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drugs-alcohol-abuse

Drugs, Alcohol and Abuse

drugs-alcohol-abuseBeing in an abusive relationship is already a difficult and dangerous situation. Alcohol and/or drug abuse only make matters worse. When a partner is under the influence, the risk of all types of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional, financial, and sexual) increases, leading to a very troubling situation.

Blaming the Booze

“It wasn’t me, it was the beer talking!”
“I would never do that if I was sober.”
“I’m not really that person. That’s who I am when I’m high.”

An abusive partner who is also using alcohol or drugs might make statements like these. They may blame drugs or alcohol instead of accepting responsibility for their behavior or actions. It can be all too easy to just accept what they say and move on without addressing the real underlying issue of abuse. We often hear from survivors who say, “If I could just get them to go to rehab, everything would get better.” But because drugs and alcohol aren’t the root issues of abuse (abuse is about power and control), achieving sobriety doesn’t necessarily end the abuse. There are plenty of people who use drugs and alcohol and don’t become abusive. Drugs and alcohol can affect a person’s judgment and behavior, but using them doesn’t excuse violence or abuse.

In this article about domestic violence myths, Claudia Garcia-Rojas, co-director of the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women, explains: “In partner abuse situations, drugs and/or alcohol certainly play a role but they are not the root cause of the violence. Assuming so perpetuates the idea that partner abuse is caused by a single issue, when in fact, there are multiple factors that contribute to the dynamics of why a partner chooses to be either emotionally, physically, financially, and/or psychologically abusive, though it is very common that an abuser will use alcohol/drugs as an excuse for why they are abusive. While these problems overlap, they are independent of one another.”

The Cycle of (Substance) Abuse

When one partner has a drinking or drug problem, a vicious cycle can occur. The issues created by their habit — like financial stress, neglect of responsibilities, or legal problems — may lead to fighting with their partner, and then to take the stress off, they may drink or use more drugs. While this cycle continues, abusive behaviors might get worse. Additionally, the stress of the abuse might cause victims to turn to drugs or alcohol as coping mechanisms.

Treatment is available to help with drug addiction and abusive behavior, including counseling, self-help meetings and support groups. However, an abusive partner who is using drugs must decide for themselves to seek help for both their abusive behavior and their substance abuse.

If you or someone you know is in a relationship with a person who is abusive while using drugs and/or alcohol, we are here for you. Call us anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online from 7AM-2AM CT.

Additional resources:

can abusers change

Is Change Possible In An Abuser?

People change.

That small, two-word sentence is actually a huge, significant statement that carries a lot of weight. We grow up learning about change — the inevitability of it, the uncertainty it can bring. We change — our opinions, personalities, careers, friends and much more.

Some changes feel like they happen overnight. Others are more conscious, and they have to be, like overcoming an addiction or correcting a personality flaw that’s harmful to ourselves or others.

If you’re the one wanting a loved one to change, it can feel impossible — but we hold onto the hope that they will change, because we desperately want them to, because we remember how they were different in the past (and if they changed for the worse, can’t they change for the better?)

Can an abusive partner really change?

While people do have the capacity to change, they need to deeply want to and be committed to all aspects of change in order to begin to do so — and even then, it’s a lot easier said than done.

In discussing why abusers abuse , it’s clear that a lot of the causal factors behind these behaviors are learned attitudes and feelings of entitlement and privilege — which can be extremely difficult to truly change. Because of this, there’s a very low percentage of abusers who truly do change their ways.

One part of changing may involve an abusive partner willingly attending a certified batterer intervention program that focuses on behavior, reflection and accountability. At the Hotline we don’t recommend couples counseling, anger management, substance abuse programs or mental health treatments for abusers to learn about and deal with their abusive patterns (although oftentimes these can helpfully supplement a batterer intervention program).

How can abusers change?

According to author Lundy Bancroft, the following are some changes in your partner that could indicate they’re making progress in their recovery:

  • Admitting fully to what they have done
  • Stopping excuses and blaming
  • Making amends
  • Accepting responsibility and recognizing that abuse is a choice
  • Identifying patterns of controlling behavior they use
  • Identifying the attitudes that drive their abuse
  • Accepting that overcoming abusiveness is a decades-long processnot declaring themselves “cured”
  • Not demanding credit for improvements they’ve made
  • Not treating improvements as vouchers to be spent on occasional acts of abuse (ex. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time, so it’s not a big deal)
  • Developing respectful, kind, supportive behaviors
  • Carrying their weight and sharing power
  • Changing how they respond to their partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances
  • Changing how they act in heated conflicts
  • Accepting the consequences of their actions (including not feeling sorry for themselves about the consequences, and not blaming their partner or children for them)

Learn more about Lundy Bancroft here and check out some of his helpful books, including “Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.”


