The good people at DrugRehab.com reached out to me to ask if I would spread the public service announcement message that domestic abuse goes hand in hand with substance abuse. Many in Chump Nation are dealing with cheaters who are also addicts, and/or physically abusive. Also, many people respond to abuse (including our kids) by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Often deciding to leave a cheater means disentangling yourself from long, chump habits of codependence, managing an addict’s chaos. Can we change them? Is that a unicorn, or an ass with a carrot stuck to his forehead? Learn to detach with love, as they say. Handing the mic over to Holly Kapherr at DrugRehab.com.
By Holly V. Kapherr
It isn’t uncommon for those dealing with mental or emotional abuse to suffer at the hands of someone with an addiction. Domestic violence and abuse, also known as intimate partner violence or abuse, affects millions of people in the United States, both men and women, in both heterosexual and LGBTQ+ relationships.
One common misconception about domestic abuse is that it must be your current partner demonstrating abuse. That’s not the case. Domestic abuse can happen with former partners as well. Emotional and verbal intimidation, insults, destruction of property and other occurrences are examples of this kind of domestic abuse.
Connections Between Domestic Abuse and Addiction
Several links between domestic abusers and those who are addicted to substances exist, which is why they often coincide.
A 2001 study on alcohol-related domestic violence found that domestic abuse against women was two to four times more likely in men with alcohol problems than among other men.
And according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, more than one in five male abusers admitted to using substances before their most recent acts of abuse against their partner or former partner.
Abusers with Co-Occurring Disorders
A “co-occurring disorder,” known previously in medical circles as a dual diagnosis, is when a person with a substance use disorder also suffers from a mental health issue. For example, an individual with a drug or alcohol addiction who also deals with a condition such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) psychosis, depression or anxiety has co-occurring disorders.
Mental health disorders can exacerbate the effects of alcohol and drugs, especially when mixed with certain medications meant to mitigate these disorders. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and muscle relaxers, often used to treat co-occurring disorders, should never be mixed with alcohol.
Drug interactions are common, and most pharmacists and doctors will advise patients to stop drinking after they begin a course of treatment for co-occurring disorders.
Complications can occur when a patient is already addicted to alcohol and cannot voluntarily quit drinking while taking these medications.
According to a 2016 article in the New York Times regarding antidepressants and alcohol use, Dr. Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry and director of the psychopharmacology clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, said, “The risk of alcohol abuse and dependence problems for those who suffer from depression is about double the risk of people who don’t.”
Additionally, if you have an accompanying psychiatric condition, such as bipolar disorder, the risk for alcohol use disorder is six to seven times higher.
Domestic abuse and abusers with addiction are common, and 7. 9 million adults had a co-occurring disorder along with their addiction in 2014, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Substance use disorders, co-occurring mental health disorders and domestic abuse all share some similar characteristics that solidify the link, including control or loss of control, negative behavior regardless of consequences, obsession, tolerance development and withdrawal.
When Victims Use Substance Abuse to Cope
Victims of domestic violence often use substances, including alcohol, to cope with the mental and emotional scars from abuse. According to a 2002 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, victims of domestic abuse are 70 percent more likely to drink heavily than people who haven’t been abused by a partner.
Mental and emotional abuse can lead to stress, PTSD, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and physical pain. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol is a way to escape these symptoms. However, like any other individual who abuses these substances, individuals suffering from domestic abuse can also develop addictions to these substances.
Using the inhibition-lowering properties of drugs and alcohol can lessen the emotional and physical pain of the abuse, either while the abuse is going on or during daily life. Abuse can consume the survivor of the abuse, and alcohol and drugs can deaden the mind to these painful recollections.
These assertions have been backed up by research. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 56 percent of abused women have a psychiatric problem, and victims of domestic abuse are more vulnerable to alcohol and marijuana use.
Seeking Treatment for Addiction as a Survivor
Another way domestic abuse and addiction are linked is in the reasons individuals do not seek help for them. Often, both addiction and domestic abuse cause feelings of shame, fear, loneliness, self-blame, anger, denial and confusion.
These feelings often discourage people from seeking treatment for their addiction or therapy after or during a domestic abuse situation.
However, more often than not, health care providers are sensitive to the needs of this population, which has been touched by addiction, mental health disorders and domestic abuse. Treatment facilities that specialize in this type of treatment do exist, and they can help.
Soper, R. G. (2014, October 6). Intimate Partner Violence and Co-Occurring Substance Abuse/Addiction. Retrieved from http://www.asam.org/magazine/read/article/2014/10/06/intimate-partner-violence-and-co-occurring-substance-abuse-addiction
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, March 8). Co-Occurring Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/co-occurring
Petrow, S. (2016, December 20). Drinking on Antidepressants. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/20/well/mind/drinking-on-antidepressants.html
Greenfield, S., et al. (2010, June). Substance Abuse in Women. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3124962/
New York Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. (n.d.). Understanding Domestic Abusers. Retrieved from http://www.opdv.ny.gov/professionals/abusers/excuse2.html
Holly V. Kapherr is a professional editor and writer. She started her career in 2007 and has served as an editor for several national print magazines and websites. For ten years, she has specialized in culinary, travel, lifestyle, family and health reporting and feature writing. Her work has been published in the New York Post, Watermark, Parenting and others.