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It’s no coincidence that we’ve seen a sharp increase in both substance abuse and domestic violence since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
In fact, studies show there is a direct relationship between the two. Not only is substance use a factor in over half of reported incidents of domestic violence, but when substance abuse occurs, physical violence is 11 times more likely to take place. Even before the pandemic began, more than 75% of people who enter treatment for drug addiction admit to violent behavior.
The pandemic then created a perfect storm: The stress of isolation and job losses coincided with nearly 50% of people in a survey admitting their substance use increased during the pandemic. We saw the direct impact of this collision here at Greenhouse Treatment Center, with a substantial increase in patients seeking treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) who were also either the abuser or being abused at home.
Aside from the obvious tragedies in these situations, there are a few somewhat hidden aspects that make them even more troubling. First, not only do substances like alcohol lower inhibitions and impact your ability to make decisions and understand consequences, but they can also cause memory loss, which can wipe out all recollection of having committed violent acts.
We often have people come to us for treatment and never mention a history of abuse or violence during their intake assessment — it’s only after we talk with their family that we learn of this co-existing situation. In some cases, abusers will even attempt to gaslight the victim, to convince them they’re imagining or making up the violent events. We’ve even had some patients come to us directly from incarceration for an act of violence and still insist it didn’t happen.
Second, victims sometimes turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with violence at home, and when they’ve completed in-patient treatment, sending them back to that environment is virtually a guaranteed recipe for relapse. For these individuals, getting help very often means completely walking away from their home and partner and starting an entirely new life — one with a network that supports their sobriety. This, of course, makes it extremely hard to take that first step toward getting help.
Even worse, victims of abuse are often constantly berated with insults and made to feel as though they’re useless, unworthy, and even to blame for their own abuse. Addiction feeds on those emotions, and because of the shame and guilt associated with it, those suffering with SUD often feel they’re unworthy of even getting help, which creates a huge barrier to getting the treatment that could save their life.
Finally, it’s a common misconception that men aren’t the victims of abuse. While it’s true that women are the victims in many cases, men can be both physically and emotionally abused by their partners, and quite often turn to substances to cope. It can be difficult for men to recognize or admit that they are being abused, especially in the case of emotional abuse. Because society tells men they’re the dominant, stronger gender, they feel weak or ashamed when they become victims, which can prevent them from getting help. So they suffer in silence quite often from both abuse and an SUD.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are resources and help for both the abused and the abuser, regardless of gender.
If you’re the victim of abuse at the hands of someone with an SUD, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make them get help. Instead, you must seek out help for yourself from an organization like AlAnon or NarAnon and do whatever you can to get out of the situation — leave the home or otherwise separate yourself from the abuser.
If you’ve turned to substances to cope with abuse, there are programs available for you, too. Through a combination of SUD treatment and mental health counseling, you can find healing for both emotional and physical wounds through an addiction treatment program. With programs like Seeking Safety, victims of abuse can receive integrated substance use treatment and learn the coping skills they need to deal with trauma in a safe, gender-specific atmosphere.
Finally, if you’re the abuser in a toxic relationship, please know that you can come to treatment and get the help you need to stop hurting those you love. Studies show that individuals who suppress emotions while sober are more likely to become violent while under the influence. In a treatment setting, you’ll not only get help for SUD, but also for the emotional suppression and any previous trauma that drives the behavior. Recovery involves holistic treatment, and in a treatment program you’ll learn how to cope with the disease of addiction as well as the triggers that can prompt violent behavior.
No matter what your circumstances, the most important thing you can do for yourself or someone you love is to ask for help. For those who struggle with addiction, violence can often be the by-product of trauma that precipitated the addiction in the first place. A treatment facility like AAC can show you how to overcome that trauma, to stop the cycle of addiction and violence, and to have safe, healthy, sober relationships.