Some survivors turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with domestic violence and its aftereffects, such as fear, depression, difficulty sleeping and physical pain.
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Some abusive partners push drugs and alcohol on victims as a way of controlling them and making it more difficult for them to break free.
And some physicians prescribe tranquilizers, sedatives and painkillers to survivors to help them cope with their abuse symptoms, unwittingly leading survivors to a substance use disorder.
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However the patterns develop, survivors of intimate partner violence are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol than people who have not been victimized. And abusing alcohol or drugs can increase a survivor’s risk of danger in a number of ways—being under the influence can prevent a survivor from seeing just how much danger she or he is in, can make it more difficult to leave, or can impede the healing process.
After escaping abuse—or even while under the thumb of an abusive partner—many survivors with addictions wonder how they can get help with their recovery from both the intimate partner violence and substance abuse. The key is finding a provider who understands trauma and substance use disorders.
Is My Substance Use Bad?
Many survivors wonder if their use of drugs or alcohol is “bad enough” to warrant separate attention. Slightly over 50 percent of people over the age of 12 in the U.S. drink alcohol, and many of these are moderate drinkers (defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men). However, at any time, one in ten people who drink has an alcohol use disorder—meaning they have difficulty controlling their alcohol use or experience social problems resulting from drinking. Social problems can include things like straining relationships, alienating friends and family or missing days at work or losing one’s job because of drinking.
According to The Recovery Village, a rehab center in Florida, there are 10 signs that indicate you might want to seek help with your drinking:
- You’re worried about your drinking habits and find yourself asking, “Is this normal?”
- You’ve had nights when you can’t remember what happened while drinking.
- Others have told you they’re worried about your drinking.
- You’ve injured yourself while drinking, such as fallen down, run into a wall, etc.
- You’ve missed important events where your presence was needed, such as your child’s school play, a family gathering or a work meeting.
- There have been negative consequences for drinking, like getting in trouble with friends and family, getting arrested or, in a survivor’s case, your ability to leave an abuser or find help has been impeded.
- You’re neglecting your responsibilities including taking care of your children, paying bills, going to work or even paying attention to your appearance or eating.
- You feel the need to lie about or cover up your drinking.
- You withdraw from family, friends and activities because drinking is the number one priority in your life.
- You’ve tried to quit on your own but haven’t been able to.
The criteria for diagnosing a drug use disorder is similar—the continued use causes problems and the person cannot stop using them.
A survivor who is unable to stop using drugs or alcohol is a survivor who needs treatment. Finding this treatment depends on a number of factors, including where a survivor lives, their financial situation or health insurance, and their time available.
Survivors might consider one of these treatment options:
- Support groups or individual treatment within their local domestic violence agency. Some DV agencies provide specialized services to survivors of DV who also struggle with alcohol or drug abuse.
- In-patient rehab with short- or long-term programs, where patients detox from their physical addictions and learn ways to cope without relying on substances. Find a list of drug and alcohol rehab centers nationwide here.
- Out-patient treatment centers, which are usually located in community mental health centers or hospitals.
- Individual or group drug and alcohol counseling, usually provided through community mental health centers. A survivor who chooses this option should look for a therapist with experience in both trauma and substance use disorders.
- Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, self-help groups that are available free-of-cost in most communities. While many domestic violence survivors find these helpful, they are not usually run in a trauma-informed way, and some survivors find them triggering.
Substance abuse and domestic abuse are like twin vines that squeeze and pull down survivors over time. Getting free of either one helps survivors address the other, so they can be free and flourish.
Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD, Senior Lecturer, University of Massachusetts is the author of Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.
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