Another post from ‘The Women’s Addiction Foundation’ hand-outs. This one deals with the combination of substance use and domestic/family violence. The substances could be taken by either partner, or both. Either way the use of drugs is detrimental to a healthy partnership.
‘Violence against women in relationships refers to any private or public act done by a woman’s partner that causes her physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering. Both substance misuse and violence in relationships are complex problems and in combination they become even more complicated and dangerous for women.
-The connections between substance misuse and violence against women; The combination is common in our society, in all communities, and in all social classes. Both problems often run for generations in a family, creating patterns of secrecy and denial, and isolating family members from one another. Over time, the combination can lead to situations that can be life-threatening for women.
-Social Attitudes: The National Violence Against Women Survey (1993) found that men’s drinking is a major factor in wife abuse. This does not mean that drinking causes male violence, but it is often used as an excuse for male violence. Society still promotes the attitude that drinking/drugging and violence are normal male responses to frustration. As a result, many violent men excuse their abusive behaviour, and many women are encouraged to believe “I deserved it” or “he wasn’t himself because he was drinking/using.”
Masking the problem: Women who were abused as children may use substances to deaden painful memories. Women who are currently being abused may use drugs or alcohol to cope with or accommodate an abusive partner. This, in turn can increase their vulnerability to violence. Sometimes doctors can also play a negative role in masking abuse by prescribing addictive drugs to women who have experienced, or are experiencing violence. Drugging a woman ignores the real problem: the abuser’s violent behaviour.
What are the barriers to getting help?
Fear and danger: A woman who is abused in her intimate relationship is often controlled by fear, threats, and violence. She may find it extremely difficult to even think about making a move to get safe and free, let alone stopping or reducing her substance use. The dangers are real. Women often will not seek treatment because they fear their partner’s violent reaction against them, their children or pets.
Depression: Abused women are also at a risk for depression, anxiety, and self-harming behaviours. This can make it very difficult for them to reach out and seek help.
Memories of childhood trauma: Sometimes when a woman takes steps to deal with an abusive living situation or to address her substance use, memories of earlier abuse surface. These memories may make her turn to drugs or alcohol again. For this reason some treatment programs discourage women from working on childhood abuse issues, but women also relapse when they do not deal with early abuse. Each woman is unique and must determine for herself when and how to deal with both issues.
-Programs that recognize women’s need to heal from substance misuse and experiences of abuse in a safe, supportive environment: Drug and alcohol treatment programs can provide women with a safe space to explore needs for growth and change, and build skills and confidence to protect themselves.
-Transition Houses that provide a safe space for women with substance abuse issues: Specialized transition houses that actively work with women on both violence and substance use issues from a harm reduction framework are essential. And it is important for all transition houses to find ways to commit to working with women on substance use issues in a routine and supportive way.
-Working together: Service providers are coming to recognize the links between substance misuse and violence. They are beginning to to share their expertise and work together to ensure safety for women and their children, while supporting women’s recovery from or change in their substance use. They are also exploring links with service providers working with women on mental health and HIV issues. It is a worthwhile goal to develop services that are holistic and welcoming to women with a variety of issues.’