Hidden Hurt Domestic Abuse Information

What about Alcohol and Domestic Violence?

What is the relationship between alcohol and domestic violence? If our partner is only violent when drunk, is he/she really responsible for the abuse? Is the abuse likely to stop of they stop drinking?

Alcohol abuse does not cause abuse and violence, though it is often used as an excuse for the violence. Not all alcoholics are violent, and not all abusers have a drink problem. It may be that your abuser is actually an alcoholic, but that is a separate issue to the abuse, ie he/she is an alcoholic AND he/she has an abusive personality.

The idea that alcohol and domestic violence are cause and effect is often portrayed in the media, especially around the time of Christmas, when the increase in domestic violence incidents is attributed to the increase in alcohol consumpiton.
Someone who is not abusive will not be abusive when they are either drunk or sober. And someone who is abusive is likely to be abusive whether drunk or sober. Alcohol is not the cause of either abuse or violence.

We may wish to believe that it is the alcohol causing the abuse, because then we can also believe that there is an easy solution to the abuse, and we can also believe that our abuser doesn't really mean to hurt us, that he/she has simply 'lost control' and is not really responsible for the abuse. It allows us to believe that this is a problem that we can tackle together, that with our support and understanding and patience, the abuse can stop. Effectively, it allows us to feel that we still have some control over the situation.

The Real Relationship between Alcohol and Domestic Violence

The reality is that the majority of abusers are not alcoholics. They use alcohol as part of the wider abusive behaviour. People working with perpetrators of domestic violence even report that abusers will consciously:

  • Go out and get drunk to create an excuse to get violent
  • Act more drunk than they really are
  • Use alcohol consumption to punish their partner, eg for confronting or disagreeing with them
  • Pretend they don't remember what they did when drunk

Getting drunk can also be used as a way of manipulating you into doing what your abusers wants and avoiding doing those things the abuser doesn't want to do. If we know our partner is likely to be violent when drunk, then we are unlikely to confront him/her about not taking an equal share in the housework or child care when they are drinking.

One of the aspects of the abuser using the excuse of alcohol for the abuse is that it is more likely to make us feel sorry for them and we end up comforting them for the pain they have caused us, or trying to help them overcome 'the problem' and not feel guilty about it. Roles are effectively reversed and they don't have to face either the reality of what they have done or face the consequences. We may also at some level prefer this role-reversal, as it gives us the illusion of power and being needed and valued, and we can contine to deny that our partner is willingly abusing us.

The abuser is quite keen for us to believe the cause and effect myth of alcohol and domestic violence - it gives them a ready excuse to deny responsibility for their abusive behaviour.
In the meantime, the abuser is quite happy for us to accept that common concept that alcohol and domestic violence are linked by alcohol being the cause of domestic violence. While we believe that, we are likely to concentrate our efforts on helping the abuser aim for sobriety, not challenge his abusive belief system and behaviours.

The reality is that your abuser has not 'lost control', but chooses to be abusive when drunk - or at best still chooses to drink excessively despite knowing they are liable to be violent when drunk. Even when intoxicated we still basically keep our behaviour within our own value system, eg if we don't believe we should rob a bank then getting drunk won't suddenly turn us into bank robbers! In much the same way our partners are not likely to be violent when drunk if their value system did not allow them to be so. If they do not use physical violence when sober, it is likely that they believe that drinking 'allows' them to lose control and not be responsible for their actions.

What happens when an abuser 'gets sober'?

We may wish to believe if our partner were sober, then there would be no abuse, ie we want to believe that alcohol causes domestic violence. That, sadly, is wishful thinking. Sometimes our partner may only be physically violent when drinking, but if we look carefully, we become aware that their behaviour when not drunk is also emotionally and psychologically abusive. Abusers who 'get sober' may for a while refrain from physical violence, but the emotional abuse is likely to continue as sobriety is not the answer to abusive beliefs and attitudes - and the physical violence is likely to return, even if it is years down the road, when they find that simply using psychological, verbal and emotional abuse no longer works sufficiently.

In fact, their sobriety in itself can be used to help control and manipulate us, by threatening to drink if things don't go the way they wish. The threat need not be overt, but can be quite subtle, eg "You know that I find having your family round stressful, and I am concerned that will threaten my sobriety". The aim is isolate us from our family, the threat is drinking (and the unspoken threat of violence which may accompany it).

The abuse of alcohol and domestic violence have both to be tackled individually for there to be any real change. If only the alcohol abuse is tackled, we don't end up with a partner who respects us, but simply a sober abuser rather than a drunk one.

Some questions to ask yourself regarding the link between alcohol and domestic violence:

  • When drunk, is your partner violent or abusive only to you or to anyone?
  • Is there a pattern to the drunkeness, eg is it likely to occur when you have invited friends round, or intend going out for the evening, or after you have had an argument?
  • Does your partner believe that drunkeness causes violence?
  • If you have confronted your partner on their abusive or violent behaviour when drunk, have they taken immediate and serious steps to stop drinking or does it just carry on with apologies each time?
  • Are you aware of emotional and/or psychological abusive behaviour towards you when your partner is not drinking?


Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft (this book actually contains a whole section on drugs, alcohol and domestic violence)

Living with the Dominator: A Book About the Freedom Programme by Pat Craven

Return from Alcohol and Domestic Violence to The Abusers


In This Section:

Related Pages:

Domestic violence myths
Warning Signs of an Abuser

Recommended Reading:

Lundy Bancroft has written what is probably the most comprehensive and readable book on domestic violence, the beliefs of the abuser and the dynamics of abuse. This truly is a MUST READ for anyone seriously trying to understand domestic abuse and how to cope with an abusive relationship:

To order in the US: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

To order in the UK: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

Living with the Dominator by Pat Craven is the book to accompany the Freedom Programme in the UK. This book should be compulsory in schools - the information is so clear and so obvious and such an eye-opener! After studying domestic violence issues for years, this is the one book which finally enabled me to click it all into place and answer all my whys. Just read it:

To order in the US: Living With the Dominator (Kindle version only - and well worth buying a Kindle just to get this book!)

To order in the UK: Living with the Dominator: A Book About the Freedom Programme: 1

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UK National Domestic Violence Freephone number 0808 2000 247

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