When Love Hurts: The Powerful Link Between Addiction and Domestic Violence

This content has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified addiction therapist and a board-certified physician.

This content has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified addiction therapist and a board-certified physician.

Table of Contents

When examining human relationships, we cannot ignore the troubling connection between addiction and domestic violence.

These are not just individual problems but systemic issues affecting families, communities, and entire societies.

This article is focused on raising awareness of the strong link between these two social epidemics, which often thrive in secrecy and silence.

It is essential to confront these dark aspects within human connections’ complexities.

It is a harsh reality that, when twisted, love can be harmful.


Understanding Addiction

Addiction is a condition that is both complex and chronic.

Despite negative consequences, it is characterized by an individual’s compulsion to engage in a specific behavior or substance use.

Several forms of addiction include substance abuse, alcoholism, and gambling addiction.

Substance abuse addiction involves the persistent and harmful use of drugs or other substances, leading to physical and psychological dependence.

Alcoholism refers to an individual’s addiction to alcohol, resulting in an inability to control drinking habits and severe withdrawal symptoms.

Gambling addiction involves an uncontrollable urge to gamble, often leading to financial, emotional, and interpersonal problems.

All of these forms of addiction share common traits, including cravings, loss of control, and adverse effects on an individual’s physical health, mental well-being, and relationships.


Addiction Type Description
Substance Abuse Substance abuse addiction involves the persistent and harmful use of drugs or other substances. It is characterized by a compulsive and uncontrollable urge to consume illicit drugs, prescription medications, or legal substances like nicotine or caffeine. Substance abuse addiction can lead to physical and psychological dependence, with individuals experiencing cravings, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and negative consequences in various aspects of life.
Alcoholism Alcoholism refers to the addiction to alcohol, where an individual loses control over their drinking habits. It involves a compulsive need to consume alcohol, which harms physical health, mental well-being, and relationships. Alcoholism often manifests in symptoms like the inability to stop drinking, increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms (such as tremors or sweating), and continued alcohol use despite negative consequences, such as legal, financial, or interpersonal problems.
Gambling Addiction Gambling addiction, also known as pathological or compulsive gambling, is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to gamble. It involves persistent and excessive gambling despite adverse consequences in various aspects of life, including financial, emotional, and interpersonal domains. People with a gambling addiction may experience an inability to control their gambling behavior, preoccupation with gambling, need to increase bets to achieve desired excitement (tolerance), and restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop or reduce gambling (withdrawal symptoms).

domestic violence and addiction


Understanding Domestic Violence

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is a pattern of behavior where one person in an intimate relationship uses various means to exert power and control over their partner.

It can manifest in various forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse, each causing significant harm.

Perhaps the most recognizable physical abuse involves violent acts like hitting, slapping, or choking.

Emotional abuse, often less visible but equally damaging, includes behaviors designed to degrade, intimidate, or manipulate a person, such as consistent criticism, threats, and isolation from friends and family.

Sexual abuse, a particularly grievous form of domestic violence, refers to any forced or coerced sexual activity without consent.

Economic or financial abuse is another form of control wherein an abuser manipulates a person’s access to financial resources, limiting their independence.

Lastly, psychological abuse involves causing fear through intimidation; threatening to hurt oneself, the partner, children, or pets; and other tactics aimed at mental manipulation.

All these forms, though distinct, often overlap, creating a complex and devastating environment for the victim.


Form of Domestic Violence Description
Physical Abuse This involves any acts of violence inflicted on a person’s physical body, such as hitting, slapping, punching, or choking. It may also include physical restraint or the use of weapons.
Emotional Abuse Emotional abuse refers to behaviors designed to manipulate or degrade a person emotionally. This can include consistent criticism, humiliation, intimidation, manipulation, or isolation from friends and family. It is a form of abuse that can significantly affect a person’s mental health.
Financial Abuse Financial abuse involves controlling or limiting a person’s access to financial resources. This can be done through withholding money, restricting access to bank accounts, controlling spending, or sabotaging employment opportunities, thereby limiting their financial independence.
Sexual Abuse Sexual abuse refers to any forced or coerced sexual activity without consent. This can include rape, sexual assault, or forced participation in sexual acts or behaviors.


The Prevalence and Impact of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a global epidemic affecting individuals across every demographic and socioeconomic status.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

However, domestic violence is not confined to any gender, with men falling victim, albeit at lower rates.

The effects of this type of violence are significant and have a wide-reaching impact.

For victims, it results in physical injuries, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and in severe cases, death.

The psychological trauma can last long after the violence has stopped, hindering a person’s ability to lead a fulfilling life.

Further, the ripple effects of domestic violence extend to children who witness it, potentially perpetuating a cycle of violence into the next generation.

It also burdens healthcare and legal systems and has significant societal and economic costs.

Thus, the prevalence and impact of domestic violence underscore the urgency for collective action to prevent and address this grave issue.


The Link Between Addiction and Domestic Violence

Research has consistently illustrated a potent connection between addiction and domestic violence1.

Substance abuse can act as a trigger to domestic violence due to the behavioral changes it engenders.

Drugs and alcohol can reduce self-control, exacerbate violent tendencies, and lead to unpredictable, extreme behavior, thus increasing the likelihood of aggressive acts.

Conversely, living in an environment rife with domestic violence can lead individuals to turn to substances as a coping mechanism, further entrenching the cycle of violence and addiction.

Additionally, the power dynamics in relationships with addiction can fuel abusive behaviors as the addicted person might resort to manipulation or violence to sustain their habit.

The intersection of addiction and domestic violence often creates a destructive cycle, trapping victims in an increasingly volatile and unsafe environment.

Therefore, it is crucial to address these issues simultaneously for effective intervention and rehabilitation.



Addiction often serves as a precursor to domestic violence, a complex relationship primarily fueled by the profound changes substances impose on an individual’s behavior, emotions, and perception.

Substances such as drugs and alcohol can significantly impair judgment, elevate impulsivity, and decrease inhibitions, creating an environment where violent or aggressive behavior may be more likely to occur.

They can heighten paranoia or anger, leading to confrontational and violent behavior.

Also, the constant quest to secure substances can instigate manipulation, lying, and abusive behavior toward partners or family members.

Withdrawal symptoms, including irritability and aggression, can catalyze violent episodes.

Furthermore, the economic strain brought about by addiction can trigger conflict, especially when shared resources are depleted.

Thus, addiction can set a dangerous precedent, escalating the potential for domestic violence and creating a deeply intertwined cycle of abuse.



Addiction, once established, can exacerbate domestic violence, intensifying its frequency and severity.

The altered mental state induced by substance misuse can lead to an increased propensity for violent behaviors, lower impulse control, and a distorted perception of reality, all of which can escalate domestic altercations.

An addicted person’s preoccupation with obtaining and using substances may increase tension in the relationship, causing arguments and potential violence.

Notably, in relationships already marked by domestic violence, addiction can trap victims in the cycle of abuse, as the fear or reality of withdrawal may deter them from leaving their abusers.

Therefore, addiction doesn’t merely coincide with domestic violence but can amplify it.



Case studies and statistics reinforce the critical link between addiction and domestic violence.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, around 40-60% of instances of intimate partner violence occur in conjunction with substance abuse.

Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that women who experienced domestic violence were 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol and nine times more likely to abuse drugs than women who had not encountered such violence2.

Another compelling example is a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which found that 40-60% of domestic violence victims reported that their partners were under the influence of drugs or alcohol during most violent episodes.

These studies and statistics underscore the alarming correlation between these two social issues, highlighting the necessity for integrated and comprehensive interventions that address addiction and domestic violence.


The Effect of Substance Abuse on Brain Function

Substance abuse has significant and often detrimental effects on brain function.

Depending on the substance used, it can alter various aspects of brain activity, including cognition, emotion, decision-making, and impulse control.

For instance, substances like alcohol and certain drugs can depress the function of the brain’s frontal cortex, the area responsible for judgment and decision-making, leading to lowered inhibitions and poor judgment.

Moreover, prolonged substance abuse can damage the brain’s reward system, causing an over-reliance on the substance for pleasure or relief from discomfort.

Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, crucial for mood regulation, can also be affected, potentially leading to increased aggression or impulsivity3.

Additionally, substances can exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, increasing irritability and aggression.

Over time, these alterations can make individuals more prone to violent behavior, thus increasing the risk of domestic violence.

The effects of substance abuse on the brain are substantial and can significantly contribute to perpetuating harmful behaviors and cycles of abuse.



The Psychological Perspectives


The cycle of abuse and addiction presents a powerful, self-perpetuating loop of harm.

It begins with using substances to cope with stress, trauma, or emotional pain.

As substance misuse escalates into addiction, it can lead to behavioral changes, including increased aggression, diminished impulse control, and impaired judgment, creating fertile ground for domestic violence.

The ensuing domestic violence further traumatizes the victim, who may turn to substances as a coping mechanism, increasing their risk of developing an addiction.

Simultaneously, the person perpetrating the abuse may also increase their substance use to deal with guilt or self-loathing, further fueling the cycle.

This dynamic creates a destructive feedback loop that is difficult to break without external intervention, as each component exacerbates the other, trapping the individuals involved in a cycle of addiction and violence.



In relationships with addiction, power, and control dynamics often become warped and intensified, creating an environment conducive to domestic violence.

The individual with addiction may exercise control over their partner through manipulation, coercion, or threats, often to maintain their substance use.

They might blame their partner for addictive behavior, shifting responsibility and deflecting attempts to address the addiction.

On the other hand, the non-addicted partner may attempt to exert control by regulating the addicted individual’s substance use, leading to conflict and potential violence.

The addicted person may also resort to abusive behavior if they perceive their partner as a barrier to obtaining or using substances.

Thus, addiction can skew the power balance in a relationship, often resulting in a toxic dynamic that increases the risk of domestic violence.



Trauma bonding, a term coined by Patrick Carnes, refers to the strong emotional attachment and loyalty that can develop between people where one person consistently abuses, belittles, or threatens the other.

It is particularly prevalent in relationships marred by addiction and domestic violence.

The cycle of abuse, characterized by periods of violence followed by apologies, promises to change, or even affectionate behavior, can cause a victim to form a powerful bond with their abuser, despite the harm they endure.

This is akin to the dynamics of addiction, where the relief from withdrawal symptoms or the temporary pleasure of substance use reinforces the habit, despite its negative consequences.

Trauma bonding makes it significantly more challenging for victims to leave abusive relationships, as the emotional attachment can lead them to justify the abuser’s behavior or live in the hope of change4.

This parallels the difficulty individuals face when trying to break free from addiction.

Consequently, understanding and addressing trauma bonding is essential in effectively combating both addiction and domestic violence.


The Social Implications

The social implications of the nexus between addiction and domestic violence are wide-ranging and profound.

The immediate circle of friends and family members is directly affected as they often endure the ripple effects of these dual issues, including the emotional burden, the strain on relationships, and potentially becoming victims of violence themselves.

Children growing up in such environments are particularly at risk, as they might normalize the behavior they witness and potentially perpetuate the cycle of abuse and addiction in their future relationships.

Beyond the immediate social network, communities, schools, workplaces, and healthcare services bear the burden too, in the form of increased healthcare costs, reduced productivity, and increased crime rates.

At a societal level, the prevalence of addiction and domestic violence contributes to social inequality, as the individuals affected often struggle to escape their circumstances, further entrenching them in cycles of poverty and violence.

Consequently, the social implications underscore the importance of comprehensive interventions that address both addiction and domestic violence.





Societal stigmas around addiction and domestic violence can create significant barriers to seeking help and achieving recovery.

Addiction is often misunderstood as a moral failing or a lack of willpower rather than a complex disease with biological, psychological, and social components.

This perception can lead to judgment, shame, and isolation for those struggling with addiction, discouraging them from seeking help.

Similarly, victims of domestic violence often confront victim-blaming attitudes that question their choices, such as “why don’t they leave?”

This oversimplifies the complexity of domestic violence, overlooking the myriad barriers to leaving an abusive relationship, including fear, financial dependence, and trauma bonding.

The stigma around domestic violence can cause victims to feel shame, guilt, and fear, making it even harder for them to come forward.

These societal stigmas perpetuate harmful myths about addiction and domestic violence and inhibit individuals from seeking the support they need, underscoring the importance of societal awareness and empathy.


Breaking the Cycle: Intervention and Prevention


Intervening in and preventing addiction and domestic violence necessitates a multi-faceted approach at various levels.

At an individual level, early detection and intervention are crucial.

This might involve training healthcare professionals to recognize signs of abuse and addiction, offering therapy and counseling services, and ensuring accessible and affordable treatment options for substance misuse.

Educational programs can also help teach individuals about the nature of healthy relationships, the dangers of substance misuse, and where to seek help if needed.

