The Strong Connection Between Domestic Violence and Addiction
Most people assume that drug addiction is a choice made by an individual who simply lacks morals. People may initially choose to use the substance, but using is no longer a choice once a substance use disorder has progressed. Research shows that numerous changes in the brain occur when someone is addicted.
The drug or alcohol activates an area of the brain responsible for survival and basic needs. The brain then sees the chemically dependent drug as something as vital to surviving as food or water. The compulsion for the substance then becomes a primal-like priority. Once the substance enters the body, changes in the brain affect decision-making, memory, and impulse control. Addicted people do not think or react the way they would if they were sober. It can be difficult for people to stop using drugs once they are addicted, even if they know there is a problem, and they want to stop. Luckily, there are effective means to treat SUDs and give clients a chance for productive and successful lives.
Although initially, consuming drugs or alcohol is a personal choice, the brain responds with less self-control and more impulsively over time. Once a person becomes addicted, there are some negative consequences that can be expected as the disease progresses. Domestic violence is one serious problem that can arise from addiction or occur along with it.
Facts About Domestic Violence
Domestic violence involves controlling and manipulating another person in an intimate relationship through abuse. A romantic partner, a parent, a child, or another family member can all be victims of domestic violence. There are many different methods of control or abuse that can occur. However, domestic violence centers around control and power over another human being.
Domestic Violence May or May Not Be Physical
Domestic violence does not usually occur in public places, so the abuse can go unnoticed. People are afraid to report domestic abuse for fear of retaliation from the abusers. This behavior is often not discussed. If the victim in an intimate relationship does speak about it the abuser generally blames her or him, makes light of the abuse, or denies it outright. Domestic violence is about more than just physical violence. It can also involve:
• Sexual abuse
• Coercion and threats
• Emotional abuse
• Minimizing the abuse
• Denying the abuse
• Blaming you for the abuse
• Financial abuse
• Using so-called “male” and “female” roles to define you
• Using children to carry messages to you
Early Signs of Domestic Abuse
Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse that can start subtly. There can be early warning signs before the abuse escalates to physical harm. Here are some early signs of domestic abuse:
• Controlling who you talk to or where you go
• Hitting, slapping, punching, or holding you down
• Calling you crazy or humiliating you around others
• Destroying your property
• Abusing your pets
• Threatening to take away your children
• Making all the big decisions
• Making you feel afraid
• Making you do illegal things
• Forcing you to perform unwanted sexual acts
• Threatening to hurt you or the children
• Withholding money
• Not allowing you to work
• Blaming you for the abuse
A Vicious Cycle
There is a strong association between addiction and domestic violence. However, even though they co-occur frequently, this does not mean that one causes the other. The abuser tends to blame the substance use for the abusive behavior, as does the victim. The victim may assume that the violence will stop once the substance use stops. Some abusive people can achieve recovery and still abuse others when they’re sober. Domestic violence can precipitate a substance use disorder because the victim may use alcohol or drugs to cope with the abuse. A couple living in addiction together can easily find themselves in a violent domestic relationship as well. Alcohol and drugs change how people behave and quickly fuel more aggressive behavior and words, leading to arguments. A vicious cycle of abuse and substance use disorder can even lead to suicidal ideations.
A large percentage of women in substance abuse treatment also suffer from domestic abuse. Men can also be victims of domestic violence.
What Are the Effects of Domestic Violence and Addiction?
Suppose someone suffering from addiction is also involved in a domestic abuse situation. In that case, the pain they feel can fuel their addiction by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to numb the emotional and physical torment. The abuser may feel guilty for the abuse and decide to drink or consume drugs to escape their feelings. People are much more likely to be vicious while high or drunk. Together, these two issues can create a toxic back-and-forth cycle that can be extremely difficult for both parties to escape.
Fortunately, when a victim is ready to seek treatment for their addiction, they are more likely to be honest about their experiences of domestic violence. When they are in a safe setting away from their abuser, they may be more willing to admit their involvement. Peers share similar incidents in a treatment setting, allowing clients to open up about their situations. The abuser may also become forthcoming about their role after going to treatment. Domestic violence occurs much more often than most people know because victims are too frightened to let anyone know about the abuse.
Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Disorders
Most addiction treatment programs will initially ask about domestic abuse history to determine if these issues are present in addition to the addiction. The co-occurrence of domestic violence with addiction is incredibly prevalent, and it can be efficiently treated along with addiction. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that one in three women and one in four men have endured domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. In addition, domestic violence reports are in many children abuse and neglect cases alongside substance abuse. Courts may therefore require addiction treatment and domestic violence classes or anger management classes to prevent further misuse in the home. Fortunately, many treatment options are available for domestic violence and substance use disorder clients.
Treatment Methods in Addiction Recovery and Domestic Violence
Individual therapy is one-on-one counseling with a trained professional to work on recovery and treatment for domestic violence and can include cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps promote better ways to think, feel, and react to situations that come up in everyday life. This type of therapy can teach someone to recognize dangerous thought patterns associated with addiction or domestic abuse. And instead, change this thinking to positive thinking. Better coping skills are also a focus for clients in individual therapy.
Group therapy generally separates groups by sex to address issues coupled with abuse and addiction that are significant for females or males. Led by a counselor or therapist, peers in the group can share how they have been abused in a safe environment and learn ways to cope.
Family or couples therapy is when a counselor works to fix the problems with addiction and domestic abuse with the family or in the intimate relationship together. If staying in a relationship is beneficial to the recovery of the individuals, then this type of therapy is a valuable means to treating abuse and substance use disorder.
Domestic violence groups can run themselves without a trained professional. The group participants find coping skills for victims and discuss shared experiences. After treatment, these domestic violence groups are valuable to continue a social support network.
Anger management classes focus on controlling one’s anger and expressing upset feelings without rage or lashing out to prevent domestic abuse in the future.
Trauma therapy is a treatment option that works on emotional responses to traumatic events to prevent relapse or further abuse. Trauma is one of the biggest reasons people turn to substances to escape. Instead of running from it, working through the trauma will help the person heal.
Suicide prevention programs gear themselves toward educating people about the risks and warning signs that coincide with suicide ideation. Suicide can happen to a person tragically when suffering from domestic violence or addiction. These programs also focus on learning better coping skills to prevent it.
Life skills classes focus on learning better decision-making and problem-solving skills. Life skills enable clients to live successfully and respond positively to life and social interactions.
Dual diagnosis treatment can treat co-occurring mental health issues that accompany addiction like domestic violence. Depression, Post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety are common disorders that can also co-occur with substance use disorder. This treatment method will provide a unique plan to treat them both at once effectively.
There are many support groups for victims of domestic violence in the local community. There are also support groups for addiction, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous. These support groups can provide an additional outlet for people during and after treatment.
Aftercare treatment offers a follow-up plan to prevent relapse when clients leave initial treatment. Aftercare programs provide additional support and help transition people back into everyday life.
Can You Treat One Without the Other?
Some abusers continue to abuse partners when sober and living in recovery. The same goes for victims who escape domestic abuse and still suffer from addiction. Although the two issues can keep a person in a cycle of suffering, proper treatment for both can result in a successful recovery. Once someone enters a treatment program for addiction, they are away from the abuse. They may be willing to admit to domestic abuse that they are also involved in. Suppose the addiction treatment is successful and the person goes back to an abusive situation. In that case, there is a much greater chance of a relapse. Suppose domestic abuse treatment succeeds, yet the person returns to a lifestyle of addiction. In that case, the likelihood that domestic violence will resume is high because of the substance use disorder. The cycle continues until both disorders are treated properly. Because chemical substances lower inhibitions and cloud judgment that can lead to aggressive behavior, the pattern repeats itself.
The best-case scenario for recovery from domestic violence and addiction is to treat both disorders in an integrated treatment program. Aftercare programs can also help to prevent a relapse. These programs are also beneficial for learning coping skills to prevent falling into a pattern of domestic abuse and/or addiction again.
Seeking Help for Domestic Violence and Addiction
If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction and involved in a domestically violent relationship, there is help out there. Here at First City Recovery Center we specialize in dual-diagnosis treatment and can design a program of recovery that best fits your unique situation. We believe that recovery is possible. We offer many different treatment options to fit your lifestyle. No one should have to stay in a domestic abuse situation, and we want to help you escape the abuse today and regain control of your life.
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN.
Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.