February is the month focused on Love and everyone’s is thinking about Valentine’s Day. During this time many of us are focused on the chocolate, hearts, roses and romance that remind us that love should never hurt. However, the staggering statistics tell us that too many of our relationships are in desperate need of repair. Today 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the U.S. have been a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from an intimate partner at some time in their lifetime and that 72% of all murder-suicides involve intimate partner violence.
Substance Use in Relationships
Substance use can be a dangerous when combined, on either side, of an unhealthy relationship. Regardless of which partner is abusing or using substances, either the abusive partner or the victim, the problems and violence in the relationship will always be escalated. The use of substances will severely altar and impair the substance user’s judgment and ability to think clearly. This will increase the emotional volatility and risk to both partners involved during an already tense and potentially violent situation.
Intimate Partner Violence is already a huge public health concern and affects more than 12 million people a year. Research shows that substance abuse has been found to co-occur in 40%-60% of incidents across various studies. Evidence also suggest that substance use and abuse plays a facilitative role in Intimate Partner Violence by precipitating or exacerbating violence. Research shows that more than 20% of male perpetrators report using alcohol and/or illicit drugs prior to the most recent and severe acts of violence. Many studies have found excessive alcohol use to be strongly associated with perpetrating partner violence, though there is debate as to whether heavy drinking causes men to be violent or whether it is used to excuse violent behavior.
Substance Use as a Consequence
Substance use can also be a consequence of engaging in an unhealthy relationship. Research shows that many victims of domestic abuse turn to substances as maladaptive coping skills to survive ongoing violence and mental health symptoms experienced during their relationship. Unfortunately, substance use can only exacerbate mental health symptoms such as anxiety, depression and/or PTSD. If a victim is struggling with addiction, an abusive partner may use this as another opportunity for power and control. Some abusive partners may refuse to support treatment efforts and/or undermine a survivor’s efforts to achieve sobriety, isolate a survivor from sources of support, and use a survivor’s dependence on substances as a way to further control them. Abusive partners may also use the stigma around substance use to call a survivor’s credibility into question.
What to Do
With the growing connection between of Substance Use and Intimate Partner Violence, it is important to be aware of the warning signs of both. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, help them find treatment. There are resources to help for Domestic Violence and Dating Abuse. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day 1-800-799-(SAFE) 7233 and online www.thehotline.org
It is important to remember that there is help for both problems with Substance Use and Relationships. Trained mental health professionals specialize in Substance Abuse Treatment and can help anyone struggling with addiction. Relationships also need special attention. Whether the relationship is young and new, with a couple that is newly dating, or a long standing marriage, all relationships need support and attention to function at their very best. Take the time during this month of love, to focus on healthy relationship skills.