As Bancroft notes, truly overcoming abusiveness can be an ongoing, often lifelong process.

No one deserves abuse, and it’s never too late to seek help. While we hope abusive partners will change, it’s not always realistic to expect that they can and will. Focus on changes you can control to improve your own life, because you deserved to feel loved, happy and safe.

In the words of artist Andy Warhol, “When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then… You can’t make them change if they don’t want to.”

50 obstacles to leaving

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 41-50

Still with us? Today is our final day of demonstrating just how many roadblocks can stand in the way between abuse and freedom for a victim. A victim is never to blame for abuse. While these barriers to a violence-free life can seem insurmountable at times, know that advocates on the hotline are available to talk and brainstorm strategies with you 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

41. Rural Victims: Victims may be isolated and simply unable to access services due to lack of transportation, or the needed programs are distant and unable to provide outreach.

42. Safer to Stay: Assessing that it is safer to stay may be accurate when the victim can keep an eye on the batterer, sensing when the batterer is about to become violent and, to the extent possible, taking action to protect themselves and their children.

43. Students: Students in high school or college may fear that untrained administrators will deny their requests for help. If the perpetrator is also a student, the victim often does not want them to be expelled from school.

44. Shame and Embarrassment: The victim doesn’t want to disclose the abuse or may deny that any problem exists.

45. Stockholm Syndrome: The victim may experience this syndrome and bond with the abuser.

46. Substance Abuse or Alcohol: Either the victim or offender’s substance abuse may inhibit seeking help, often for fear that the children will be removed.

47. Teens: Teens are at greater risk for abuse in their relationships than any other age group. Peer pressure, immaturity, no knowledge of resources, and low self-esteem all factor into the decision to stay.

48. Transportation: A lack of transportation condemns victims to a choice between welfare and returning to their abusers.

49. Unaware that Abuse is a Criminal Offense: This can occur often if family, friends and community professionals minimize the crimes.

50. Undocumented Victims: Victims facing complex immigration problems if they leave are often forced to stay with the batterers who may control their INS status.


Every person’s situation is unique, and you may be unable to leave a situation for a complex combination of different reasons. If you’re contemplating leaving an abusive relationship or struggling in one that you cannot leave, consider calling NDVH to speak confidentially with an advocate, and take a look at our resources on leaving safely.

*Sarah M. Buel is Clinical Professor, University of Texas School of Law (UTSL). She was founder and co-director, UTSL Domestic Violence Clinic; co-founder and consultant, National Training Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence; and a former domestic violence, child abuse, and juvenile prosecutor and advocate. She graduated cum laude from Harvard Extension School and Harvard Law School.

reaching out for help

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 1-10

“It would take me yet another year of planning, forgiving, calling, reaching for help, before I could leave.” —Sarah Buel

Leaving is not easy. On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good. Exiting the relationship is most unsafe time for a victim. As the abuser senses that they’re losing power, they will often act in dangerous ways to regain control over their victim.

We know victim’s frustrations with feeling like the abuse is somehow their fault. If only they’d leave, right? Wrong. We know better. In fact, we’re taking a closer look at 50 reasons why it may be near impossible to leave. To answer the often-asked question “Why don’t you just leave?” we’ve adapted Sarah M. Buel’sFifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay” — 50 different reasons that she has encountered throughout her 22 years of work in the domestic violence field.

Follow along on the blog this week as we discuss 10 different obstacles each day.

1. Advocate: The victim doesn’t have an enthusiastic supporter on their side so may feel discouraged or hopeless.

2. Batterer: The batterer is wealthy, famous, powerful in the community, etc., and can afford to hire private counselor and pressure decision-makers.

3. Believes Threats: The victim believes the batterer’s threats to kill them and the children if they attempt to leave.

4. Children’s Best Interest: The victim believes it is in the children’s best interest to have both parents in the home, especially if the abuser doesn’t physically abuse the children.

5. Children’s Pressure: The children put pressure (independently or by the abuser’s influence) on the abused parent to stay with their partner.

6. Culture and Race: Because of differences in race or culture, the victim worries about being treated unequally by the justice system if they come forward, or believes stereotypes about acceptable actions in their own culture.

7. Denial: The victim is in denial about the danger, instead believing that if they could be better partners, the abuse would stop.

