, but experts indicate that it is not the direct cause of the violence.
In a Memphis Study of Nighttime Arrests, 72 cases of domestic abuse were examined. In 92% of cases, the offenders were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 67% of offenders had used a combination of alcohol and cocaine, and nearly half had used drugs or alcohol every day for the previous month before the incident of violence.
This further supports the inclination that drug abuse yields a higher tendency for someone to become violent, but what their findings also indicated was that 42% of the victims in the study also reported using drugs or alcohol the day they were assaulted.
15% of the victims indicated they had used cocaine and the majority of these victims had been previously battered by the same offender.
Often times it is reported, only the victim is a substance abuser and the assailant cites the violence was only resorted to in order to deal with the victim’s erratic behavior. Studies indicate that potentially violent situations are more dangerous when the victim is the substance abuser because the victim is less able to accurately assess imminent danger and flee or may exacerbate the situation.
Victims of domestic violence with drug addiction also tend to not report their assault out of fear of prosecution for drug use and become victims of repeat violence. Beyond the fear of prosecution, 51% of alcohol abuse program directors state that a woman’s addiction to alcohol may prohibit her from leaving an abusive relationship, leading to repeat assaults. This failure to leave an abusive relationship often leads to an escalation in the violence, many times resulting in the death of the victim.
A New Mexico Study of Fatalities led by J.H. Arbuckle studied 134 homicides of women between 1990-1993. They found that 62% of which a male intimate partner was the accused murderer, 25% of victims were high and over one-third of victims were legally drunk at the time of their death.
The Perfect Storm
By far the most dangerous environment, according to 87% of substance abuse program directors is one in which both parties are abusing drugs or alcohol. The old saying “misery loves company” is evident in the number of couples engaging in substance abuse together. They score drugs together, get high together, and go through sickness and withdrawal together.
This lifestyle often leads to impulsive behavior and highly stressful situations that can quickly escalate into violent situations.
Beyond Street Drugs and Alcohol
When speaking of substance abuse the general assumption is that cocaine, heroin, meth or alcohol are involved however Time Magazine reports that many prescription drugs are known to incite violent behavior among patients who are prescribed these drugs for valid medical reasons. This is the baseline for what is known as the “Prozac defense,” a common argument used by defense attorneys to justify the violent behavior of defendants taking Prozac.
Time Magazine reports a list of ten medications that carry a high index of violence, such as Chantix, a popular drug used to curb the cravings of cigarettes, which has been shown to make people 18 times more likely to become violent than any other drug. Other drugs include Paxil, amphetamines, Lariam, Strattera, Halcion, Luvox, Effexor and Pristiq.
Is Substance Abuse the Common Denominator?
While all of these statistics seem to point to the influence of drugs or alcohol being the common factor among most domestic abuse cases, experts are quick to remind us that while it is a factor, it is by far not the only factor.
Curing a substance abuse problem does not cure the violent tendencies of those involved. The majority of offenders were victims of abuse or witnessed abuse in their own childhood, making them predisposed to the behavior in which drugs or alcohol may play a part in awakening the tendency within.
By the same token, many victims who are found to have a drug addiction, do so as a coping mechanism to the abuse. This creates a vicious cycle of repeated physical and substance abuse, sometimes generation after generation.
It is important to realize that the effects of abuse on a victim may not appear right away, and they may suffer in silence, self-medicating and staying in dangerous relationships. In any case of domestic abuse, both parties should seek treatment.
Offenders should seek a comprehensive treatment program that will address not only their addiction but anger management and counseling as well.
Victims should also seek treatment to heal from their abuse and find healthy ways to cope rather than numbing their pain with substance abuse. Remember no one is immune, domestic abuse happens everywhere, if you or someone you love is caught up in this vicious cycle, please reach out, there is help available.