Substance Abuse and Woman Abuse by Male Partners

The author examines various perspectives regarding the relationship between substance abuse and violence, explores research on substance abuse by batterers, discusses substance abuse by battered women, and includes recommendations for interventions.

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VAWnet Summary:

Substance Abuse and Woman Abuse by Male Partners by Larry Bennett (September 1997).

In Brief:

Alcohol or other drug use (substance use) increases the risk of men's violence. However, despite the widely-held belief that substance causes men to batter women, neither batterer nor victim are intoxicated in the majority of battering events. In cases of woman abuse where one or both have been drinking, the average amount of alcohol consumed is minimal. On the other hand, over half the men who are seen in batterers' intervention programs and a substantial proportion of victims helped by women's programs are substance abusers. Research does not support the belief that men who batter are out of control when they batter, nor that alcohol or other drugs disinhibit men to batter. Despite the problems in thinking and behaving associated with substance abuse, woman abuse remains a matter of deliberate choice for men who batter.

Different perspectives utilize different variables or factors in trying to account for the seemingly high correlation between substance abuse and woman abuse. Substance use may increase the perpetrator's risk for woman abuse by:

  • providing an excuse;
  • disrupting his thinking;
  • intensifying his motivation to personal power;
  • increasing his risk in particular situations;
  • altering his brain chemistry;
  • magnifying particular perpetrator characteristics; or
  • creating dysfunction in his family across generations.

Abstinence from drugs or alcohol is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for nonviolence. On the other hand, it is reasonable to believe abstinence improves the chances a batterer will cooperate with legal sanctions and intervention programs. Women with substance abuse problems have usually experienced more violence as children and continue to experience more violence as adults when compared to women who do not have substance abuse problems. A battered woman's abstinence from alcohol and drugs will not change her batterer's violent behavior, but may improve the clarity of her decision-making and her ability to utilize support.

Distribution Rights

The production and dissemination of this publication was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number U1V/CCU324010-02 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC, VAWnet, or the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.