Rutgers Univ Study – Domestic Violence and Addiction

CASFACTS ON: Alcohol, Drugs and Domestic Violence

By Robert Mackey, Ph.D., C.A.C., DVS

Statistics on the positive correlation between domestic violence and
addiction range from forty-four percent, according to the New Jersey
Uniform Crime Report of 1989, to more than eighty percent in some
research studies. According to the National Woman Abuse Prevention
Project in Washington, D.C., alcoholism and battering share the following
characteristics: Both are inter-generational, involve denial and
minimization of the problem, and involve isolation of the family.
Considering this, any intervention with either of these problems should
consider the implications and presence of the other.

The topic of domestic violence and its association with addiction has
received increased attention over the past decade. In a report by
Schuerger and Reigle (1988), personality and background data were
obtained on two-hundred fifty men enrolled in a group treatment program
for spouse abuse. The major conclusions of this investigation verified
the prevalence of alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence in the family of
origin of abusive men. Fitch and Papantonio (1983) found violence between
the batterer’s parents, abuse of the batterer as a child, alcohol and
drug abuse, and economic stress to be highly correlated to spouse abuse.
Data from the New York based program, Abused Women’s Aid In Crisis,
indicate that alcohol abuse on the part of the husband was a factor in
over eighty percent of their cases. Other findings cited by these authors
came from a survey involving interviews of one hundred wives of
alcoholics who had identified themselves as victims of abuse. Seventy-two
percent of these women indicated they had been threatened physically,
forty-five percent had been physically attacked, and twenty-seven percent
had experienced potentially lethal attacks. None of these women had
sought help as victims of battering, suggesting that alcohol abuse is not
only a factor in many cases of domestic violence, but that wife battering
may be very common in families of alcoholics.

Lehmann and Krupp (1984) surveyed one thousand five hundred cases of
women calling a hotline for abused women in Philadelphia, and fifty-five
percent of these women said that their husbands became abusive when
drinking. Lehman and Krupp asserted that although the association between
alcoholism and domestic violence is clear, “most existing research
supports the conclusion that alcohol abuse does not cause domestic
violence.” A final portion of this research involved interviews with ten
alcoholism counselors and ten workers specializing in the field of
domestic violence. Contrary to the research literature, workers in both
fields believed that alcoholism was, in fact, the primary cause of the
violence. These findings support the need for collaboration between the
fields of addiction treatment and domestic violence as well as for
professional training on the subject.

In summary, research on alcohol abuse and domestic violence makes it
clear that men with drinking problems are at high risk to be abusive
toward their spouses. However, it is also clear that many men who have
drinking problems do not abuse their wives, and that some men who don’t
have drinking problems do abuse their wives. Therefore, the conclusion
that there is no direct causal relationship between drinking and spouse
abuse, a position supported by most of the researchers in this area,
appears irrefutable.

There are a few important points to consider when intervening with the
problems of alcohol abuse and domestic violence. First, there is no
causal relationship between the two, therefore recovering from one of the
problems does not assure resolution of the other. Treatment of the
addiction should precede treatment for the battering; however, in many
cases counseling for battering can be initiated concurrently or can be
instituted initially to assist in confronting the denial of the
addiction. In either case, the violence must be addressed immediately,
either through counseling or through legal sanctions and restraints, to
assure the safety of the victim(s). Victims of domestic violence, whether
alcoholism is involved or not, should receive the benefit of counseling
and education about the cycles and dynamics of battering. Victims should
also be given the opportunity to investigate family-of-origin issues,
beliefs, behavioral patterns, and role expectancies that increase
vulnerability to abusive types of relationships through disempowerment.
The goal of intervention is to assure safety and to empower both victim
and abuser to act independently in their best interests. While family
therapy can be an important aspect of addiction recovery, it is
contraindicated in the presence of domestic violence. Early recovery,
where both problems exist, should focus on individual self-management and
should incorporate marital or family treatment as an adjunct therapy
later in the therapeutic process. Domestic violence creates an extreme
imbalance of power in the relationship which prohibits effective
negotiation. This “disempowerment” requires a reasonable degree of
resolution before the effective assertion of the victim’s needs can be

It is recommended that the following components be incorporated in
treatment programs for battering, in order of priority:

  1. Instruct and support the alcoholic-batterer in abstaining from
    alcohol use and violence through direct appeal, and through appropriate
    treatment modalities (or through legal or formal sanctions such as
    restraining orders, job jeopardy, etc.)
  2. Confront denial and projection of responsibility.
  3. Incorporate recovery programs for addiction concomitant with anger
    management and self-control techniques.
  4. Address relapse issues common to both problems, such as resentment,
    self-pity, and self-defeating patterns of behavior.
  5. Teach assertive communication skills.
  6. Educate all parties on the techniques of effective problem-solving,
    thereby empowering each individual in the system to behave in his or
    her personal best interest.
  7. Address the needs of the family system. These are
    inter-generational problems, and prevention is a primary

Domestic violence and addiction can be a lethal mix. The loss of
control and effects of alcohol and drug abuse contribute significantly to
the severity of beatings in abusive relationships. FBI statistics
indicate that thirty percent of female homicide victims are killed by
their husbands or boyfriends. Battering, unlike the disease of addiction,
is a socially learned behavior which can be reversed if the motivation
for change is realized. Techniques to conrol one’s behavior and social
skills can be relearned to eliminate the violent behavior, just as life
manageability can be attained through a commitment to recovery. Just as
abstinence from a drug is alone insufficient for true recovery,
elimination of violent behavior is just the first of many steps toward
breaking the cycle of domestic violence.

Suggestions for Abusers

  1. Seek professional help for addiction and/or aggression control.
    This may require involvement in appropriate 12-step meetings and in
    anger management counseling; addressing one problem will not
    necessarily solve the other.
  2. Understand that both battering (physical and psychological) and
    addiction are progressive. The longer you deny the problems, the more
    dangerous they become.
  3. Resentment, denial, self-pity, and loss of control are
    characteristic of alcoholism and battering. Be willing to get
  4. Alcoholism and family violence tend to be inter-generational; be
    prepared for long-term care. Be supportive and encourage help for your
    children and family. 5.You canêt avoid influencing others,
    but you can’t afford to control anyone but yourself.

Suggestions for Battered Persons

  1. Define yourself as a survivor of violence rather than a victim;
    it’s more empowering.
  2. Reach out to support groups; isolation is one of your greatest
  3. Trust that ultimately you know whatês in your best
    interest, and act accordingly.
  4. Realize that you are not the cause of another’s behavior; you
    cannot change someone else, so focus on yourself.
  5. Develop a safety plan for you and your children in the event that
    you need to act quickly. A local domestic violence service can assist
    you in developing your options and advise you of your rights.

References ans Suggestions for Further

Banerjee Associates. (1994). Secret wounds: Working with child
observers of family violence
[Video]. Princeton NJ:

Eberle, P.A. (1982). Alcohol abusers and non-users: Discriminant
analysis of differences between two subgroups of batterers. Journal
of Health and Social Behavior
, 23, 260-271.

Fitch, F.J., & Papantonio, A. (1983). Men who batter: Some
personality characteristics. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,
171(3), 190-192. Forward,S., & Torres, J. (1986). Men who hate
women & the women who love them
. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Lehmann, N., & Krupp, S. (1984). Alcohol-related domestic
violence: Clinical implications and intervention strategies. Alcohol
Treatment Quarterly
, 1(4), 111-115.

Martin, D. (1981).Battered wives. San Francisco, CA: Volcano
Press, Inc. National Woman Abuse Prevention Project, 2000 P Street, NW,
Suite 508, Washington, D.C. 20036.

New Jersey Battered Women’s Coalition. (1995). Relationships and
(R.A.P.). Trenton, NJ: Author. Roberts, A.R. (1988). Substance
abuse among men who batter their mates. Journal of Substance Abuse
, 5, 83-87.

Schuerger, J.M., & Reigle, N. (1988). Personality and biographic
data that characterize men who abuse their wives. Journal of Clinical
, 44(1), 75-81.

Sonkin, D.J., & Durphy, M. (1982). Learning to live without
. San Francisco, CA: Volcano Press, Inc.

Weisinger,H. (1985). Dr. Weisinger’s anger workout book. New
York, NY: Quill.


Robert Mackey, PH.D., C.A.C., DVS, is a consulting psychologist on
domestic violence

Center of Alcohol Studies
607 Allison Road,Piscataway, NJ 08854-8001
Telephone: (732)445-2190
Fax: (732)445-350
CAS Library (732)445-4442
Fact Sheet No. 9 (2)

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