If you have ever studied domestic violence, you know how abusers “choose” to behave violently, how they manipulate their partners through minimizing and denying their actions as abusive, blaming their partners for “causing” the abuse, the characteristics of abusers, as well as the barriers for leaving an abusive partner. You also understand how alcohol and substance abuse adds another layer to the “come here, go away” patterns of unhealthy relationships.
Working with actual victims of domestic violence, it is a lot harder to convince women that, in fact, their partner chose when and where to escalate an argument, which part of the body to hit (if the incident was physical) and who or what to blame it on. Alcoholism and substance abuse fit in quite nicely. It’s a lot easier to to blame your drinking or drugging for the cause of losing control.
While many women will notice the specific pattern of their abusive relationship, they may read too much into the link between alcoholism and abuse. I have heard many women say “if he would only stop drinking”, or “he was fine when he was going to AA”, that it is hard to not want to buy into the fact that their partner really does love and respect her except when he’s high.
The reality is that alcohol and drugs are used as an excuse for the violence. It’s true that alcohol and substances inhibit a person and give them a false sense of control. Many abusers may only become violent when they are under the influence because then they are not expected to be in control. Society and the media actually portray individuals who are drunk as rowdy, out of control and aggressive. If we accept that that is one of the side-effects of using, why would we really hold a drunk accountable? The same goes for victims of intimate partner violence. It is much easier to make sense of abuse by blaming the substance.
Alcohol and domestic violence do have one commonality; they are both unhealthy coping skills. If your partner has to drink or use drugs to cope, it follows logically that he may one day turn to violence. Buying into the idea that the substance abuse causes the violence, only reinforces that the abuser is not, and therefore should not be, accountable for his actions.
Research shows that after completing substance abuse treatment, the violence rarely ends. In fact, it may increase because now the offender cannot use alcohol as coping or as an excuse. The best form of treatment for spousal or partner abusers who also use substances would be for them to get treatment for the domestic violence and for the substances separately.
Joy Singh, MS, LCPC is the owner and Clinical Director of the Advanced Midwest Institute for Counseling and Psychotherapy, LLC in DuPage County, IL. Joy is trained in working with victims of domestic violence and other forms of trauma. At AMI Counseling, Joy treats individuals, couples and families who have experience trauma or abuse in a safe atmosphere, with compassion and empathy. Joy has also designed a program to help treat offenders who want to stop the cycle of abuse. Joy has offices in Naperville and Oak Brook, IL and works alongside many doctors and community leaders. Besides treating trauma survivors, Joy specializes in couples counseling, anxiety, depression and women’s issues. Joy speaks both Punjabi and Hindi and works with many Indian clients to help them sort out cultural or acculturation issues.