- Women experiencing domestic violence are up to 15 times more likely to misuse alcohol than women generally.
- Women who report domestic violence are up to nine times more likely to misuse drugs (including prescription drugs) than other women.
- 42% of Asian women who seek treatment for alcohol misuse are experiencing domestic violence.
- Between 50% and 90% of women attending substance misuse services may have experienced abuse, either in childhood or adult life, or both.
Alcohol and other drugs
Women experiencing domestic violence sometimes turn to alcohol or drugs as a response to and an escape from the violence. These are some statistics from recent research:
If you have found that you are using alcohol and/or drugs (including prescription drugs such as tranquillisers) to help you cope with the abuse, it is even more important that you receive the support you need. Your ability to plan for your safety may be affected, and you are likely to feel very isolated. Sometimes the violence will have been so much a part of your life and for so long that you regard it as 'normal' or believe that nothing can be done about it.
Some women are introduced to substances by their abusive partners as a way of increasing control over them. If this is how it is for you, or if your abuser is also your supplier, then you will find it even harder to get away.
Sometimes abusers will use their partner's addiction or misuse of substances as an excuse for violent behaviour, saying they have been 'provoked' into using violence. Excuses such as these are used by the perpetrator to deflect responsibility from themselves and put the focus or blame for the violence onto the victim. Your abuser must be held accountable for his actions and should not be excused because of things you might have done.
If you use or misuse alcohol or drugs, you will be in a particularly vulnerable position, and are likely to find it even harder to report domestic violence than other women. You are likely to suffer from a sense of shame because of the stigma of being an 'alcoholic' or a 'drug addict' and you may feel even more powerless. If you have children, you might also be afraid of your children being taken away - and your partner might hold this as a threat over you to prevent you from approaching anyone for help.
If you do seek help, the response of the service providers may be unsatisfactory. They may blame you for the abuse you are experiencing. Some service providers will see your substance use as the main problem, and insist on your entering treatment first, without any consideration for your safety or the likely ineffectiveness of treatment while you remain with your abuser. You may also be told that no suitable services are available. There is a widespread belief among those working in statutory services - such as the police, the health service, or social services - that Women's Aid and other domestic violence services do not help women who misuse substances.
It is true that some refuge organisations may be unable to offer accommodation to women who use alcohol or drugs, or they may expect you to be in a recognised treatment programme before they will take you. However, other refuge organisations will be able to accommodate you - and all domestic violence services should be able to find you somewhere else to go and offer you support and advice about other options available to you.
If you have decided to leave your abuser, you could ring the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 (run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge), which will be able to put you in touch with a refuge organisation that can provide accommodation that meets your support needs. See Further information for details.
Seeking treatment for drug or alcohol issues
If you are unhappy about your use of alcohol or drugs and want to stop using substances or cut back, it is often difficult to find appropriate treatment services.
Specialist drug and alcohol service providers tend to focus on detoxification and rehabilitation without looking at the situation - including ongoing abuse - which might have led you to become dependent on substances. Their models of treatment have traditionally been based on the needs of male users, and they often use a 'disease model' of addiction, which emphasises illness over strengths, and will tend to lower your self-esteem even further. Sometimes you will be expected to join a mixed-sex counselling group, in which you are unlikely to feel safe talking about the abuse you have experienced.
If you are using substances to help you cope with domestic violence, it may not be helpful if you are expected to stop doing this straight away; and if you seek treatment for your substance misuse while you are still with your abusive partner, he may become even more abusive towards you. Because awareness of domestic violence issues is generally low among alcohol and drug treatment services, they may ignore or downplay safety issues of this kind.
In some areas, however, provision is gradually improving. Links are being made between drug and alcohol services and domestic violence services, and some drug and alcohol services have a women's worker or a domestic violence worker. If you want to find a woman-friendly substance misuse treatment service, your local refuge organisation may be able to help; or see the Further information section below.
