Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Understanding Domestic Abusers

Excuse #2: Alcohol or Drugs

Abusers who use substances are violent and controlling both when they are intoxicated and when they’re not.
Substance abuse and domestic abuse

Most people who abuse substances don’t abuse their partners, but a substantial proportion of people who abuse their partners also abuse substances. In looking at the statistics below, bear in mind that whether substance-related IPV constitutes domestic abuse in an individual case is an open question. In various studies of the relationship between substance abuse and IPV:

Studies have found that serious alcohol use by male abusers increases the risk of their violence causing the death of their female partner, particularly if the man is a frequent binge drinker or a drug user.

Abusers who use substances

Substance abuse interacts with coercive behavior in many complex ways34 - the  relationship is not just a physiological one.

How does looking at gender help us understand what’s going on?
Men

A man’s substance abuse is more likely to lead to violence against his partner if he holds certain beliefs. When these beliefs are taken into account, the apparent relationship between alcohol use and domestic abuse actually almost disappears.35

Unfortunately, these beliefs receive support from people who see violence as normal and predictable behavior for men who are intoxicated, and hold intoxicated men less responsible for their physical violence. Abusers know this, and rely on it to get out of being held responsible for their behavior when intoxicated.

Women

Women don’t typically believe that intoxication will make them violent, though they often believe that it will make men violent. As a result, women often think they “should have known better” if they get assaulted when they’re intoxicated. Others may blame women for getting into situations in which they are assaulted by intoxicated men.

Implications for Intervention

As Klein points out, “The presence of drug and/or alcohol abuse makes continued offending more likely. Although sobriety may not eliminate the risk for reabuse, research suggests it may be a necessary ingredient.”38 However, substance abuse treatment is usually not effective in reducing domestic abuse over the long term. There are four main reasons for this:

Some abusers find ways to use their involvement in substance abuse treatment, and what they learn there, to extend their control. For instance:

Questions to ask yourself about your partner’s substance use
If you answered “yes” to many of these questions…

Next: Excuse #3: Childhood Victimization or Exposure to IPV

Back To Understanding Domestic Abusers homepage


  1. Caetano, R., Schafer, J., & Cunradi, C. (2001). Alcohol-related intimate partner violence among white, black, and Hispanic couples in the United States, Alcohol Research and Health, 25 (1). NOTE: In reports of research results, all percentages are rounded to the nearest whole percent.
  2. Rand, M.R., Sabol, W.J., Sinclair, M., & Snyder, H.N. (2010). Alcohol and Crime: Data from 2002 to 2008, Bureau of Justice Statistics, citing data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System.
  3. Brookoff, D. (1997). Drugs, Alcohol, and Domestic Violence in Memphis, NIJ Research Preview, National Institute of Justice.
  4. Caetano et al (2001).
  5. Wilson, D. & Klein, A. (2006). Longitudinal Study of a Cohort of Batterers Arraigned in a Massachusetts District Court 1995 to 2004, National Institute of Justice, p 31.
  6. Sharps, P., Campbell, J.C., Campbell, D., Gary, F., & Webster, D. (2003). Risky mix: Drinking, drug use, and homicide, NIJ Journal, Issue 250 (November), National Institute of Justice, p 11.
  7. Sharps et al (2003).
  8. Went, J. (2002). Substance abuse, control and abusive men, Issues in Family Violence Newsletter.
  9. Bennett, L. Personal communication.
  10. Bennett, L. Personal communication.
  11. Field, C.A., Caetano, R. & Nelson, S. (2004). Alcohol and violence related cognitive risk factors associated with the perpetration of intimate partner violence. Journal of Family Violence, 19, 249-253.
  12. Klein, A. (2009). Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges, National Institute of Justice.