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Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence

Many studies show a high rate of alcohol abuse among men who batter their female partners. Yet is there really a link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence? No evidence supports a cause and effect relationship between the two problems. The relatively high incidence of alcohol abuse among men who batter must be viewed as overlap of two widespread social problems.

Efforts to link alcohol abuse and domestic violence reflect society's tendency to view battering as an individual deviant behavior. Moreover, there is a reluctance to believe that domestic violence is a pervasive social problem that happens among all kinds of American families. For these reasons, it is essential to emphasize what is known about the relationship between alcohol abuse and domestic violence.

bullet Battering is a socially learned behavior, and is not the result of substance abuse or mental illness. Men who batter frequently use alcohol abuse as an excuse for their violence. They attempt to rid themselves of responsibility for the problem by blaming it on the effects of alcohol.
bullet Many men who batter do not drink heavily and many alcoholics do not beat their wives. Some abusers with alcohol problems batter when drunk, and others when they are sober. For example, Walker's (1984) study of 400 battered women found that 67% of batterers frequently abused alcohol; however, only one-fifth had abused alcohol during all 4 battering incidents on which data were collected. The study also revealed a high rate of alcohol abuse among nonbatterers.
bullet In one batterer's program, 80% of the men had abused alcohol at the time of the latest battering incident. The vast majority of men, however, also reportedly battered their partners when not under the influence of alcohol.
bullet Data on the concurrence of domestic violence and alcohol abuse vary widely, from as low as 25% to as high as 80% of cases.
bullet Alcoholism and battering do share some similar characteristics, including:
bullet both may be passed from generation to generation
bullet both involve denial or minimization of the problem
bullet both involve isolation of the family
bullet A battering incident that is coupled with alcohol abuse may be more severe and result in greater injury.
bullet Alcoholism treatment does not "cure" battering behavior; both problems must be addressed separately. However, provisions for the woman's safety must take precedence.
bullet A small percent (7% to 14%) of battered women have alcohol abuse problems, which is no more than that found in the general female population. A woman's substance abuse problems do not relate to the cause of her abuse, although some women may turn to alcohol and other drugs in response to the abuse. To become independent and to live free from violence, women should receive assistance for substance abuse problems in addition to other supportive services.
bullet Men living with women who have alcohol abuse problems often try to justify their violence as a way to control them when they're drunk. A woman's failure to remain substance free is never an excuse for the abuser's violence.