Drinking Alcohol and Domestic Abuse

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

There is a general correlation between alcohol consumption and violence toward a spouse or partner: They sometimes occur together. But does drinking actually cause abuse in a relationship? Researchers and other experts warn against jumping to the conclusion that it does.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that a relationship between two things means that one causes the other. For example, the number of people who drown is correlated with the consumption of ice cream. But neither causes the other. In warmer weather more people eat more ice cream and more people go swimming, which increases the chances of drowning.

Experts emphasize that there is no research evidence that alcohol consumption or even alcohol abuse causes domestic violence. Furthermore, the majority of alcoholics and other men who abuse alcohol don’t abuse their partners and most instances of abuse occur in the absence of any alcohol consumption at all.

So why is alcohol consumption associated with domestic abuse at all? The Women’s Rural Advocacy Program says that the higher incidence of alcohol abuse among men who batter results from the overlap of two separate social problems.

In “The False Connection between Adult Domestic Violence and Alcohol,“ Theresa Zubretsky and Karla Digirolamo report that “economic control, sexual violence, and intimidation, for example, are often part of a batter’s ongoing pattern of abuse, with little or no identifiable connection to his use of or dependence on alcohol.”

Alcohol does not and cannot make one person abuse another. Many authorities explain that “men who batter frequently use alcohol abuse as an excuse for their violence. They attempt to rid themselves of responsibility for the problem by blaming it on the effects of alcohol.”

Although most writers focus on men as abusers of women, research also indicates that women abuse men about as often. And there’s no reason to believe that alcohol causes women to abuse men.


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