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Forced Drug Abuse: A Hidden Part of Intimate Partner Violence

When was the last time you had a session with a victim of intimate partner violence? If substance abuse coercion wasn’t addressed, now is a good time to begin.

A recent, large-scale survey conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline reveals that it is “disturbingly common” for people victimized by intimate partner violence (IPV) to be coerced by their abuser to use mind-altering drugs or to abuse alcohol as yet another means of control and domination in the abuse cycle. The current survey provides “the first large-scale quantitative data on the issue [of substance use coercion in IPV],” stated Carole L. Warshaw, MD, director, National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health, Chicago.

Some important findings:

  • 27% of victims of intimate partner violence reported they felt pressured or forced to use alcohol or other drugs or were made to use more than they wanted.
  • Of those victims who sought help for their substance use, 60% said their partner or ex-partner had tried to prevent or discourage them from getting help.
  • 38% said their partner or ex-partner threatened to report alcohol use or other drug use to someone in authority to keep them from getting something they wanted or needed.
  • 24% reported they were afraid to call the police for help because the partner said that they wouldn’t be believed because they use drugs or that they would be arrested for being under the influence.
  • Female victims were most vulnerable to threats by their partners or ex-partners when those threats impacted their relationships with their children, e.g., child custody or contact with their children, as in, “If you get help, I’ll call CPS and they’ll take your kids away.”
  • While women are most often affected, the phenomenon also occurs in men.

What can we as systemic therapists do?

Warshaw stressed, “Providers should always ask about substance use coercion as part of their substance use histories. They should have conversations about how this is impacting their patients, and then they should strategize with them about ways to address the problem. Even if the person in front of you is committed to their recovery, there might be someone at home sabotaging their best efforts.”

Some of us may not be experts in substance abuse recovery or intimate partner violence. Regardless of whether we have that expertise or not, we can open the door to help free our clients who experience coercion, control, and abuse in all its forms, especially if we know what issues to be aware of and which questions to ask.

Selected Resources

“Forced Drug Abuse a Hidden but ‘Disturbingly Common’ Part of Domestic Violence”

Mental Health and Substance Use Coercion Survey Report

Substance Use/Abuse in the Context of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Trauma

The Relationship Between IPV and Substance Use: Applied Research Review (PDF)

Fact Sheet: The Relationship Between Intimate Partner Violence and Substance Use

Real Tools: Responding to Multi-Abuse Trauma (PDF)

Mental Health and Substance Use Coercion Toolkit

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