Here is the second part of Alana Fraser’s article ‘Alcohol Abuse And Domestic Violence’. This article was originally published within the Institute of Counseling’s journal ‘The Living Document’.
Men, Women, Alcohol and Domestic Violence
It is a common stereotype that, in domestic violence, men are the abusers and women are the victims: but this is not always the case. Also, alcohol can play a
major role where women are abusing the men in their lives.
For example, research indicates that in relationships where the male partner abuses alcohol, the woman may push, grab or slap the man out of frustration at the man’s continued substance use or relapse. Also, in couples where the female partner abuses alcohol, women report that, when intoxicated, they tend to argue and initiate physical aggression with their male partner(1). These crimes are typically reported less-most likely because of society’s views on sexual norms and stereotypes. It is a common view in our society that the man is the head of the household, and the dominant one in the relationship. Hence, it makes sense to think that a man might feel embarrassed to admit that his wife is abusing him:
“Incidents in which men abuse women are perceived more negatively than incidents in which women abuse men.”(2)
What the Research Shows
Dealing with domestic violence that is closely intertwined with alcohol consumption means dealing with two separate issues. This can make therapy a challenge.
In the past offenders have been asked to attend two different types of therapy groups: one for alcohol dependency and one for aggressive or violent behaviour. The relationship between the two has generally been missed, so the problem has not been dealt with properly.
One study(3), which addressed both issues together, took the form of a twelve step CBT group for alcohol dependent men with interpersonal violence issues. The men were divided between a Twelve Step Facilitation (TSF) group and a Cognitive Behavioural Substance Abuse Domestic Violence (SADV) group. The participants had been approved by the DSM as having alcohol dependency; they had also been arrested in the past year for domestic violence.
The SADV group concentrated on problem solving skills related to violence, awareness of anger, managing emotions, coping with alcohol cravings, dealing with feelings of loss of control, and emergency planning. The TSF group focused on better understanding both alcoholism and the recovery process, learning how to manage their negative feelings, developing an effective support system, and maintaining recovery.
Results showed that the SADV group experienced a reduction in both violent episodes and levels of substance abuse. Group therapy, here, was more effective as it focused on the relationship between alcohol consumption and domestic violence.
Another effective treatment approach is Behavioural Couples Therapy for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. The purpose of this therapy is to improve relationship functioning and to create support for abstinence from alcohol and drug consumption.
In this form of treatment, the abuser participates in counselling and an Alcoholics Anonymous group. At the same time, their spouse participates in counselling and an Al-Anon group. This gives both individuals a chance to deal with the situation separately. The abuser is aided in learning how to effectively control their emotions and cravings. The spouse learns more about the nature of addictions. He/she also learns how to influence their partner in a way that is loving- but does not permit the use of alcohol or other substances. This approach is effective because each spouse learns what their roles and responsibilities are.
The Impact on the Family
Domestic violence and an alcohol addiction are serious issues that can greatly affect, not only the couple, but the wider family, too. Also, domestic abuse is viewed as including a range of different levels of involvement. This varies from witnessing aggression and violence …to being caught up in a violent situation (for example, intervening to protect another family member) … through to being a direct victim of abuse(4).
Children often bear the negative effects of alcohol abuse and domestic violence by observing the abuse, being neglected, and by being abused themselves. Being under the influence of alcohol affects one’s ability to decipher responsibilities and what is, or is not, appropriate behaviour.
Thus, the intoxicated parent may leave their child unattended or neglected.
They may also emotionally, physically or sexually abuse the child. This is clear from the following statement:
“The parenting skills and behaviours of adults with alcohol problems are significantly impaired: they are frequently neglectful, abusive, unreliable, inconsistent and violent.”(5)
Furthermore, any kind of neglect or abuse can be detrimental to a child’s development. That is:
“The interplay between witnessing family violence, suffering child abuse, observing chemical dependency in a parent, and experiencing parental separation increases the likelihood that developmental problems will occur.”(6)
Children who experience abuse can develop low self-esteem, a lack of trust, feelings of helplessness, self-hatred, depression, anxiety, boundary issues, violent behaviour, and so on. They usually find it hard to manage these emotions – and the effects may continue into adulthood.
Indeed, abused children often become abusing parents. They then perpetuate the negative cycle of abuse. They may respond to their own children out of anger and rage as that was how their parents responded to them.
“In alcoholic and abusive homes behaviour may be very unpredictable or it may be rigid and very painfully predictable. The child may be perceived as intentionally frustrating his parent or as being bad and uncontrollable.”(7)
So, when a child resists control or starts to misbehave, a parent who was previously abused themselves may believe that their child is ‘doing it on purpose’. They then relate this purposeful, unpleasant behaviour to how their parents treated them in the past (intentionally causing them pain.)
This gives rise to angry feelings towards their child and, in response, the parent may become abusive.
Abuse is an emotionally devastating occurrence. It is provoked and intensified when alcohol is present. Both of these abuses can be extremely painful and devastating to a family.
Domestic violence is a serious issue that is significantly influenced by alcohol abuse. Alcohol consumption facilitates violence as it negatively impacts decision- making and cognitive functioning. This can have dire consequences for the person, their spouse and any children in the home.
When intoxicated, it is more difficult to think through the consequences of our actions. People act in ways that may be out of character as they lack control over their thoughts and behaviours. Specifically, while under the influence of alcohol, they may react emotionally instead of rationally.
Most therapy deals with the two issues (domestic violence and alcohol dependency) separately. This is usually ineffective as it ignores the connection between
alcohol and domestic violence. Research shows that a combined approach is more effective as offenders are taught to control their cravings, as well as their negative, destructive emotions.
(1) O’Farrell, T. J. & Fals-Stewart, W. (2006). Behavioural couples therapy for alcoholism and drug abuse. New York: Guilford Press.
(2) Seelau, S. & Seelau, E. (2005). Gender-role stereotypes and perceptions of heterosexual, gay and lesbian domestic violence. Journal of Family Violence, 20(6), 363-371.
(3) Easton, C. J., Mandel, D. L., Hunkele, K. A., Nich, C., Rounsaville, B. J. & Carroll, K. M. (2007). A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for alcohol-dependent domestic violence offenders: An integrated substance abuse- domestic violence treatment approach. American Journal on Addictions, 16(1), 24- 31.
(4) Velleman, R., Templeton, L., Reuber, D., Klein, M. & Moesgen, D. (2008). Domestic abuse experienced by young people living in families with alcohol problems: results from a cross-European study. Child Abuse Review, 17(6), 387-409.
(5) Velleman, R., Templeton, L., Reuber, D., Klein, M. & Moesgen, D. (2008). Domestic abuse experienced by young people living in families with alcohol problems: results from a cross-European study. Child Abuse Review, 17(6), 387-409.
(6) Potter-Efron R. T. & Potter-Efron P. S. (1990). Aggression, family violence and chemical dependency. London: The Haworth Press.
(7) Potter-Efron R. T. & Potter-Efron P. S. (1990). Aggression, family violence and chemical dependency. London: The Haworth Press.
Barnwell, S., Borders, A. & Earleywine, M. (2006). Alcohol-aggression expectancies and dispositional aggression moderate the relationship between alcohol consumption and alcohol-related violence. Aggressive Behavior, 32(6), 517-527.
Hittner, J. B. (2004). Alcohol use among American college students in relation to need for cognition and expectations of alcohol’s effects on cognition. Current Psychology, 23(2), 173-187.
McMurran, M. & Gilchrist, E. (2008). Anger control and alcohol use: Appropriate interventions for perpetrators of domestic violence? Psychology, Crime & Law, 14(2), 107-116.
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