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Domestic abuse and alcohol: Myths and reality

Domestic abuse and alcohol misuse often go hand in hand so Alcohol Awareness Week offers an opportunity for us to dispel some myths about this complex relationship. 

Myth 1: Alcohol and drugs are often seen as a “cause” of domestic violence

Reality: The relationship between alcohol and domestic abuse is complex, but:

•   No evidence of a direct causal link

•   Not all problem drinkers are abusive or violent towards their partners

•   Perpetrators use violence and abuse both with and without alcohol

•   However, alcohol consumption can increase the frequency and seriousness of injury.

Myth 2: Women who use alcohol deserve or could provoke violence from their partner

Reality: Women often use alcohol as a coping mechanism

In a recent study 97% of domestic abuse survivors said they used alcohol to numb the physical and psychological pain of the abuse

Domestic violence is a hidden crime: Those who have experienced abuse from a partner or ex-partner will often try to keep it from families, friends, or authorities.  

  •  They may be ashamed of what has happened
  • They may feel they were to some extent to blame
  • They may love their partner and not want him to be criticised or punished for what he did
  • They may think it was a one-off event and won’t happen again
  • They may be frightened that if they tell anyone about it, their partner will find out and they will be in danger of further and perhaps more severe violence from him.
  • Women experiencing domestic violence are up to fifteen times more likely to misuse alcohol and nine times more likely to misuse other drugs than women generally
  • The stigma, shame and secrecy associated with domestic abuse increases the likelihood that women will turn to substances
  • Use of alcohol, may, however, increase a person’s vulnerability to suffering abuse

Myth 3: Abusers lose control when drunk and are therefore not fully responsible for their actions

Reality: Domestic abuse is a pattern of controlling behaviours through which the perpetrator seeks power and control over the victim

•   Even when perpetrators are drunk they carefully select who they are abusive to and often target specific areas of the body, which indicates that they do in fact have control over their actions

Myth 4: Alcohol treatment for perpetrators will end the abuse

Reality: Reducing alcohol use may reduce the levels and severity of physical injury but there is no evidence to suggest it reduces the actual occurrence of domestic abuse

•    Treatment for alcohol problems may be a time of high risk for domestic abuse: the discomfort of physiological or psychological withdrawal is likely to heighten a perpetrator’s anxieties and irritability

Myth 5: Men and women are equally affected by domestic abuse

Reality: Domestic abuse is not a gender neutral issue. According to the 2006/07 British Crime Survey the vast majority of domestic abuse incidents (77%) were suffered by women

•    Among people subject to four or more incidents of domestic abuse from the perpetrator of the worst incident, 89% were women

•    Partner violence against women is also more likely to result in injury18

•    Two women are killed each week in England and Wales by a former or current partner

Myth 6: Domestic abuse stops once the relationship ends

Reality: Women are at a higher risk of violence and of being killed after leaving violent partners

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