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Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Domestic violence is the use of intentional verbal, psychological, or physical force by one family member (including an intimate partner) to control another.  In the United States, a woman is beaten every 15 seconds.  At least 30 percent of female trauma patients (excluding traffic accident victims) have been victims of domestic violence, and medical costs associated with injuries done to women by their partners total more than $44 million annually.

Ten years ago, the Florida Department of Children and Families established guidelines for providers of domestic violence services.  Although well intentioned, it adopted a wrong-headed premise that likely prevented some batterers from recovering, and left women at risk.

The mistake was to define every batterer through the Duluth Model of power and control.  The model’s core assumption is that women and children “are vulnerable to violence because of their unequal social, economic, and political status in society.”  While this is certainly true, as a treatment philosophy it contains some major flaws.  Psychological problems, such as attachment disorders due to childhood abuse or neglect, or the absence of a history of adequate socialization and training are not addressed in the Duluth Model.   The model’s approach is overly confrontational rather than therapeutic, focusing solely on changing the abuser’s actions and attitudes rather than dealing with underlying emotional and psychological issues.  Essentially, The Duluth Model was developed by people who didn’t understand anything about therapy.

130706 DV and SA3Perhaps most importantly, the model ignored a decade of research linking domestic violence to substance abuse.  As a counselor with twenty years of substance abuse experience who was a certified instructor for the State’s batterer’s program, I was frustrated by its rigid adherence to this model.   In my experience, at least seven out of ten of the men I treated had a history of abusing alcohol or other drugs.  Almost all of the men also had untreated trauma histories.

The Duluth Model’s theory was that acknowledging the role of substance abuse in domestic violence would allow men to escape responsibility for their behavior.  However, several years before Florida made its decision, a Treatment Improvement Protocol by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) researched this issue.  It found that the use of alcohol and other drugs by either partner is a risk factor for domestic violence. The Consensus Panel concluded that failure to address domestic violence issues among substance abusers interferes with treatment effectiveness and contributes to relapse.

But the exact relationship between drinking and domestic violence remains unclear: is it the chicken or the egg?  As one researcher said, “Probably the largest contributing factor to domestic violence is alcohol. All major theorists point to the excessive use of alcohol as a key element in the dynamics of wife beating. However, it is not clear whether a man is violent because he is drunk or whether he drinks to reduce his inhibitions against his violent behavior.”   If substance abuse affects woman abuse, it does so either directly by disinhibiting normal sanctions against violence, or by effecting changes in thinking, physiology, emotion, motivation to reduce tension, or motivation to increase interpersonal power.

130706 DV and SA1The one thing we do know for sure is that if substance abuse is not addressed, the problem of domestic abuse – on a micro and meta level – will not be solved.  The societal view of substance abusers as morally weak and controlled by alcohol or other drugs actually serves some batterers: Rather than taking responsibility for their actions, they can blame their violent acts on the substance(s) they are abusing. Although drugs or alcohol may indeed be a trigger for violence, the belief that the violence will stop once the drinking or drug use stops is usually not borne out.

Fortunately, in 2012 the State of Florida relaxed its governance of domestic battery programs, allowing you to choose a provider best qualified to treat your issues.  If domestic violence is part of your life and alcohol is a factor, you need to contact a treatment professional skilled in treating both conditions.  For more information you need to know if you are being abused, click here.

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