The relationship between alcohol and domestic violence is a tricky one.
When I was in a violent relationship, which I described in last week’s blog, I know that alcohol was a key factor in exacerbating the situation. I did think for a while that alcohol was the cause of the problem, but having learned about domestic violence since, I know that this isn’t true. I think I believed this because it felt like there would be a solution to the problem if we BOTH stopped drinking. I thought if I stopped drinking, he would stop drinking and the problem would stop. I have to say, it did reduce for a while, but we didn’t see anyone or do anything other than exist. Part of domestic abuse is isolation, and I felt that being not being able to see my friends was more of an issue for me than the violence!
Hidden Hurt, says “We may wish to believe that it is the alcohol causing the abuse, because then we can also believe that there is an easy solution to the abuse, and we can also believe that our abuser doesn’t really mean to hurt us, that he/she has simply ‘lost control’ and is not really responsible for the abuse. It allows us to believe that this is a problem that we can tackle together, that with our support and understanding and patience, the abuse can stop. Effectively, it allows us to feel that we still have some control over the situation.”
Prevalence of alcohol and violence
Alcohol is very well connected to aggressive and violent acts. Historically, alcohol goes hand in hand with losing control. Whether that’s being unfaithful to a partner, saying something we shouldn’t or generally making a fool of ourselves. When it comes to reported domestic violence incidents, research shows that between 25% and 50% of perpetrators have been drinking at the time of the assault. This figure has been shown to be anywhere up to 73% in some areas.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales is a survey which collects data from individuals and asks about domestic abuse. They found that in 2016, an estimated 2.0 million adults aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse, equating to a prevalence rate of 6 in 100 adults. 7.7% are women and 4.4% men. 41% of incidents reported to the police go on to be reported as crimes.
17% of victims reported that the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol and 10% reported them being under the influence of drugs. (around 20% of respondents answered that they did not know)
A victim’s alcohol use
7% of victims reported they were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the abuse and 1% reported they were under the influence of drugs. There has been a correlation between the amount that victims drink and the likelihood of abuse happening, however, it is important to consider the facts around this such as whether the victims start to abuse substances themselves as a potential coping mechanism for the abuse they are sustaining. Whether economic considerations need to be taken into consideration.
Victim Blaming is not appropriate in any circumstance. We like to have rational explanations for why things happen, perhaps because it makes sense of a situations that we then don’t have to deal with ourselves or get involved in. I have often heard the phrase “It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other” or “Ooh she gives as good as she gets” it makes my blood boil. Victims of domestic violence are victims! They aren’t causing it and no matter what happens, the perpetrator is in the wrong.
Women’s Aid have launched a campaign called Change That Lasts to change the way domestic abuse is responded to so that we react differently in society.
Control is a major issue in abusive relationships, not only because if the control the perpetrator has over the victim, but also because the victim can feel like they have no control whatsoever over their own life. In fact, every aspect of life becomes a focus on what the other person is doing, how they are going to ‘be’ when they next see them, trying to identify triggers to violent or abusive outbursts, trying to minimise the incidents and so on. In addition to this, there’s the shame, embarrassment and fear of what other people will think. If children are involved, then due to there STILL being a fear of having children removed by Children’s Services, this can create even more control over who knows about the situation and what is said. For children, this adds more pressure for them, whether they are directly or indirectly encouraged to keep quiet about what is going on.
Children are taken into care as a last resort and as long as there is a parent keeping the children safe then children will not be removed. They may be supported to leave a perpetrator if children are at risk of significant harm.
What perpetrators get out of drinking
Perpetrators can use alcohol as an excuse for behaviour, it can be an aid to reduce any inhibitors to violence or abuse. The fact is, alcohol is not responsible for violence, the perpetrator is.
A report by Scottish Women’s Aid stated that the role of alcohol in domestic abuse has been framed in various ways (Jacobs 1998):
- ‘Alcohol as an excuse’: perpetrators are not held responsible for their actions when under the influence of alcohol.
- ‘Drinking and violence as manifestations of similar underlying problems’: there is no causal link between drinking and domestic abuse but they are caused by similar life stressors.
- ‘Alcohol use as a means of gaining power and control’: social norms of male violence and need for control and power result in men using alcohol as an additional weapon of domination.
Alcohol as an excuse
Alcohol doesn’t cause violence, although it could be used as an excuse for it. Do you know anyone who has problems with alcohol? Are they violent? Some will be and some won’t be. Some alcoholics might be violent as well and some problematic drinkers may never have hurt anyone in their lives, except themselves. Someone who is a domestic abuse perpetrator might be drug or alcohol dependent also, so there are two issues to deal with here.
As domestic abusers are manipulative, getting drunk can be a really good distraction for victims who might want to believe that the alcohol is the problem, not the person. If the alcohol disappears, then maybe the problem will too.
Most of the abuse I experienced was when my partner had been drinking, but perhaps this was because it gave him an excuse to do it, and then apologise the next day to minimise the situation.
In fact, my partner may not have been violent when sober, but he was still abusive and controlling. He was always argumentative with friends and other people, so it was built into his value system that violence and abuse was a part of him. I don’t know where it had come from but it was there.
I can help
I didn’t want to leave last week’s blog hanging in the air so I thought this might bring it back to my work and what I can do to help.
The Vesta Approach is my programme which supports people that live with a problematic drug or alcohol users. I have a module on domestic violence where we unpick different types of abuse and explore whether this is occurring for my clients. Abuse can be normalised when living with it for a prolonged period of time and as one of my programme’s aim’s is to help family members lead better lives, it is absolutely vital to include domestic abuse and risk as part of the package. We also explore safety measures and create a safety plan if needed.
We map out previous incidents of abuse and explore the connection to this and their substance use, if there is a connection. If a loved one chooses to stay with an abusive partner, exploring patterns and potential trigger points can be useful in offering insight into a loved one’s aggressive behaviour and whether or not it can be defused or intercepted. It also allows an individual to plan when they need to withdraw or escape from a situation. This work is undertaken if a family members chooses to stay living with or in contact with their loved one and is undertaken alongside safeguarding procedures.
For a safe space to share your situation, go to my closed group, Vesta Confidential, where family members living with a substance user support each other and get lots of information and advice from me.
My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area. You can also get help via Skype and an online group therapeutic programme.
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See you next week,