Alcohol, Families and Domestic Abuse

Alcohol, Families and Domestic Abuse

The 13th to 17th of November is Alcohol Awareness Week. This year’s campaign is being spearheaded by Alcohol Concern whose focus is ‘Alcohol and Families’. The aim is to start an honest conversation about the impact of alcohol misuse on individuals and their families, challenge stigma and to signpost anyone who needs support towards the help they need.

We thought this would be the perfect time to talk about the ways in which drugs and alcohol use can impact on families who experience domestic violence and to highlight this resource produced by DrugRehab about the links between abuse and substance misuse.

Here are four ways we encounter substance misuse in our work:

1.    Numbing the pain of abuse

People who experience abuse often deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation and physical pain. Abuse is also linked to the increased likelihood of miscarriage and stillbirth, and of victims developing lasting health problems, such as mental health disorders, eating disorders and physical health problems such as chronic pain or gastrointestinal disorders.

People have different strategies for coping with the trauma of their experiences. Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol as a coping strategy is a route to feel the pain less keenly. This use can create addiction, that often then increases a person’s vulnerability to further abuse.

Services must be aware of these links and remain open and non-judgmental in order to create the best outcomes for our clients, fear of stigma from services can be a major barrier to engagement.

2.    Abuse using drugs or alcohol

Domestic abuse is the habitual use of power and control exerted over someone with whom the perpetrator has a relationship. The abuse can be physical, emotional, financial or sexual. Drugs and alcohol can be an implement of abuse, used to keep the victim vulnerable and dependent.

Substance-involved domestic abuse can include:

  • Introducing partners to substances of abuse
  • Forcing partners to carry, sell or buy drugs
  • Encouraging substance use as a form of control over partners
  • Prostituting partners in exchange for drugs or money
  • Preventing partners from seeking and receiving substance abuse treatment
  • Enabling use and consequently disabling recovery

3.    Association with violent incidents

Research from the University of Bedfordshire found that within intimate relationships where one partner has a problem with alcohol or other drugs, domestic abuse is more likely than not to occur.[1] Research from the American Society of Addiction Medicine also shows that both victims and abusers are 11 times more likely to be involved in domestic violence incidents on days of heavy substance use.

Abusing drugs or alcohol may exacerbate an abuser’s pre-existing violent tendencies and is therefore a major risk factor for domestic violence. However, it is important to note that substance use is not the cause of domestic abuse but that substance use increases the likelihood of a violent incident.

4.    Using the alcohol as an excuse for violence

An abusive person will use excuses and apologies to manipulate the person they are abusing. These excuses will seek to minimise the abuse and lay the blame for their actions elsewhere. Common examples might be to blame childhood experiences, mental illness or the use of substances before an incident.

These excuses claim a lack of control over the abusive tactics used, but abuse is always a choice. Perpetrators are able to control themselves in public, are able to control the way they present themselves and to hide evidence of their abuse.  

Those who engage in domestic violence are responsible for their actions despite any reasoning they use to rationalise their behaviour. Those who perpetrate domestic violence choose to wilfully engage in abusive behaviour, and therefore they are the sole cause of domestic violence.

Finding Help

Drug and Alcohol Support

If you are living in East Kent (Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Shepway, Swale and Thanet) you can contact East Kent Community Drug and Alcohol Service.

They support anyone who has problems with drugs or alcohol. If you are worried about anyone, including yourself, and want to get help, please call 0300 123 1186 or email

Domestic Abuse Services

Oasis provides services in Thanet and Dover. You can find out how to make a referral here.

Anyone living in Kent can call Victim Support on 0808 168 9276 to access your local services.


[1] Galvani, S. (May 2010), ‘Supporting Families affected by substance use and domestic violence’, The Tilda Goldberg Centre for Social Work and Social Care, University of Bedfordshire, ADFAM,p.5