Support with drinking

What’s the connection between alcohol abuse and domestic violence?

Domestic violence involves a complex combination of risk factors. While there is an association between some domestic violence and alcohol abuse, violence also occurs in the absence of drinking. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s the connection between alcohol abuse and domestic violence?
What’s the connection between alcohol abuse and domestic violence?

Domestic violence occurs across all countries and cultures, and affects every social and economic group. It includes physical and mental abuse perpetrated against intimate partners, children and elderly family members, but disproportionately affects women and children as victims. The World Health Organization estimates that intimate partner violence (IPV) accounts for a third of all violence against women worldwide (1) and in some countries, almost half of all women have experienced domestic violence (2, 3).

Research shows that personality issues, cultural attitudes, gender norms, and social and economic inequality are some of the main contributors to domestic violence (4-6). There’s also a link between domestic violence and mental health problems (5, 7, 8), and the prevalence of mental health disorders among perpetrators of violence is high (7).

There is an association between some domestic violence and the abuse of alcohol and other substances. But domestic violence also occurs in the absence of drinking and is widespread in some countries where drinking is prohibited (1, 3, 9, 10).

Evidence of the involvement of alcohol and IPV, and its interaction with other risk factors, is complicated (11-13). According to those working in domestic abuse prevention, drinking alcohol by itself does not cause violence. Most people who drink do not abuse their partners and families or become aggressive towards others, and abusers are also violent when sober (14-16).

However, alcohol lowers inhibitions and some people may become violent or abusive when they drink excessively (17-19). Studies suggest that the likelihood of neuropsychiatric problems from alcohol abuse and other types of brain trauma may be higher among IPV perpetrators than among the general population (20). The culture of ‘toxic masculinity’ is also a key factor in domestic violence (21) and may be associated with alcohol abuse (22).

Research conducted across countries and cultures has found higher rates of alcohol abuse among victims of domestic violence (23).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in domestic violence as lockdowns and restrictions have made it difficult for many victims to escape their abusers (24, 25). While some studies have reported an increase in substance abuse, including alcohol abuse, during the pandemic, it’s unclear whether there’s a direct correlation between the two (25).

Domestic violence doesn’t have a single cause – it involves a complex combination of different risk factors. Alcohol abuse is never an acceptable excuse for domestic violence, whatever the circumstances. If you know that you are prone to violent reactions or have difficulty managing your anger, it is best to avoid drinking and seek professional help.

If you’re the victim of domestic violence or have reason to believe that someone else may be, help is available. Local women’s shelters, child services and abuse helplines can offer guidance and support.