How Substance Abuse In Families Can Lead To Violence

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

Domestic violence is a risk factor for drug and alcohol abuse, and vice versa. Learn more about the connection between the two and how seeking addiction treatment for a loved one can help those affected by domestic violence begin to heal.

How Addiction In Families Can Lead To Violence

Drug addiction can cause significant strain in a household. It can cause financial strain, emotional distress, and in some cases, can contribute to various forms of violence in the home.

Types of violence associated with addiction include:

  • verbal abuse
  • physical violence
  • child abuse
  • interpersonal partner violence
  • emotional abuse
  • psychological abuse
  • elderly abuse
  • sexual violence
  • spiritual abuse

Violence in the home can be perpetrated by someone with a substance use disorder, or by another family member. The connection between the two can go both ways.

That is, domestic violence can be a risk factor for substance abuse. And substance abuse can also contribute to household tension, abuse, and violence within the home.

Learn more about the impact of substance abuse on families

What Is The Connection Between Violence And Addiction?

Domestic violence is a term that’s used to describe the violence that occurs in the home between family members, roommates, or others in the home who are sharing a living space.

Victims of domestic violence may include:

  • children
  • parents
  • siblings
  • roommates
  • spouses
  • partners
  • extended family in the home

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The connection between violence and addiction is multifaceted. That is, there’s no single answer to why they are connected, although they may often share mutual characteristics.

For instance:

  • loss of control
  • unstable mood
  • poor judgment
  • anger and hostility
  • recklessness
  • poor impulse control

Causes Of Violence

Domestic violence can be influenced by a variety of factors. Drugs and alcohol, for instance, can influence a person’s mood and behavior in ways that make them susceptible to violence.

So, too, can factors that are not directly related to substances.

Additional risk factors for domestic violence include:

  • high stress
  • poor emotional regulation
  • history of physical abuse
  • history of anger or hostility
  • unemployment
  • marital conflict
  • emotional or mental instability
  • antisocial personality traits
  • socioeconomic factors

Stress, in particular, can be a major risk factor for heightened tension within a household, as well as incidents of violence between family members, roommates, or spouses.

Drugs like alcohol and illicit stimulants like meth and cocaine are known to have potential effects such as high paranoia, anger, aggression, reckless behavior, and poor judgment.

All of these factors—including a person’s environment, personality, interpersonal skills, as well as actual substance use—can be triggers for violence within the home.

What Types Of Violence Are Associated With Addiction?

Domestic violence can come in many forms. It can be physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, or even financial or spiritual in nature.

It doesn’t always look the same, and may not always be visible to others either within or outside of the household.

Physical Violence And Addiction

Physical violence is a form of violence that can cause physical harm, or is otherwise tangible or physical in nature. For instance, biting, pushing, shoving, burning, slapping, or beating.

These actions by a person can be influenced by drug or alcohol abuse, as well as other risk factors, such as a history of hostile or aggressive behavior.

Physical violence can be perpetrated with or without the use of objects. The intensity of this violence, and its effects, can occur on a spectrum, from mild injury to death.

Verbal Abuse And Addiction

Verbal abuse is a form of abuse that is spoken. A person may taunt, insult, yell, put someone else down, or use a person’s vulnerabilities against them.

Although this may not cause physical harm, this can still be very painful and have lasting effects on a person’s sense of self and mental health.

Drugs, while also capable of instigating aggression or hostility, can also cause people to say or act in ways they normally wouldn’t.

They may say things they don’t mean, or purposely inflict verbal abuse as a result of desperation, frustration, or a projection of their own embarrassment, low self-esteem, or shame.

Intimate Partner Violence And Addiction

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a broad category of violence that refers to violence between romantic partners, spouses, or others involved in an intimate relationship.

Examples of this include:

  • stalking someone
  • constant humiliation or intimidating
  • threatening to take away one’s children
  • purposely withholding affection
  • destruction of personal property
  • isolating a person from others
  • restricting access to financial resources
  • minimizing or downplaying abuse
  • non-consensual touching or sexual contact
  • sexual assault

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists harmful substance use as a risk factor for this type of violence, which is estimated to affect millions of people in the U.S. each year.

Child Abuse And Addiction

Many children in homes affected by addiction don’t suffer from child abuse.

However, these children are at higher risk of maltreatment and neglect compared to peers without an addicted parent or guardian.

This can be emotional, psychological, or physical in nature, and encompass forms of neglect, such as being unable to provide a child with basic needs like medical care, food, housing, and clothes.

Sexual Violence And Addiction

Drugs can alter a person’s judgment, affect reaction times, lower inhibition, cause emotional warmth, and make a person more vulnerable to forms of sexual violence.

Sexual violence, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is any sexual activity that occurs without consent, or where consent is not freely given.

Who can be a victim of sexual violence:

  • children
  • spouses
  • romantic or sexual partners
  • elders

The use of substances like drugs or alcohol, moreover, can render a person unable to consent to sexual activity freely, due to both the cognitive and physical effects of substances.

Read more about sexual abuse and addiction

How Domestic Violence Affects Families

Experiencing violence can have long-term effects physically, psychologically, and can strain or ruin relationships—including that between spouses or parents and their children.

Effects of domestic abuse on children may include:

  • greater likelihood of displaying violent behavior
  • social problems
  • low self-esteem
  • behavioral problems
  • getting into trouble at school
  • separation anxiety
  • becoming withdrawn
  • engaging in risky behaviors
  • more likely to enter abusive relationships
  • increased risk of certain medical problems (e.g. diabetes)
  • future substance abuse problems

Violence can be a contributing factor to the development of a substance abuse problem and can occur as a result of it—at least in part.

Serious injury, legal trouble, and encounters with the criminal justice system can also occur.

Call Today To Find Drug Or Alcohol Treatment

If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, we can help you identify treatment options at a treatment center or through a treatment provider near you.

Don’t wait. Call today to speak to a specialist about addiction treatment options, and how to find a treatment facility that’s capable of meeting your or a loved one’s needs.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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