8. Disabled: Victims who are disabled or physically challenged face obstacles in gaining access to court and social services, and may be isolated from basic info about resources.

9. Elderly: Elderly victims may hold traditional beliefs about marriage and believe they must stay, or are dependent on the batterer for care even in the face of physical abuse.

10. Excuses: The victim believes the abuser’s excuses to justify the violence, blaming job stress or substance abuse for example.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Counseling for Domestic Violence Survivors

Domestic violence is an extremely traumatizing experience and the emotional scars associated with this abuse can often outlast the physical impact.

Domestic violence survivors are at a high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse or  stress-related mental health conditions. Survivors can have upsetting memories or flashbacks, fear or a sense of danger that they cannot overcome. They may feel numb or disconnected from the rest of the world (National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health). Learning to cope with residual emotional pain and fears is essential to healing.

Breaking the isolation of domestic violence by seeking counseling and support from friends and family can help survivors to move forward. Counseling sessions provide a safe and confidential environment for survivors to express their feelings, thoughts and fears. Counselors are nonjudgmental third-party advisors who listen and can help survivors work through the things that they are experiencing.

Speaking with a trauma specialist can help survivors to deal with their remaining anxiety and find ways to relieve that stress. These specialists can help to process traumatic memories or experiences so that it is possible to move on. They can also aid survivors in learning to regulate their strong emotions like fear and anger.

Group counseling can also be beneficial. Attending a group session can allow survivors to connect with others who have been through similar situations. Connecting with these people can reduce the feeling of isolation often created by abusers. Other survivors can also offer advice on how they got through tough situations.

Overcoming a traumatic experience can be scary. It’s important that if you do decide to seek counseling, that you find a well-trained professional or group that you are comfortable with.  Often domestic violence programs offer individual counseling to survivors in their communities.  If that’s not a possibility, ask potential counselors about their experiences and strategies for supporting victims of domestic violence.

Please note: if you are still in an abusive relationship, please keep in mind that we don’t recommend attending couple’s counseling with your abuser. Here’s why.

(Photo by Joe Houghton)

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Teen Mom Features The Hotline

A recent episode of Teen Mom showed a family experiencing domestic violence. Teen parents Catelynn and Tyler have a unique situation. Catelynn’s mom April and Tyler’s dad Butch got married after Catelynn and Tyler started dating in middle school. Butch has been physically and emotionally abusive to April prior to this incident.

In the episode, April called Tyler to alert him to an incident that involved Butch assaulting her after suspecting that she was talking  to another man. Butch was arrested, and April told Tyler that she was unsure of their future together. Tyler and Catelynn were immediately concerned and rushed over to April to find out what happened.

Photo from mtv.com, Tyler at Catelynn from a previous episode

As the episode progressed, it became clear that the evening was incredibly violent, leaving April with bruises and pain. Butch had violated a “no contact” order in coming over to April’s home.

Despite the horrible details of the assault, April didn’t place all of the blame on Butch. She was quick to mention that Butch wasn’t himself because of drugs and alcohol. She told Tyler, “I really can’t say that I’m gonna leave him or anything like that because I really don’t know. He wasn’t there, dude, it wasn’t your dad.”

She also maintained hope that he will change, saying, “I honestly think if he’ll do his time, the drinking and the drugging is going to stop.”

Sadly, at The Hotline, we know that experiences like April’s are all too common. It’s not unusual for abusive partners to be extremely jealous, and accuse their partners of cheating, even when that is so far from the truth. We know that children and teens are dealing with the aftermath of abuse every day in their homes, just like Tyler and Catelynn.

April had a hard time deciding what to do in her relationship. An issue that complicated April’s decision-making process is Butch’s substance abuse. Again, this is an issue that is all too common in abusive relationships, and it makes it challenging to understand why someone becomes violent.

A common misconception is that using alcohol and drugs can make someone ‘lose control’ and hurt those around them. Even if Butch was able to get clean and sober, it’s likely that he would still be controlling and abusive. Alcohol and drug use can make abusive situations worse, but it doesn’t cause a non-abusive, non-controlling person to become violent.

Just as April said, it’s very likely that when Butch attacked her, he looked like a different person than the person she fell in love with. But, despite his drug use, Butch was still responsible for how he hurt April. Naturally, April wants to see Butch get the help that he needs so that she can be in a healthy, safe relationship with him, but he would need to accept responsibility for his substance abuse and his controlling and abusive behavior and be committed to getting help for both in order to change. Getting help for substance abuse and domestic violence would require a lot of personal accountability and determination.

