Over half of all instances of domestic violence reported to the police involve alcohol. Alcohol does not cause domestic violence, it just makes it more likely and more severe when it does happen. So how does alcohol fuel domestic violence?
Alcohol is a disinhibitor
Alcohol does not actively change peoples’ personalities. It does not even change peoples’ thoughts. The effect of alcohol is to disinhibit. Inhibitions are the mental structures we use to prevent ourselves from doing the first thing that comes into our heads. They are the things that stop us from lashing out when we are angry, or from laughing in meetings, or eating all the cake. Without them, we would be like big, strong toddlers. A scary thought.
When you drink alcohol, it interferes with the signalling processes of your brain. This reduces your inhibitions and can make thoughts and feelings more immediate. It is harder to distance yourself from your thoughts when you are drunk. For people who are normally calm but have violent thoughts (most people), alcohol can shorten the gap between feeling and thinking the thought and carrying it out.
It should be no surprise to learn that most murders, about 20 percent of serious sexual crimes, and most violent offenses inside and outside the home involve alcohol.
Alcohol in domestic violence
For people with violent urges, whether they are the result of trauma or environmental and genetic factors, alcohol is a very popular choice of drug. Mental health conditions are very hard to cope with and turning to alcohol is something a majority of people with personality disorders do.
Domestic violence is mostly carried out by a small subset of the population. The perpetrators more often than not come from separated families, neglectful and/or abusive backgrounds, and have poor educational attainment. Most cannot read. That gives you a good idea of the difficulties these people face in their lives.
In these populations, alcoholism is rife. Alcohol is easily and cheaply available. Without much help and a lot of problems to cope with, people turn to alcohol for relief.
Unfortunately, it does not really relieve them. Alcohol acts as a behaviour magnifier. It takes your feelings and thoughts and makes them more dominant and harder to escape from. Drinking can feel good for a while, but if you are angry, it is going to be much easier to act it out when you are under the influence.
Mental health problems and alcohol
Domestic abusers come from every walk of life, but most come from very difficult backgrounds. Someone who has been abused is more likely to be abusive themselves, especially when it comes to violence. Mental health problems, high stress, few escapes, and oppressive environments all add up to frustrated people. Add a disinhibitor in there, and you have someone who is much more likely to take their frustrations or psychoses out on someone else.
That someone else is often the vulnerable person or people at home. Drinking at home is becoming more popular, but the stereotype of the wife-beater who comes home steaming drunk from the pub to take it out on his wife and kids has a basis in truth. Relationships are difficult even when you are well educated, sound of mind, and secure in your job. With all the problems that alcoholics and people with mental health conditions face, relationships can be even more difficult. Many men in these situations are in a desperate place but do not know how to deal with it. So they drink, they become disinhibited, and they become violent. The rest we know all too well.
It should be made clear however that women can be as guilty of domestic violence against their partner as men.
Help is available
If you have problems with drinking or domestic abuse, contact your GP, talk to a pharmacist, or a counsellor. There is a lot of help available, please take advantage of t.
Are you a victim of domestic abuse?
Nearly 2 million people are the victim of domestic abuse each year. If you think you are a victim of domestic abuse, which can be violent, sexual, or emotional, please call the following National Domestic Violence Helpline number : 0808 2000 247. It is free, confidential and will not appear on your telephone bill. There are trained specialists who are there to help.
If you are or someone else is in immediate danger, please call the police immediately.