Women Who Suffer Relationship Abuse at Increased Risk for Drug & Alcohol Addiction

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Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Intimate partner violence continues to be an ongoing crisis among Americans, and for many women who suffer from abuse at the hand of a partner, this can lead to substance abuse or addiction.

Violence Can Occur in Any Relationship

When most people think about relationship abuse, they likely picture verbal and physical abuse within the context of marriage, while that is one situation in which intimate partner violence can occur, it is certainly not the only one.

Once more commonly known as domestic violence, intimate partner violence is now a much broader term that includes not only spouses in its definition but also former spouses, dating partners, and former dating partners [1].

This widens the scope of relationship violence to more fully encompass the situations in which this kind of abuse can occur. It can start in adolescence, known as teen dating violence, or it can happen between two adults who have gone on a few dates.

And as our understanding of who can experience this type of violence has broadened, so too has our understanding of what this violence can look like.

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As the Futures Without Violence Association explained, intimate partner violence is “a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors that may include inflicted physical injury, psychological abuse, sexual assault, progressive social isolation, stalking, deprivation, intimidation, and threats” [2].

So, what was once known as the abuse of a spouse has broadened to show that violence can occur in many ways and in different types of relationships.

A Heightened Concern During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Every year, millions of women across the nation are impacted by intimate partner violence. About 1 in 4 women have suffered sexual or physical violence or have been stalked by an intimate partner. Even more troubling, approximately 11 million women said that they had these experiences before age 18 [1].

And the problem has only worsened over the last year as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe. Many people lost their jobs and were unable to buy groceries, pay their rent, or afford other necessities. The stress and isolation caused by the pandemic have been crushing, and, as researchers at the University of California, Davis found, it intensified intimate partner violence in some relationships [3].

“The pandemic, like other kinds of disasters, exacerbates the social and livelihood stresses and circumstances that we know lead to intimate partner violence,” said Clare Cannon, lead author of the study.

The researchers surveyed nearly 400 adults for ten weeks starting in April 2020. Of those who said that they were experiencing some form of violence in their relationship, 74% were women. And the people who reported experiencing intimate partner violence had higher levels of stress than those who did not report any violence.

While the researchers note that this does not show that the stress of the pandemic causes intimate partner violence, it does suggest that being exposed to more stress can create an unsafe environment in certain situations.

Linking Addiction to Intimate Partner Violence

Research shows that when a person has been abused by their spouse, it increases their chances of developing a substance use disorder, while people who have suffered intimate partner violence are 70% more likely to drink alcohol heavily compared with people who haven’t experienced violence in a relationship [1].

Hands of man and woman working through violenceIn some cases, the urge to abuse drugs or alcohol is an unhealthy coping tool in the face of what likely feels like a hopeless situation. More than half of women who are abused by an intimate partner are diagnosed with a mental health concern. Drinking heavily or abusing drugs is often a way of self-medicating symptoms of depression, panic disorders, or anxiety disorders. It can also be a way to numb painful feelings or memories associated with the abuse.

But the American Society of Addiction Medicine explains that partners may also coerce women into using substances as a means of abuse and control. When a woman is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, her partner is better able to control her decision-making and actions, allowing them to continue the cycle of abuse.

The long-term negative consequences of addiction can be even more devastating for women in the presence of intimate partner violence because getting help can be incredibly challenging. They may not have the financial or social support they need to end the relationship and seek addiction treatment.

It may seem difficult to find the support you need, but there are resources that can help. If you are experiencing intimate partner violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you are an adolescent girl who is experiencing teen dating violence, call the Love Is Respect hotline at 1-866-331-9474 or text LOVEIS to 22522.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Preventing intimate partner violence. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/fastfact.html.

[2] Soper, R. (2014, October 6). Intimate partner violence and co-occurring substance abuse/addiction. American Society of Addiction Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/Quality-Science/publications/magazine/read/article/2014/10/06/intimate-partner-violence-and-co-occurring-substance-abuse-addiction.

[3] Nikos-Rose, K. (2021, February 24). COVID-19 isolation linked to increased domestic violence, researchers suggest. University of California, Davis. Retrieved from https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/covid-19-isolation-linked-increased-domestic-violence-researchers-suggest.

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Timberline Knolls BannerAt Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, located outside of Chicago, Illinois, we provide specialized care for women and girls who are living with mental health conditions such as substance use disorders and eating disorders. Our private facility offers female-only treatment programs for eating disorders, addiction, and a range of mental health conditions. We work closely with each person to develop treatment goals to maximize strengths while focusing on individual needs. Our treatment team understands that each woman has unique needs and that she must play a role in her journey to wellness.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on November 9, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 9, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.