When an abusive partner is using drugs or alcohol, there is an increased risk of severe physical violence. It’s really important to be aware of how the substance use affects their behavior. Do they become more aggressive or violent when they’re using or when they’re in withdrawal? This can help survivors know the risks of a situation and take steps to become safer in the moment.

If you have some concerns about similar issues happening in your relationship, you can always call The Hotline to talk. An advocate at The Hotline can help you think about what’s going on in your relationship, what the risks are to your safety and your children’s safety, and what you can do to stay safe.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Life After

It takes a lot of courage to share these stories. Thanks to Shana Smith for speaking about her experience in the hopes of helping others.

This is something that you just don’t hear enough about. Survivors speak and they go from their abuse to what they are currently doing, not describing enough of the true gut-wrenching feelings that you have in the days weeks or months after you leave. Life after abuse is so positive, but truth be told, sometimes you feel like it’s harder than the abuse. There are many great programs that will help you with the transition from where you have been to where you will be. The Victim Compensation Fund is a great program that will help with Mental Health Therapy, relocation and many other things, plus some cities have at least one shelter to turn to. There are many options for assistance; you just need to safely find them.

After almost 8 years since the abuse, I still deal with my after. There are still days that I apologize incessantly, cry at the drop of a hat, feel totally worthless and take the weight of the world on my shoulders. I still don’t let people see beyond the mask of total happiness — if you met me, you would never know the past that I am hiding. This is the truth about life after abuse. I married my Prince Charming at 19 after a year of dating. We were married about 15 months before he became physically abusive. I became withdrawn from my family and long-term friends out of fear they would find out. I left after 3 ½ years of marriage following a huge fight.

I had no money except for an ATM card that I was just sure he would cancel quickly, no place to go and no clothes. I left with a bag that had no makeup, hair brush or deodorant – only a toothbrush and a change of clothes. I didn’t really know anyone to call, besides I really didn’t want anyone to know. So I drove to the only hotel in town. The hotel was booked! How in the world could a Days Inn in a town of 30,000 people, mostly farm laborers, be BOOKED?! NO WAY was my thought. I begged and pleaded for a room with no luck. I couldn’t go to a shelter for fear I would lose my job if they found out, so I slept in my car that night. Ok, let’s be honest, I didn’t sleep. I waited for him to find me – and then went into work the next day and acted as if everything was normal. My husband worked 30 minutes from our house so I knew that I could, safely, go home at lunch without him there to get something for the next day. I didn’t go home the day after I left because I didn’t know if he would expect that and be there. I knew what the consequence would be for leaving.

I met someone at my gym who let me sleep on the couch until I got on my feet. For three months I hid. For three months, my abuser came to my work to ‘take care of me,’ bringing me little things like protein shakes, soup and money, all to entice me back into my old life. I was so secretive about my separation that people I worked with thought we were still happily married until after my divorce was final. Even through it all I wanted to make him happy. I wanted to make everything ok. I knew that I couldn’t go back but that didn’t mean that I wanted anything negative to happen to him or me. I just wanted to move on; I wanted a healthy life and chance to be more than just So & So’s wife – I wanted to be Shana.

Most victims would say that you become the queen of appearance. You know how to smile regardless of what just happened and act like everything is fine. The months after I left were horribly hard. I thought it would never get better. I thought I would never be able to support myself, be able to pay my own bills and be a successful adult without him. I often thought about going back because that would have been so much easier, at least in that arena I knew what to expect.

I couldn’t handle most loud noises. A slamming cupboard in the next apartment would make me jump and TV shows with violence would give me horrible nightmares (I still don’t do well with them). I was sick to my stomach constantly worried that my work or my family would find out my secret. I didn’t sleep very well; always worried that he would come to get me. There were days that I would cry – just sob – because I felt like I failed. I was getting divorced at 23 years old. I couldn’t handle the reality in my mind as a complete failure. To this day I feel like that sometimes.

Two months after I left, I finally went to our apartment to move my things into storage and on that day he tried to kill me. I remember thinking that I would die by strangulation. Thankfully, he let me go and I eventually moved to San Diego where I eventually found a job. To forget the past, I drank and had little self-worth. I did anything to try and forget the past. I thought that forgetting it was better than dealing with it. Most people seem to shy away from people after being in an abusive relationship, but I ran head first into as much attention as I could. I went to therapy and tried to talk to my friends, but no one believed that the man I was married to would do anything to hurt me. I felt so isolated and only two people stuck by me through all of this.

I moved to Orange County in 2003, and it was my big chance for a future. I got a job with a temporary agency, making barely enough money to pay my bills, but everything was MINE. The best part was that HE didn’t know where I lived. Until the day he called and begged to get back together, he had changed.

We had been apart for 18 months so I wanted to believe him. I made the mistake of allowing HIM to come down and spend a weekend to talk and see if there was anything left of the relationship and to see if he had changed. How perfect! I could be with him and have no violence and then I hadn’t really failed at marriage, right? After spending time with him, I realized he hadn’t changed. He was still the same person. I asked him to leave and he did. Over the past several years he has emailed me and contacted me on MySpace and Facebook. I’ve come to realize he will never stop trying to reach me.

After a while, I started working on myself, realizing that my unhappiness was not good for me. I deserved to be happy. What I went through with him was not a reflection of who I am or what I am worth. I started writing again and encourage others to write about their day and feelings and then reflect on what you have written.

I began to feel like my old self again. I started looking at dating again and I even stopped drinking occasionally. I didn’t feel the need to be numb any more. In 2006, I had the amazing opportunity to become a mother through adoption.  Every moment of my life became about this little girl. I knew that everything had to change but I never realized that I had pushed my past so far back in my mind. I didn’t realize how much changing my life would require me to deal with things. I have been the mother to my beautiful daughter for 3 years and 5 months. Two and a half years ago I married an amazing man, a man that would never raise his hand to me. To this day, I don’t like scarves around my neck, or really anything touching the front of my neck. I apologize for everything, my fault or not. I worry that my daughter will follow in my footsteps, just as I followed in my mother’s. I worry that no matter how many times I say I am a SURVIVOR of domestic violence that I will have nightmares for the rest of my life.

Surviving domestic violence is one day at a time. I believe that forgiveness is important in moving on but not forgetting because this made you a stronger person. You lived through something that most people couldn’t. I don’t like people to pity me or apologize for what HE did to me. I want people to see me as a strong woman, a mother and a wife – a woman that survived and is thriving. A woman with a mission to help educate others on domestic violence.

Are you supposed to be terrified to leave? YES. Are you supposed to think about him afterwards? YES. Are you supposed to be able to move on and have a happy and healthy relationship? YES. There is no one way to deal with the after trauma of domestic violence but know you can do it. There are so many people here to help, so many organizations that want you to succeed!

You can do it. Each person deals with this in their own way, none of them are any better – only different.

http://talesfromasurvivor.blogspot.com

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs

The following blog entry was written by Lundy Bancroft. It has been reprinted with permission from his blog. Lundy Bancroft is an author, workshop leader, and activist on trauma, abuse, and healing. He offers dramatically new ways to understand the behavior of abusers and strategies for holding them accountable. He also brings fresh insight into the emotional injuries that trauma and abuse cause, their lasting effects, and how best to get ourselves free. He believes that all people have the right to live free from abuse and oppression. For more information about his work please click here to visit his website.

One of the questions I most commonly get asked at speaking events is, “Do programs for abusive men work?” My answer is that, when they are run well, they work as well as we can expect them to in the time they are given. A typical length for a batterer program is 52 hours — that is to say, 26 weeks for two hours a week. Sometimes the meetings are only an hour and a half, so the total time is even less. In other words, we are talking about undoing twenty or thirty or forty years of destructive socialization that has made an abusive man who he is, all in six months! The expectation is far-fetched.

I encourage people to make the comparison to substance abuse programs. If a man (or a woman, for that matter) who had been drinking or drugging heavily for five or ten or fifteen years claimed to have licked the addiction through once a week counseling for a grand total of six months, most substance abuse experts would laugh the person out of the room. In the world of recovery from addiction, the common outlook is that if you go to three or four meetings per week for a period of a year, and work hard in the program for that year, you have probably finally gotten a good start on dealing with your issues; if you stick with it for a few more years, you might succeed in really turning your life around.

Why would we expect it to be easier for a man to overcome a problem with violence and psychological viciousness toward women than to deal with a drinking problem? Abusiveness is just as deep a problem as addiction, and every bit as destructive — in fact, often more so.

If society decides that it’s time to send abusers the message that we take their crimes against women seriously, and that we refuse to live in a society that is shaped by domestic terrorists, we will start sending abusers to programs that they have to attend at least three times a week for two to three years. This will bring us in line with the kind of effort, and the length of time, that it takes to make personal changes from deep, destructive, dangerous problems. Until then, we’re continuing the pattern of slapping abusers on the wrist and sending them the message that change is optional. And if it’s optional, very few abusers are going to choose to do the work, and make the sacrifices, involved in learning to respect women’s rights.