Do I Need Help? When Your Partner Gets Drunk and Violent

Model poses as a battered wife
Woman trapped in an abusive marriage with a heavy drinker. Dick Makin/Getty Images

I love my husband, and in many ways, we have a great relationship. We both enjoy drinking on the weekends, but one Saturday night, my husband hit me. I thought it wouldn't happen again, so I let it go, but since then, things can sometimes get a bit out of control and we fight. More and more often, my husband hits me when he's drunk. I'll wake up on a Sunday with bruises on my face and body. My husband is really sweet most of the time so I don't want to leave him. Do I need help?

If any of this sounds familiar, read on.

You Are Not Alone

Many women and men are going through the same struggle you are. Research across different countries and cultures has demonstrated a strong relationship between binge drinking and violence towards intimate partners, whether they are married, cohabiting, dating, or casual encounters, and whether the partners are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Both men and women can be victims or perpetrators, but the vast majority of assaults and homicides are perpetrated by men to women.

Like all people with violent partners, you are not to blame for what's happening to you, but you're unlikely to get help unless you take action yourself to prevent further abuse. Only you can decide what to do in this situation, but you are strongly advised to seek professional help as soon as possible.

The Connection Between Drinking and Intimate Partner Violence

Binge drinking is associated with being both the perpetrator and the victim of violence between married couples.

Think about how many drinks you have when you're with your partner—the more you drink, as well as the more your partner drinks, the greater the risk that he or she will become violent towards you.

Alcohol is typically involved in the most severe incidents of violence towards partners. The relationship between alcohol consumption and intimate partner violence is similar across diverse cultures and drinking patterns.

While you may have only suffered from bruises up to this point, many partners, especially women, are hospitalized and die each year as a result of violence from a drunk partner, so it's important that you deal with this now.

Research also shows that there is a consistent link between the number of drinks consumed per occasion and engaging in partner violence, suggesting that it's alcohol intoxication rather than merely alcohol use that creates situations where violence occurs. One of the first things you can do is to control your drinking by setting a limit of how much you and your partner will drink—if at all. Five drinks or more is particularly unsafe for escalating the risk of violence, so a limit of three to four drinks should be the maximum.

Even if you don't want to discuss your partner's drinking with him or her, you can control your own drinking right away, which will reduce the risk of you being hit again to some extent.

Yes, You Do Need Help—And So Does Your Partner

You may love your partner and he or she may be kind the majority of the time. However, it's absolutely crossing the line to hit or assault anyone. If possible, try talking to your partner when neither of you is under the influence and see if you can come up with a plan together about how to get help.

Both you and your partner need outside help in this situation. While some people who are violent towards their partners can learn more effective ways to manage, if left unchecked, you can find yourself living in fear, eventually suffering from injuries or worse. Ideally, if your partner is willing to come to counseling, you should get couples counseling to address the underlying problems in your relationship. You should also both get counseling about your drinking (unless you are both willing and able to quit, and don't drink most of the time), and your partner should get additional help to deal with his or her violent behavior.

Other Resources for Help

If your partner becomes violent again, you can call 911 and ask for the police and an ambulance if you need medical attention. The police can help to link you with services in your area for abused partners. You can also find this help through your local community center or hospital.

Sources:

Graham K, Bernards S, Munne M, Wilsnack S. Unhappy Hours: Alcohol and Partner Aggression in the Americas (Scientific and Technical Publication 631). Pan American Health Organization. 2009.

Testa M, Kubiak A, Quigley BM, et al. Husband and Wife Alcohol Use as Independent or Interactive Predictors of Intimate Partner Violence.​ ​Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2012;73(2):268-276.

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