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Can we blame alcohol for domestic abuse?

On the last day of Alcohol Awareness Week we look at the link between domestic abuse and alcohol. It is a controversial issue which has been the subject of much debate and research.

Domestic abuse is a gender-based crime often accompanied by stigma and shame.

The presence of alcohol adds an additional dimension to this and has an effect of blurring understandings of blame. Research into popular perceptions of domestic abuse indicates that increased blame is attributed to victims of abuse who have been drinking than those who have not. On the other hand, perpetrators who have been drinking receive less blame


What’s the link?

Research has shown that 1/3 of all domestic abuse incidents reported to the police in the UK involve alcohol, this is also confirmed by Warwickshire’s own domestic abuse incident data.

The ways in which findings such as these are interpreted vary considerably, but a common conclusion is that alcohol consumption is the cause of domestic abuse. Before jumping to this conclusion, it is important to note a few things:

  • Domestic abuse is greatly under-reported and the majority of cases do not come to the attention of the police (anything between 20 – 45% could be being reported to the police).
  • Research suggests that alcohol use can heighten the severity of physical violence, and this in turn leads to greater likelihood of police intervention.

When situated in this wider context, it becomes apparent that the presence of alcohol in many of the domestic abuse incidents recorded by the police does not mean that alcohol is the cause of domestic abuse.


So what role does alcohol play?

The role of alcohol in domestic abuse has been framed in various ways:

  • ‘Alcohol as an excuse’: perpetrators are not held responsible for their actions when under the influence of alcohol.
  • ‘Drinking and violence as manifestations of similar underlying problems’: there is no causal link between drinking and domestic abuse but they are caused by similar life stressors.
  • ‘Alcohol use as a means of gaining power and control’: social norms of male violence and need for control and power result in men using alcohol as an additional weapon of domination.

Alcohol use on the part of the perpetrator tends to increase levels of violence and the likelihood of causing physical injury. When alcohol is combined with other substances, the violence becomes even more dangerous. Most victims of domestic abuse report that their partners are also abusive when sober.


In cases of women’s abuse towards men, men’s risk of injury is largely unrelated to their partner’s alcohol use


Alcohol use and alcohol misuse

Alcohol use by either perpetrator or victim has important consequences.

Alcohol use on the part of the perpetrator may increase the severity of physical violence, and perpetrators may use alcohol as an excuse for their behaviour. Alcohol use on the part of the victim is often as a consequence of the abuse they experience.

Alcohol misuse is likely to be accompanied by additional forms of abuse such as economic abuse through withholding finances or coercing a partner to fund their habit. Perpetrators may also seek to control their partners by coercing them into alcohol/drug use. Added together, these factors hinder a victim’s ability to cope with the abuse and their vulnerability is heightened.


The “Key Message”:

Whilst alcohol can certainly increase the likelihood of physical violence being used as part of domestic abuse therefore increasing the risks to the victim, alcohol certainly does not cause someone to be abusive.

 If you or someone you know is affected by domestic abuse help and information is available from a variety of agencies in Warwickshire:

For more information visit or call the Warwickshire Against Domestic Abuse helpline on 0800 408 1552.

To report incidences of domestic abuse contact Warwickshire Police on 01926 415000

In an emergency always call 999

About Paul Hooper, WCC (575 Articles)
Group Manager: Community Safety and Substance Misuse
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