Alcohol Worsens Violence in Intimate Relationships

Men More Likely to Abuse Partners on Days They Drink

woman throwing drink in man's face
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Heterosexual, homosexual, and sexual minority couples can all experience physical violence in intimate relationships due to alcohol consumption.

When it comes to heterosexual couples, men who drink alcohol and have a predisposition for physical violence toward their intimate partners are more likely to be violent on the days they drink alcohol, according to a study reported in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Odds of Physical Violence for Alcoholic Men in Heterosexual Relationships

This particular study examined 135 domestically violent men entering an alcoholism treatment program over a 15-month period and found a significant relationship between men's drinking and violence against the women they are intimate with.

The odds of any male-to-female physical aggression are 8 times higher on days when these men drink alcohol than on days with no alcohol consumption, with the chances of severe male-to-female physical aggression on drinking days more than 11 times higher.

Moreover, compared to days of no drinking, the odds of any male-to-female violence on days of heavy drinking by the male partners (drinking six or more drinks in 24 hours) are more than 18 times higher and the odds of severe violence are more than 19 times higher.

Drinking Is A Significant Risk Factor for Violence

Violent episodes are more likely to occur during or shortly after the drinking.

 Additionally, men seeking treatment for domestic violence with severe alcohol misuse problems are generally more likely to engage in intimate partner violence on any given day, regardless of drinking, than their counterparts without drinking problems.

For heterosexual couples in which male partners have a fairly recent history of perpetrating partner violence, drinking, particularly heavy drinking, represents a highly significant risk factor for the recurrence of physical aggression.

Intimate Partner Aggression in Same-Sex Couples

The problem of intimate partner violence (IPV) among gay, lesbian and sexual minority couples is as real as it is in the heterosexual community, but has been egregiously understudied. This is even though the limited number of studies available suggest sexual minority couples may:

  • experience more problematic drinking behaviors than heterosexual couples
  • have higher rates of IPV
  • display more negative factors associated with seeking treatment

Sadly, some couples don't seek treatment because they fear homophobia and being outed, especially those living in intolerant communities. They also may have valid concerns about the efficacy of a heterosexually-centered program for their situation. Keeping these couples on the margins of society puts their well-being at risk unnecessarily.

Since many domestic violence programs cater to heterosexual couples, they need modifications to be effective and welcoming to gay, lesbian, and sexual minority couples.

Facts About Drinking and Intimate Partner Violence

Here are some sobering facts about drinking alcohol and intimate partner, or sexual partner, violence from the Michigan Department of Community Health:

  • IPV can cause physical and emotional harm
  • of the 25 percent of women in Michigan who experienced sexual violence, 50 percent of those situations involved alcohol use by the attacker, the victim, or both
  • excessive drinking is linked to IPV and sexual violence

Alcohol use and intoxication are only two of many factors that help to create a situation in which intimate partner violence is the result.

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Klostermann, et al. Aggression and Violent Behavior: Alcoholism and partner aggression among gay and lesbian couples (2011)

Michigan Department of Community Health: Excessive Alcohol Use and Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence Among Michigan Women (2008)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Fact Sheets - Alcohol Use and Your Health (2016)

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