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Does drinking lead to abuse?

by Pam Otal, Daya Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator

Alcoholism is often linked to intimate partner violence, but does the presence of alcohol and/or substances increase the likelihood of abuse in a relationship? Well, the truth is a bit complicated.

First, it’s important to note that alcohol and alcoholism are never a sole determinate, or cause of, intimate partner violence (IPV). There are compounding factors, including systemic and cultural influences, that could eventually trigger intimate partner abuse in violent individuals. Nevertheless, IPV research has regularly identified recent consumption of alcohol by perpetrators. Men who are dependent on alcohol or other substances are 6-7 times more likely to be involved in IPV, according to a recent study. Alcohol consumption by victims of IPV has also been documented, but at a lower level than in perpetrators.

Alcohol and substance use disorders decrease an individual's inhibition, which can lead to the use of violence in intimate relationships. Reduction in cognitive and physical functions impairs self-control, consequently reducing a perpetrator’s ability to resolve conflicts nonviolently. Furthermore, excessive drinking by one partner can exacerbate financial difficulties, childcare problems, and other family stressors. Violence can also be triggered by conflict over alcohol use (or ending such use), or in the process of obtaining and using substances. Victims may participate in alcohol and substance use with their abuser in order to try to manage the violence and increase their safety; plus, abusers can force victims to drink or use substances with them.

While there is undoubtedly a link between drinking and drugs and IPV, it’s critical to consider that violence often occurs in the absence of alcohol and substance use. Perpetrators who commit IPV while intoxicated or under the influence will also be violent and controlling when sober. Moreover, many perpetrators of domestic violence and coercive control do not have alcohol dependency or substance use problems. Alcohol’s role in IPV may be explained by the expectation that alcohol will have a disinhibited effect on behavior. In other words, some perpetrators consciously use alcohol or other substances as an excuse for their violent behavior. Although a perpetrator’s use of alcohol and substances may have an effect on the severity of the abuse or the ease with which they can justify their actions, a perpetrator does not become violent because intoxication causes them to lose control of their temper. At its core, violence in intimate partner relationships is used to exert power and control over another partner, it does not represent a loss of control.

The bottom line is a perpetrator’s sobriety can stop regular abuse, but it does not solve their underlying issues for committing IPV. As a society we must dispel the notion that the aggression that stems from alcohol and substance use is the sole factor for violence in an imitate relationship. We must also challenge cultural norms that encourage drinking and drug use as a mark of masculinity. This has resulted in rampant alcohol and drug abuse in many communities throughout the South Asian diaspora, along with intensifying IPV. Only by fully confronting the underlying reasons for the abuse, can someone who uses violence be treated.

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