Alcohol is not a root cause for abuse; it’s a trigger
POST on Facebook recently: “International Women’s Day event at Theatre Guild organised by UG and UNICEF…I told them the main culprit was alcohol abuse, reduce it and you will reduce domestic abuse, suicide, noise, drunk driving, etc etc.”
Comment on the post: “I totally agree. Alcohol is the root cause of all acts of violence, abuse, etc..”
Another commentator added: “Alcoholism, as one of the main causes of domestic violence has been known for ages.”
When the original poster and those who commented on his post were informed that alcohol is not a root cause of abuse but a trigger they vehemently disagreed and, instead, continued to perpetuate the long held myth.
The reality, however, is that while there have been many studies done, there is no scientific evidence indicating a cause-and-effect relationship between substance (alcohol, drugs) abuse and gender-based violence. Some abusers rely on substance use (and abuse) as an excuse for becoming violent. Alcohol allows the abuser to justify his abusive behavior as a result of the alcohol. While an abuser’s use of alcohol may have an effect on the severity of the abuse or the ease with which the abuser can justify his actions, an abuser does not become violent “because” drinking causes him to lose control of his temper.
The fact is that domestic violence is used to exert power and control over another; it is often a learned behavior, but is never the result of loss of control. In an abusive relationship, the batterer uses the pattern of tactics described in the Power and Control Wheel (see attached image) to reinforce the use of physical violence.
Violent incidents are not isolated instances of a loss of control, or even cyclical expressions of anger and frustration. Rather, each instance is part of a larger pattern of behavior designed to exert and maintain power and control over the victim. In fact, research indicates that a large quantity of alcohol, or any quantity for alcoholics, can increase the user’s sense of personal power and domination over others. An increased sense of power and control can, in turn, make it more likely that an abuser will attempt to exercise that power and control over another.
Also, alcohol does affect the user’s ability to perceive, integrate and process information. This distortion in the user’s thinking does not cause violence, but may increase the risk that the user will misinterpret his partner or another’s behavior. Additionally, substance abuse may increase the aggressive response of individuals with low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Research also indicates that there may be a correlation between the risk of domestic violence and certain personality characteristics. For example, alcohol abuse may increase the risk of violence in men who think abuse of women is appropriate and are also under socioeconomic hardship. Furthermore, a 1991 study in the United States found that the average amount of alcohol consumed prior to the use of violence was only a few drinks, which “suggests that the act of drinking may be more related to woman abuse than the effect of alcohol.”
In short, there is, “no evidence that batterers… socialisation or choice-making processes are not operational when using substances.” Thus, abusers follow their own “internal rules and regulations about abusive behaviors” that may include destroying property, relying on threats of abuse, and threatening children. Through these decisions, “perpetrators are making choices about what they will or will not do to the victim, even when they are claiming they ‘lost it’ or were ‘out of control.’ Such decision-making indicates that they are actually in control of their abusive behaviors.” (Anne L. Ganley & Susan Schechter, Domestic Violence: A National Curriculum for Family Preservation Practitioners; 1995).
In effect then, domestic violence and substance abuse should be understood and treated as independent problems: “[T]he reduction of one problem to the familiar language and interventions of the other problem is ill-advised” (Anne L. Ganley & Susan Schechter). Most importantly also, the myth that alcohol is a cause of domestic violence needs to be laid to rest, so that the concept of gender-based violence can be understood for what it is.
The fact is that abusers may feel this need to control their partner because of low self-esteem, extreme jealousy, difficulties in regulating anger and other strong emotions, or when they feel inferior to the other partner in education and socioeconomic background.
Some people with very traditional beliefs may think they have the right to control their partner, and that women aren’t equal to men. Others may have an undiagnosed personality disorder or psychological disorder. Still others may have learned this behavior from growing up in a household where domestic violence was accepted as a normal part of being raised in their family.
Studies suggest that violent behavior often is caused by an interaction of situational and individual factors. That means that abusers learn violent behavior from their family, people in their community and other cultural influences as they grow up. They may have seen violence often or they may have been victims themselves. Some abusers acknowledge growing up having been abused as a child.
Children who witness or are the victims of violence may learn to believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict between people. Boys who learn that women are not to be valued or respected and who see violence directed against women are more likely to abuse women when they grow up. Girls who witness domestic violence in their families of origin are more likely to be victimised by their own husbands.