Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence

Hello Everyone,

 This is the first of two parts of Alana Fraser’s article Alcohol Abuse And Domestic Violence. This article was published originally in The Living Document edition Summer 2011. Please enjoy. The second part of this article will be posted soon.






Domestic violence is widespread today in Western society. There are many factors that contribute to abuse: one common influence being alcohol consumption. In a culture of high stress and increasing pressure, it is perhaps not surprising that many individuals turn to alcohol to alleviate the strain and the negative feelings they are struggling with. However, their decision to engage in substance abuse not only affects the person themselves, but it affects the people around them as well


Sadly, children are often the most vulnerable-and at the greatest risk- in these abusive situations. Also, observing or experiencing abuse as a child can lead to emotional and developmental issues. These can continue into adulthood.


Although there is no clear causal relationship between alcohol consumption and domestic violence, often alcohol abuse is  also reported in cases of spousal or child abuse. Furthermore, when the two co-exist, research indicates there is an increased frequency of domestic violence and an increased severity of injuries inflicted(1).


In terms of treatment, if the person can be helped to identify the relationship between their alcohol dependency and their violent behaviour, then counselling is shown to be more effective.


However, if the person does not understand the relationship between the two, they will have difficulties in controlling their negative and abusive behaviour.


Where Does the Responsibility Lie?


Substance abuse (including alcohol dependency) can lead to reactions that are out of character. For example, being under the influence of alcohol impairs one’s judgement, which can lead to harmful or negative behaviours. Also, an intoxicated person may find it hard to think through the consequences of their actions. However, although many may feel as if they have lost control and are not their true selves when intoxicated – this is not an excuse for abusive behaviour. This is summed up well in the following statement:


“From a cultural perspective, focusing on a perpetrator’s alcohol use can be criticized as permitting men to excuse their behaviour as driven by drink, thus providing a means of avoiding personal responsibility.”(2)


That is, instead of taking responsibility for one’s choices and actions, the responsibility for poor behaviour is being transferred from the person to the alcohol. Clearly, this type of attitude towards substance abuse is detrimental and erroneous. It is a kind of deception which allows the person to think that their behaviour is acceptable- regardless of the impact that it has on other people.


Effects on Thinking and Behaviour


Overconsumption of alcohol leads to an altered state of consciousness which, in turn, affects cognition and decision making skills:


“Research has shown that alcohol consumption affects our cognitive or thinking abilities. Types of cognitive abilities include, but are not limited to, attention, concentration, problem solving skills, and the ability to consider the consequences of our actions.”(3)


That is, alcohol consumption affects the way one thinks and reacts to situations and other people. For example, when a person is under the influence of alcohol they are less likely to think about consequences and may react spontaneously out of emotion.


In other situations, drunkenness can result in a feeling of excessive confidence or a boldness that translates to aggressive behaviours. This is why it is more common for domestic violence to occur when alcohol has been consumed.


A fight may start and, when the argument gets heated, the intoxicated spouse might overreact and hit out in frustration, anger or rage.


This is because they are responding from their feelings and are battling a sense of loss of control. The following statement illustrates this point:


“Individuals who consume alcohol respond to provocation with more aggression than do individuals who have not consumed alcohol.”(4)


From this, we may conclude that an intoxicated person, who feels provoked by their spouse or children, is more likely to respond in a violent way than a person who is sober and has greater self-control.



(1)   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.


(2)   McMurran, M. & Gilchrist, E. (2008). Anger control and alcohol use: Appropriate interventions for perpetrators of domestic violence? Psychology, Crime & Law, 14(2), 107-116.


(3)   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.


(4)   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.


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