Drug and alcohol abuse have complicated effects on the human mind and human behavior; as far back as 1995, the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved described the relationship between substance abuse and violence as a case of “cause and consequence.” The connection between drug addiction, alcoholism, and violence crosses many thresholds (individual psychology, public health, and domestic violence, to name a few), and is vitally important in understanding the scope of how controlled substances can affect people.
Drugs and Violent Behavior
The correlation between substance abuse and violent behavior has been well documented. For example, the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment noted that more than 75 percent of people who begin treatment for drug addiction report having performed various acts of violence, including (but not limited to) mugging, physical assault, and using a weapon to attack another person.
Examining gender differences, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that before seeking treatment for substance abuse, the rate of violent acts was as high as 72 percent among men and 50 percent among women. People enrolling in treatment were referred by family members because of violent behavior carried out while under the influence. Furthermore, researchers found that aggression between two people in a romantic or sexual relationship was “associated with heavy drinking episodes and cocaine use.”
The researchers noted that “only a tiny fraction of all drinking events involve violence,” but the likelihood of being violent while drinking appeared to be based on how well people who drink can deal with their anger while they’re sober. Since drinking alcohol can lower inhibitions, compel risky behavior, and rob people of their self-control, an individual with unreleased rage can act out when sufficiently intoxicated.
Addiction and Suicide
The compulsion toward risky behavior accounts for the connection between alcohol abuse and the risk of suicide, which also overlaps with the propensity for violence. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research noted a perception among people who seek treatment for substance abuse problems that the inability to control their violent behavior was connected with an increased chance of a past suicide attempt. Researchers writing in that journal theorized that people who struggle to control their anger are more likely to act on impulse and may thus be more violent to themselves than to others.
To that point, the World Health Organization defines suicide as a form of “self-directed violence,” and studies on the topic of how substance abuse influences violence have found a strong connection between addiction and “self-directed violence.” The European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience journal wrote of how people with histories of alcoholism and past aggressive behavior “are more likely to report suicidal thoughts or past suicide attempts.” People who had attempted to commit suicide tended to report higher instances of depressive disorders, which they may have tried to cope with by abusing alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication, thereby deepening the spiral.
According to the Archives of General Psychiatry, people who have a diagnosis of abuse of or dependence on drugs, alcohol, or both are six times more likely to have attempted suicide when compared to those who have no such diagnosis.
Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse
Of all the forms of violence influenced by drug addiction or alcoholism, violence toward a domestic partner may be one of the most concerning and serious. The U.S. Department of Justice explains that the abuse in a domestic arrangement is not limited to physical acts, such as hitting, punching, slapping or pulling hair; “domestic violence,” as a legal term, can also cover sexual abuse (rape, marital rape, treating a partner in a sexually abusive and demeaning way, and molestation), emotional abuse (intentional and malicious attacks on a partner’s self-worth), and psychological abuse (controlling the partner, blackmail, threatening harm to children, violence toward pets, and intimidation).
As explained by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, violence against an intimate partner can also include stalking, social isolation (not letting an intimate partner leave the house, for example), and depriving resources and necessities. Various studies have identified substance abuse as a factor in 40-60 percent of incidents of domestic violence, either in precipitating the abuse or exacerbating it.