The Link Between Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse

Substance use is a factor in many cases of domestic violence – either for the abusive partner, the person being abused, or both. Substances people commonly use include alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and prescription drugs.

The link between domestic violence and substance use is complex. Although many people may feel tempted to blame violent behaviour on drugs or alcohol, substance use is not the cause of it in intimate relationships. However, it is important to recognize the link between domestic violence and substance use to keep yourself safe.

If your partner is abusing you and using substances, you and your children are at greater risk

Domestic abuse occurs when one person in an intimate relationship tries to control or hurt the other person by using verbal, physical, emotional or sexual force. The risk of serious injury or death in an abusive relationship increases when an abuser is using drugs or alcohol. Children are also affected by domestic violence and substance use, whether or not they are present during an abusive episode. Children may be more likely to use substances themselves, engage in abusive behaviour, or fall victim to abusive behaviour in their own personal relationships, when they grow up in these environments.

Recognize the Warning Signs

If there is abuse in your relationship, and your abusive partner is using substances, paying attention to the following cues can help you recognize when to get help and practice your safety plan.

Be aware if your partner: Seek help if your partner:
  • shows physical signs of intoxication
  • is spending time in places and with people where substance use is more likely
  • is spending money on substances instead of important things like food, bills or diapers.
  • is borrowing or stealing money and belongings to support substance use
  • is missing time at work or school and ignoring their responsibilities
  • has triggers that lead to substance use (e.g.: bad day at work, anniversary dates of important life events, pay day)
  • hides or doesn’t want to talk about substance use
  • is asking for money and gets angry when you say no
  • is irritable when sober
  • has sudden mood changes
  • is paranoid or hallucinates
  • has started misusing prescription medication, replacing or mixing it with other substances
  • is also trying to get you to use substances
  • is intoxicated around your children
  • is gone for long periods of time (hours, days or weeks) and you suspect they are bingeing

Things you can do to stay safe if your partner is using:

  • Pay attention to the warning signs previously mentioned.
  • Develop a safety plan with a skilled domestic violence counsellor.
  • Find a safe location for you and your children.
  • Do not isolate yourself. Tell people about your situation.
  • Watch your partner’s behaviour to determine if change is really occurring. Remember, promises to change are just words.
  • Trust your instincts and take action if you start to feel unsafe.

If you are struggling with substance use, you are at greater risk of harm.

If you are a victim of domestic violence:

  • You may use substances to cope with the abuse you have experienced.
  • You may feel the need to use substances with your partner as a means of managing your environment or calming your partner down.
  • Your partner may pressure you to use substances as a means of controlling you.

Regardless of the reasons, using substances impairs your ability to make safe decisions and puts you at greater risk.

Things you can do to stay safe if you’re using:

  • Identify a safe person you can call when you feel you will use.
  • Do not use alone with your abusive partner.
  • Use in a safe location where you are surrounded by people who will keep you safe.
  • Identify and avoid the people, places or things that are unsafe.
  • Be aware of the warning signs that you are likely to use.
  • If you have children, make sure they are in a safe location and properly cared for before you start using.
  • Decide if you are prepared to go to treatment, go to a shelter or seek professional help.

Where to go for help

To talk about ways to stay safe and get help, please call:

  • Provincial Adult Addictions Information line (toll free) at 1-855-662-6605
  • 24-hour province-wide Domestic Violence Crisis Line (toll free) at 1-877-977-0007
  • Manitoba Justice Victim Services (toll free) at 1-866-484-2846.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911 immediately.

You are not responsible for the actions of your partner. With the right supports, you can stop the cycle of abuse.