It is not surprising that many people assume drugs and alcohol cause domestic violence.

After all, half of reported domestic violence cases involve drugs or alcohol, and the violence committed while under the influence is often more severe.

Although there is a definite relationship between the two, physical and emotional abuse is not caused by substance abuse. Rather, domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors involving physical, emotional, or verbal tactics used to control, manipulate or demean another individual. It is a behavior learned through observation, experience and reinforced through family dynamics.

The tendency to treat the two problems as one is understandable, as statistics from the Department of Justice show 61 percent of domestic-violence offenders have substance abuse problems.

However, unlike drug and alcohol abuse, domestic abuse is not a disease or an addiction. In fact, it is an individual’s choice to abuse, just as it is their choice to be pleasant in public and at work.

Nearly all cases show that domestic abuse continues, even after the perpetrator receives treatment for substance addiction. Some abusers may become more irritable while not drinking and will take aggressions out on family members, whereas others may become more controlling due to a new clarity and awareness from sobriety. Consequently, treating substance abuse separately from domestic violence is important, as each problem requires individual attention.

Although substance abuse does not cause domestic violence, family violence can increase the probability of the victim using substances.

The Department of Justice stated 36 percent of abuse victims have drug or alcohol problems, and sometimes use substances to cope with the emotional or physical pain. Children also show a greater risk for alcohol and other drug problems later in life, using substances as a coping mechanism.

As it is crucial for abusers to seek their own treatments, it is equally as important for victims to find safety and the support they need to survive.

Domestic violence and substance abuse impact many families from all backgrounds within our Maine communities.

According to the Maine Crime Victimization Survey at least 30,000 Maine adults may be victims of domestic violence each year. Without help, the cycle of abuse can impact entire families and may affect more than three generations.

While Domestic Violence Awareness Month has come and gone, for those who live in the cycle of violence, the struggles will continue, often in silence. The best way to end domestic violence is by making a commitment to understand the issues that victims and survivors face. We appreciate those of you in the community who support those victims and pledge not to turn a blind eye.

If you or someone you love is impacted by domestic violence and/or substance abuse, please know there is help and you are not alone.

Mid Coast CASA, the Substance Abuse Prevention resource for Mid Coast Hospital, offers several resources for parents and teens on their website, www.midcoastcasa.org.

Mid Coast Hospital also has Addiction Treatment Services, through the Addiction Resource Center, which can be reached by calling 373-6950.

New Hope for Women offers support to people in Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties affected by domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, and provides educational resources to assist our communities in creating a safer and healthier future. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information visit their website, www.newhopeforwomen.org.

SARAH HAWKES is an associate with Mid Coast CASA, the substance abuse prevention resource for Mid Coast Hospital.


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