Link Between Addiction And Domestic/Sexual Abuse

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 29, 2021

Substance abuse has a strong connection to sexual abuse and domestic violence, in part due to shared risk factors. Many drug treatment programs, as a result, offer treatment services for individuals and families affected by domestic and sexual violence.

How Sexual And Domestic Abuse Are Linked To Addiction

Substance abuse is a pervasive problem that affects the lives of millions of people in the United States—as well as the lives of their spouses, romantic partners, and families.

According to research, various forms of abusive behavior—including domestic and sexual abuse—have a strong connection to substance abuse, in part due to shared risk factors.

Learn more about the effects of substance abuse on families

Domestic Abuse And Sexual Abuse

Domestic abuse, sometimes referred to as domestic violence, refers to a form of interpersonal abuse that can occur in a household or between romantic partners.

Also known as intimate partner violence, it can affect anyone in an intimate relationship:

  • family members
  • spouses
  • romantic partners
  • people who are living together

Types Of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence broadly refers to a pattern of abusive behavior that demonstrates a systematic—or repeated—pattern of control and power over another person.

Common forms of domestic abuse include:

  • physical abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • verbal abuse
  • psychological abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • spiritual abuse
  • elderly abuse
  • partner intimidation
  • child abuse

What’s important to understand is that, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, age, race, ethnicity, or religion, any person can become a victim or survivor of domestic violence.

The connection between domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse is also strong.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, an estimated 40 to 60 percent of intimate partner violence (IPV) incidents co-occur with substance abuse.

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Is Domestic Violence Linked To Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol is a mind-altering substance that can lower a person’s inhibitions, affect behavior, and may lead to acts of aggression, violence, or desperation in cases of abuse and addiction.

In addition, research shows that people who experience domestic violence may also be more likely to develop issues with alcohol later in life.

According to addiction researchers and experts:

  • About 25 to 50 percent of people who perpetrate domestic abuse had consumed alcohol at the time of the assault.
  • Alcohol, and heavy drinking in particular, is also associated with stranger violence.
  • Victims of intimate personal violence (IPV) are 70 percent more likely to engage in heavy drinking than those who have not experienced IPV.
  • Women who abuse alcohol are more likely to become victims of domestic violence than women who do not.
  • Women with alcohol use disorder are more likely than those without to report a history of childhood emotional or physical abuse.

Is Domestic Violence Linked To Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse can affect one’s thoughts, behaviors, and actions and may result in patterns of violent or otherwise abusive behavior.

Shared risk factors of domestic violence and drug abuse include:

  • environmental stressors (e.g. living in poverty)
  • poor impulse control
  • history of mental illness
  • unhealthy family interactions
  • economic stress
  • isolation from others

Types Of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can come in different forms, and does not necessarily have to involve physical contact or penetration.

There are also “non-touching” forms of assault that, like sexual activity involving physical contact, can be emotionally and psychologically traumatic.

Examples of sexually abusive events include:

  • being sexually fondled
  • forcing someone to touch a person sexually
  • exposure of one’s genitals without consent
  • unwanted sexual contact from a family member
  • attempted rape
  • sexual assault
  • forcing a spouse or partner to have sex
  • drug-facilitated sexual assault

Is Sexual Abuse Linked To Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol is a drug that can lower a person’s inhibition and alter a person’s judgment.

This can make a person more likely to act in ways they wouldn’t while sober. Intoxication can also increase the risk of someone experiencing sexual assault or violence.

Is Sexual Abuse Linked To Drug Abuse?

Drugs other than alcohol, including psychedelics, hallucinogens, cocaine, meth, and heroin can similarly impair a person’s faculties and render them unable to consent to sexual activity.

Effects of illicit drugs that can lead to unsafe and nonconsensual sexual activity include:

  • memory problems
  • blacking out
  • increased emotional warmth or sexual desire
  • reduced inhibition
  • poor judgment
  • poor balance or coordination
  • difficulty speaking
  • mental fogginess
  • hostility or aggression
  • emotional instability
  • loss of touch with reality
  • sedation

Effects Of Domestic Violence, Sexual Abuse, And Substance Abuse

Forms of violence, including domestic abuse and sexual abuse, can take a toll on a person’s emotional, physical, and mental health—particularly for children and young adults.

Common effects of domestic violence and substance abuse include:

Effects of abuse can last for years, well into adulthood. Even so, it can be difficult for people who have survived abuse to talk about or even recognize their experience for what it was.

For some, the connection between substance abuse and past trauma may show up later in life, through the development of their own drug or alcohol problem, often as a means to cope.

Survivors Of Abuse And Drug Addiction

Research shows that people who experience domestic violence or sexual abuse are at a higher risk of developing a substance abuse problem later in life.

Drugs and alcohol can be used to numb, forget, distract, or silence thoughts that can make everyday life feel unbearable for survivors.

Unfortunately, the use of substances as a coping mechanism can have serious effects, including a lack of control over substance use and the development of a full-blown substance use disorder.

Getting Help For Substance Abuse

Many drug and alcohol treatment programs offer treatment services that can help heal relationships torn apart by substance abuse, and help survivors begin to heal from past trauma.

Treatment options for individuals and families affected by substance abuse include:

  • family counseling
  • support groups
  • behavioral therapy
  • trauma counseling
  • dual diagnosis treatment
  • social services support
  • relapse prevention planning

Find Treatment For Substance Abuse Today

Asking for help can, for many, be the first step towards healing from a substance use disorder.

Don’t wait. Call our helpline for information about how to find nearby treatment options at a high-quality drug or alcohol treatment center today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 29, 2021
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