Domestic Violence is a Hidden Face of Addiction

Domestic violence may be defined as one or more types of physical, sexual, mental, emotional, relational, psychological, or verbal assault perpetrated by one relational partner upon another, typically a spouse or partner in a committed relationship.

When is Domestic Violence a Hidden Face of Addiction?

Domestic violence and addictive disease have been identified to have a number of common features. However it is defined, domestic violence involves an effort to control another person by force, coercion, or intimidation.

Domestic violence, intimate partner violence, spouse abuse, and battering all refer to the victimization of a person with whom the abuser has had an intimate relationship. It is generally repeated, and often escalates within relationships. Investigation and research on domestic violence and its impact on domestic partners, families, children, as well as its association with substance abuse and violence expressed in our society, has accelerated greatly over the past two decades.

Violent crime pertains to all forms of the following crimes: criminal homicide completed and attempted rape, sexual assault, robbery, assault, kidnapping, intimidation, illegal abortion, extortion, cruelty towards child or spouse, hit-and-run driving with bodily injury, and miscellaneous crimes against persons as opposed to crimes against property. Family violence includes all types of violent crime committed by an offender who is related to the victim either biologically or legally through marriage or adoption.

A crime is considered family violence if the victim was the offender’s current or former spouse; parent or adoptive parent or adoptive parent; current or former stepparent; legal guardian; biological or adoptive child; current or former stepchild; sibling; current or former step sibling; grandchild; current or former step- or adoptive-grandchild or grandparent. Domestic violence may also include physical attacks, obsessive following (stalking), and verbal/emotional abuse. Even though stalking may not be a violent crime, it is still considered abuse.

Statistics about intimate partner violence (IPV) vary because of differences in how data sources define domestic violence and collect data. For example, some definitions include stalking and psychological abuse, and others consider only physical and sexual violence. Data on intimate partner violence usually comes from police, clinical settings, non-governmental agencies or organizations, and survey research. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control estimates that nearly 5.3 million domestic violence incidents happen each year among women 18 years and older resulting in 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths annually.

A combination of individual, relational, community and societal factors contribute to the risk of being a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence. Some of these risk factors are the same for victims and perpetrators. Childhood physical or sexual trauma victimization is a risk factor for future intimate partner violence perpetration and victimization. A large overlap exists between intimate partner violence and child maltreatment. Children of abused mothers are 57 times more likely to have been harmed because of domestic violence between their parents, compared with children of non-abused mothers.

Individual risk factors for domestic violence are: low academic achievement, involvement in aggressive or delinquent behavior as a youth, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse, witnessing or experiencing violence as a child, lack of social networks and social isolation, and unemployment. Relationship risk factors include marital conflict, marital instability, and male dominance in the family, poor family functioning, emotional dependence and insecurity, belief in strict gender roles, desire for power and control in relationships, and exhibiting anger and hostility toward a partner. The public health approach aims to moderate and mediate those contributing factors that are preventable, and to identify protective factors which can reduce the risk of victimization and perpetration.

Because domestic violence has so many of the same symptoms as addiction, it often goes undiagnosed in substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment facilities. Virtually every clinical health and mental health care provider treats victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, although many are unaware that their patients have formerly or recently been abused. Historically, health care providers have viewed such violence as a social/legal problem or even as a private family issue, outside their scope of practice and inappropriate to address in a clinical setting.

Physical violence is typically accompanied by emotional or psychological abuse. Domestic violence, whether sexual, physical, or psychological, can lead to various psychological consequences for victims. Some of these issues are depression, antisocial behavior, suicidal behavior in females, anxiety, low self-esteem, inability to trust men, fear of intimacy.

Judge Lindley, who initiated the Orange County drug courts, stated that after years of sentencing strong penalties for domestic violence offenders she noted the close correlation between substance abuse and intimate partner violence. After addressing the substance abuse through treatment, rather than incarceration, the domestic violence issues dropped proportionally. This significant result of treating domestic violence and substance abuse simultaneously as co-occurring disorders, gives us all hope for a better tomorrow.

Remember, take all threats seriously; contact a domestic violence hotline to plan for a safe future; develop a safety plan in advance; call people who are willing to help and tell them about how they can help; ask witnesses to document what they saw; contact the police if the abuser has broken the law; and consider getting a restraining order or protective order for safety; and consider learning self-defense.

By Charles W. Graham B.S., M.Ed., CADC II