The Complicated Role of Alcohol in Crimes of Abuse and Domestic Violence

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Partner violence has been estimated to cost the U.S. economy $12.6 billion every year. In an estimated 55% of these cases, the perpetrators had consumed alcohol. A randomized phone survey of 3,333 women found “health care costs for those experiencing abuse were 42% higher than the costs of non-abused women.” Individuals of all ages are affected by crimes committed by people under the influence of alcohol, and the emotional and psychological toll on victims is staggering.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University Online Master of Social Work program.

How social workers can provide aid for survivors of alcohol-related domestic abuse.

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Statistics of Abuse and Domestic Violence in the U.S.

Data can show the frequency and risk of crimes such as abuse and domestic violence, but the long-term psychological and physical effects can’t be quantified.

Terms to Know

An important term to be familiar with is alcoholism. This term is used when an individual can no longer control their use of alcohol, despite the negative consequences, and experience emotional distress when not consuming alcohol. This is also known as alcohol use disorder.

Another key term is domestic violence. This term describes a pattern of behavior used by one partner in an intimate relationship to hold power and control over the other, causing physical, psychological, or sexual harm. Also referred to as intimate partner violence, this condition is marked by several negative behaviors such as physical aggression, psychological abuse, any type of controlling behavior, or forced sexual intercourse.

A third important term to know is sexual abuse. This term describes the infliction of unwanted sexual contact upon a person using force, threats, or manipulation.

Alcohol and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Unfortunately, alcohol and sexual assault are prevalent combinations in college campus settings. Studies show 20 – 25% of women are sexually assaulted in college, and 50% of instances of student sexual assault involve alcohol.

Disturbing Rates of Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse

More than 10 million men and women are physically abused by an intimate partner annually, a figure that breaks out to 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men. Studies show intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime, and women ages 18 – 24 are at greatest risk of abuse by an intimate partner.

Risk Factors and Warning Signs

With rates of abuse and domestic violence so high in the U.S., it’s likely that friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances will sport signs of these crimes. Support for survivors must start with close and trusted individuals taking steps to report their suspicions.

The Relationship between Alcohol and Domestic Violence

Alcohol consumption may increase the frequency and severity of domestic violence. Alcohol use also negatively impacts cognitive and physical abilities, lowers self-control, and inhibits an ability to negotiation peaceful solutions to relational conflicts. Excessive drinking may exacerbate factors that can feed the tension that can increase the risk of domestic violence. Instances of violence in a relationship can also lead to the use of alcohol to cope and self-medicate. Additionally, children witnessing violence or threats of violence between parents are at greater risk of developing harmful drinking patterns.

There are several risk factors for committing alcohol-related domestic violence. These include heavy, frequent drinking, fair or poor mental health, and relationship dissatisfaction.

There are also several key warning signs to identify in adult victims of domestic violence and/or abuse. These include signs of depression, self-harming behavior, and mentions of a partner’s manipulative behavior.

The signs that could serve as a warning to abuse in children are different than adults. These signs include bedwetting, fear of certain individuals, and age-inappropriate knowledge of sexual topics. There are also signs of perpetrator behavior to look out for, such as offering gifts to children with no reason, lack of age-appropriate relationships, or disrespecting boundaries.

Social Workers and Organizations Supporting Survivors

Domestic violence and sexual abuse impact not only the victims of these crimes but also the friends, family, and communities who must step in and provide support. Social workers play a key role in educating communities about domestic violence and sexual abuse and leading the journey toward recovery.

The Role of Social Workers in Recovery and Advocacy

For survivors of domestic violence and abuse, social workers provide assessment of key metrics like immediate safety needs and abuse patterns. They also assist with recovery through responding with validating message, responding to safety concerns, and participating in prevention and intervention efforts. Additionally, they advocate for funding of programs supported by the Family Violence and Services Act and the Victims of Crime Act.

Organizations for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Abuse

One of the key organizations survivors can turn to is the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that aims to “transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse; support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever.” Another organization is the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline and works with over 1,000 local sexual assault providers. A third organization, Wings Foundation, strives to break the cycle of childhood sexual abuse and supports survivors through education and healing resources.

A Key Part of the Healing Process

Survivors of abuse and domestic violence are not alone; with the help of social workers and a supportive community, survivors can heal from past trauma and learn how to lead happy and fulfilling lives.

Sources, Alcoholism Definition: What Is Alcoholism or Alcohol Use Disorder?, Sexual Assaults on College Campuses Involving Alcohol
Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “The Economic Cost of Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking”, Sexual and Domestic Violence Protocol for Social Workers and Counsellors
Joyful Heart Foundation, Our Story
Merriam-Webster, Sexual Abuse
National Association of Social Workers, “Social Work’s Role in Responding to Intimate Partner Violence”
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Statistics
National Domestic Violence Hotline, What Is Domestic Violence?
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol Abuse as a Risk Factor for and Consequence of Child Abuse”
RAINN, Warning Signs for College-Age Adults
RAINN, Warning Signs for Teens
RAINN, Warning Signs for Young Children
Wings Foundation, Our Mission
World Health Organization, Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol