Legal Pressure Reduces Domestic Violence by Problem Drinkers

This entry was posted in Alcohol Addiction on August 30, 2014 and modified on April 30, 2019

Legal Pressure Reduces Domestic Violence by Problem DrinkersAlong with intimate partner violence, domestic violence is one of the terms commonly used to describe various violent acts that take place between people involved in sexual relationships. The presence of alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) is a known factor in boosting the risks for this type of violence. In a study published in August 2014 in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers from four American universities analyzed the impact that the pressures of legal considerations have on the drinking behaviors of people who commit domestic violence.

Domestic Violence

Domestic or intimate partner violence is legally defined in the U.S. under both federal and state statutes. A person commits such an act of violence toward a partner when he or she engages in a range of possible behaviors. Examples of these behaviors include physically violent conduct (e.g., kicking, choking, punching or burning), sexually violent conduct (e.g., using force to compel involvement in a sexual act), direct or implied threats of physically or sexually violent conduct, and emotionally or psychologically violent conduct (e.g., verbal coercion or humiliation). Stalking also qualifies as a form of emotionally/psychologically violent conduct. There are typically heavy penalties for the perpetration of intimate partner violence. Despite this fact, violent incidents between married or unmarried partners occur with regularity throughout the U.S. Although women sometimes commit acts of domestic violence, they more commonly bear the brunt of this conduct from men.

Impact of Alcohol Problems

According to figures compiled by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, roughly 42 percent of violent domestic acts are committed by people who have no history of drinking problems. However, approximately 22 percent of domestic violence perpetrators qualify as heavy drinkers by habitually consuming alcohol above a moderate level of intake. In addition, another roughly 35 percent to 38 percent of perpetrators have drinking problems that would qualify them for a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. A number of factors may partially explain the association between alcohol consumption and intimate partner violence. These factors include alcohol’s ability to lower inhibitions against violent conduct, alcohol’s ability to distort a drinker’s thought processes, use of alcohol as an excuse for committing violent acts within a relationship and the co-existence of alcohol problems and other significant mental health issues. The average case of domestic violence involving alcohol use is more severe than the average case that doesn’t involve alcohol use.

Influence of Legal Considerations

In the study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers from the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Pittsburgh, the Yale University School of Medicine and the Rochester Institute of Technology used an examination of 60 perpetrators of intimate partner violence to see if legal considerations related to violent domestic acts have an influence on the likelihood of changing drinking behaviors. All of these perpetrators qualified for a diagnosis of alcoholism and were enrolled in legally mandated alcohol treatment. Direct legal considerations in play among the study participants included the treatment orders issued in a court of law and monitoring of ongoing program participation by a judge or other court official. More indirect considerations included each individual’s willingness to change his or her behavior while under legal pressure and each individual’s desire to avoid the consequences of getting into additional legal trouble.

The researchers concluded that, overall, legal factors exert a considerable influence on whether a person will continue to commit acts of intimate partner violence. However, they also concluded that the relationship between alcohol use and the legal consequences of such violence is substantially more complex. For example, legal considerations do not accurately predict whether a domestic violence perpetrator will actively participate in mandated alcohol treatment or reduce alcohol intake. However, willingness to change while under legal pressure is a stronger influence on problem drinkers than on non-problematic alcohol users who commit acts of intimate partner violence. This means that, once they come to the attention of the legal system, heavy drinkers may be willing to reduce their involvement in domestic violence, even if they don’t fully participate in alcohol treatment or reduce their alcohol intake. For this reason, the study’s authors believe that legal considerations have a significant impact on domestic violence perpetrators with drinking problems.


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