When the abuser uses alcohol or drugs
Use of alcohol and other substances is sometimes seen as the reason some men are violent. But many people who drink too much or take drugs do not abuse their partners or family members. Also, abusers who do use alcohol or drugs are not violent only when they are drunk or under the influence of drugs. Many others abuse their partners without using any substances at all. In other words, the use of alcohol or drugs is not the cause of domestic violence - though it may sometimes be an additional factor, particularly in the most severe cases.
Abusers who use alcohol or drugs may use this as an excuse for their behaviour, saying "I was drunk" or "I don't remember". Even if they genuinely do not remember what they did, it does not remove responsibility for their behaviour. Sometimes abusers may deliberately become intoxicated in order to blunt their inhibitions against the use of violence. There is never an excuse for domestic violence and the causes of domestic violence are far more deeply rooted than simply being an effect of intoxication or alcohol or drug dependency.
When treatment services work with abusers, they often ignore the violence and focus solely on the substance use. If your abuser is alcohol or drug dependent, it is important that his violent behaviour is addressed at the same time as his use of alcohol or drugs. Addressing only one issue without the other is unlikely to prove successful and could be very dangerous for you.
If your abusive partner seeks help for his alcohol or drug use, do not expect the abuse to stop straight away (or at all). And don't feel that you have to stay with him if you don't want to just because he is getting help. His violence may even increase during detoxification and treatment (particularly when abstinence is seen as the starting point). Do seek independent support for yourself and your children.
Alcohol Concern: The website contains a wide range of information about alcohol and a number of factsheets which can be downloaded free (including one on domestic violence written by Sarah Galvani of the University if Birmingham). Website: www.alcoholconcern.org.uk
Drinkline: Information for people with alcohol problems or anyone concerned about alcohol misuse. They can also direct you to local services. Phone: 0800 917 8282, 24 hours including bank holidays.
Drugscope: The website has information and research on drugs and includes a directory of drug treatment services. Website: www.drugscope.org.uk
Frank (formerly the National Drugs Helpline): Offers information, support and counselling to drug users and their families, partners, friends and children, and will give local referrals where appropriate. The website appears to be aimed primarily at young males, but does give factual information on different kinds of drugs, including alcohol. Phone: 0800 776600. Textphone: 0800 917 8765, every day 7am - 11pm. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.talktofrank.com
Release legal and drugs helpline and specialist heroin helpline: The legal helpline offers expert confidential legal advice to people directly or indirectly affected by drugs. Your call will be answered by a lawyer or by a trained volunteer working under supervision. The heroin helpline offers help, advice, information, support and referral to people affected directly and indirectly by heroin use. Phone: 0845 4500 215, Monday - Friday 11am - 1pm. Email: email@example.com. Website: www.release.org.uk
Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247, run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge: The helpline can put you in touch with your local refuge organisation or outreach service, or will help you to find accommodation or other services.
Becker, Jane and Duffy, Clare (2002) 'Women Drug Users and Drug Service Provision' (London: DPAS Paper 17).
Ettorre, Elizabeth (1997) 'Women and alcohol: A private pleasure or a public problem?' (London: The Women's Press).
Jacobs, John (December 1998) 'The links between substance misuse and domestic violence: Current knowledge and debates' ed. by Mary-Ann McKibben and Fran Walker (Alcohol Concern and Institute for Study of Drug Dependence (ISDD).
Shaikh, Zaibby and Nez, Farah (2000) 'A cultural cocktail: Asian women and alcohol misuse' (Hounslow: EACH).
Stark and Flitcraft (1996) 'Women at risk: Domestic Violence and Women's Health' (London: Sage).
The Stella Project (2004) 'Domestic Violence, Drugs and Alcohol: Good Practice Guidelines'; written by Michelle Newcomb, (London: Greater London Domestic Violence Project).
Taylor, Holly (2003) 'Domestic violence and substance misuse: Making the links: An evaluation of the service provision in Tower Hamlets' (London Borough of Tower Hamlets: Tower Hamlets Partnership and Learning Design Ltd.).
Return to The Survivor's Handbook Contents page