Alcohol consumption and intimate partner violence

Researchers who specialize in the association between drinking and domestic violence have found that members of a couple perceive and remember domestic disputes in different ways, that days of heavy drinking by male partners have an increased probability of physical aggression, that black and Hispanic couples are at a higher risk for intimate partner violence (IPV) than white couples, and that male-perpetrated violence decreases significantly following individual treatment.

These findings, presented at a symposium during the joint June 2002 Research Society on Alcoholism/International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism meeting in San Francisco, can be found in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER).

"The association between domestic violence and drinking has been recognized for quite some time," said Raul Caetano, professor of epidemiology and assistant dean at The University of Texas School of Public Health, and corresponding author for the ACER manuscript. "Many of those who are involved in IPV are drinking during the event or have been diagnosed as alcoholic. However, there is still discussion about the nature of the link between alcohol and violence. Some think, for example, it is due to the disinhibiting effect of alcohol, which triggers a disinhibition of aggressive tendencies, leading then to aggression and domestic violence. Some think that the link between alcohol and violence is due to their association with a third factor such as a personality disorder."

Understanding the association or link between alcohol and IPV, said Caetano, is fundamental to providing effective prevention and treatment interventions. The symposium also focused on improving research methods and exploring treatment options. Some of the key findings were:

- Alcohol researchers have thus far neglected to focus on agreement between couples who report partner violence and alcohol-related partner violence. New evidence shows that this agreement is low, due to differences in both memory and perception of the dispute. In order to obtain valid data, researchers must develop precise and standardized methods of data collection.

- For couples in which male partners have a fairly recent history of perpetrating partner violence, drinking – particularly heavy drinking – by male partners is a highly significant risk factor for the recurrence of physical aggression. There is an eight times higher probability of domestic violence occurring on days of heavy drinking compared to days when drinking was not heavy.

- Analysis of national data shows that prevalence, incidence, and stability of IPV are higher among blacks and Hispanics than whites. "We need to recognize that IPV is another example of health disparities between whites and ethnic minorities," said Caetano.

- Male-perpetrated IPV appears to decrease following individually based alcoholism treatment. One study found that the proportion of individuals in an alcoholic sample reporting domestic violence was 56 percent in the year before treatment, four times that of the comparison sample (14%). In the year following treatment, that proportion decreased significantly to 25 percent, but still remained higher than the comparison sample.

"The symposium proceedings have multiple applications," said Caetano. "Investigators need to be careful about data collection in this area and make sure that they have information from both members of the couple. We can see that techniques for treatment do exist that are effective in reducing domestic violence in alcoholics and perhaps also for other individuals. It is also important to note that this type of violence seems, unfortunately, to affect minorities more than whites, and resources from prevention and treatment should be distributed in accordance with this higher risk."

Funding for this Addiction Science Made Easy project is provided by the Addiction Technology Transfer Center National Office, under the cooperative agreement from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment of SAMHSA.

Articles were written based on the following published research:

Caetano, R., Schafer, J., Fals-Stewart, W., O’Farrell, T., Miller, B. (February 2003). Intimate partner violence and drinking: New research on methodological issues, stability and change, and treatment. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 27(2), 292-300.