People affected by substance misuse

Misuse of alcohol or other drugs by perpetrators or victims of domestic and family violence may indicate an increased risk in the frequency and severity of the violence or a heightened vulnerability to the experience or impact of the violence.

Research demonstrates that a perpetrator with alcohol or other drug misuse problems is more likely to abuse the victim more frequently; more likely to sexually assault or physically injure the victim; and more likely to be physically violent outside the home.

A significant development however has been the recognition that, while alcohol or other drugs may be associated with the perpetration of domestic and family violence, their misuse is unlikely to be the direct cause. Rather, the strongest risk factors for violence are perpetrator behaviours including generally high levels of aggression, exerting dominance and control over their intimate partners and believing they are entitled to do so, and holding negative or sexist attitudes towards women. A perpetrator’s misuse of alcohol or other drugs in this context is likely to be an aggravating factor: the more dangerous the misuse, the higher the probability the violence will be more frequent and more severe, and the physical and emotional harm to the victim more serious.

Depression, anxiety, attempted suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder are among the frequently reported effects of domestic and family violence on victims. A victim may misuse alcohol or other drugs to medicate the physical and emotional pain caused by the violence and to cope with the ongoing violence. Some perpetrators may use the victim’s condition to rationalise and escalate the violence and further exploit the victim’s vulnerability. A further known risk is that a victim is more likely to have an intimate partner who also misuses alcohol or other drugs, an aggravating factor already identified.