At a relationship level, couple and family therapy can significantly address the dynamics contributing to domestic violence and addiction.

Such therapy can help improve communication, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and resolve conflicts nonviolently.

Support networks can be invaluable, providing emotional support and practical help.

At a societal level, public awareness campaigns can help dispel myths and stigmas around addiction and domestic violence, fostering a culture of understanding and empathy.

Legislation and policy can ensure victims’ protection and provide essential services.

Furthermore, initiatives to address underlying societal issues such as poverty, inequality, and social norms perpetuating violence and substance misuse are essential in creating a supportive environment that discourages these harmful behaviors.

Ultimately, a comprehensive approach that integrates these strategies offers the best chance of effectively addressing the link between addiction and domestic violence.



Given the intricate link between these two issues, comprehensive treatment programs that simultaneously address addiction and domestic violence are crucial.

Treating only one aspect while neglecting the other can lead to a cycle where the untreated issue triggers a relapse into the other.

For instance, a person recovering from addiction might revert to substance use if they remain in an abusive environment.

Conversely, domestic violence survivors may struggle to escape their circumstances if their substance use disorder is untreated.

Therefore, a comprehensive treatment approach is necessary to break the cycle of abuse and addiction.

Such programs often encompass individual therapy, group counseling, case management, and support services.

They aim to address both issues’ root causes and manifestations, enabling individuals to develop healthier coping mechanisms, establish safer environments, and build stronger, abuse-free futures.

The interconnected nature of addiction and domestic violence necessitates an integrated treatment approach to ensure sustainable recovery and safety.


Supporting Survivors

Support systems and resources are invaluable to survivors of addiction and domestic violence, providing much-needed assistance and encouragement throughout their journey to recovery and safety.

These networks can include family and friends, therapy and support groups, community, and online resources.

Such systems offer emotional support, practical assistance, and a sense of community, helping survivors to feel less isolated and more empowered.

They can also provide information on navigating legal and healthcare systems, accessing financial aid, and finding safe housing.

A supportive environment can help survivors cope with trauma, build resilience, and develop healthier relationships and coping strategies.

Support systems and resources can serve as a lifeline for survivors, making their challenging journey toward recovery and safety more manageable, less lonely, and crucial in preventing relapse or re-victimization.



Speaking up about domestic violence is vital in breaking the cycle of abuse and supporting victims.

Domestic violence often thrives in silence, with victims feeling isolated, ashamed, or afraid to share their experiences due to fear of retribution, stigma, or disbelief.

By voicing concerns when signs of domestic violence are observed, we can help combat this silence, validate the victim’s experience, and potentially facilitate their access to help.

Moreover, speaking up can signal to the victim that they are not alone and that help is available, which can be an essential first step in leaving an abusive situation.

It’s important to approach such conversations with empathy, understanding, and without judgment, recognizing that the decision to seek help is ultimately up to the victim.

However, contacting the appropriate authorities is crucial to ensure the victim’s safety if immediate danger is suspected.

In essence, speaking up about domestic violence is not just an act of courage but a critical step toward prevention, intervention, and, ultimately, change.



While the intertwined issues of addiction and domestic violence can seem insurmountable, it’s important to remember that help is available, and recovery is possible.

Numerous individuals have walked this path before and emerged stronger, demonstrating that the cycle of abuse and addiction can be broken.

No matter how bleak or overwhelming your situation may feel, resources and support systems are available to help guide you toward safety, healing, and a healthier future.

Your strength and resilience are powerful tools in this journey, and it’s never too late to seek help and create a life free from abuse and addiction.

Always remember you are not alone; hope for a better tomorrow exists.


If you or someone close to you is dealing with addiction, we want you to know that we’re here to help.

At Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, AZ, we offer trauma-focused treatment to help you overcome addiction.

Our team provides compassionate support to ensure your success.

Trust us to guide you toward a better life!



[1] Drug Use Disorders and Violence: Associations With Individual Drug Categories

[2] Intimate partner violence and drug-addicted women: from explicative models to gender-oriented treatments

[3] Aggressive Behavior, Increased Accumbal Dopamine, and Decreased Cortical Serotonin in Rats

[4] Breaking the Deceptive and Toxic Cycle of Trauma Bonding

Published: 7/15/2024

Contributor: Julie Miller

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julie miller recovery writer and author

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.

Clinical Reviewer

Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach.

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