Post on facebook recently: “International Women’s Day event at Theatre Guild organised by UG and UNICEF…I told them the main culprit was alcohol abuse, reduce it and you will reduce domestic abuse, suicide, noise, drunk driving, etc etc.”
Comment on the post: “I totally agree. Alcohol is the root cause of all acts of violence, abuse, etc…”
Another commentator added: “Alcoholism as one of the main causes of domestic violence has been known for ages.”
When the original poster and those who commented on his post were informed that alcohol is not a root cause of abuse but a trigger, they vehemently disagreed, and, instead, continued to perpetuate the long-held myth.
The reality, however, is that while there have been many studies done, there is no scientific evidence indicating a cause-and-effect relationship between substance (alcohol, drugs) abuse and gender-based violence. Some abusers rely on substance use (and abuse) as an excuse for becoming violent. Alcohol allows the abuser to justify his abusive behaviour as a result of the alcohol.
The reality is that domestic violence is used to exert power and control over another; is often a learned behaviour, but is never the result of loss of control. In an abusive relationship, the batterer uses the pattern of tactics described in the Power and Control Wheel (see attached image) to reinforce the use of physical violence. Violent incidents are not isolated instances of a loss of control, or even cyclical expressions of anger and frustration. In fact, research indicates that a large quantity of alcohol, or any quantity for alcoholics, can increase the user’s sense of personal power and domination over others.
Also, alcohol does affect the user’s ability to perceive, integrate and process information. This distortion in the user’s thinking does not cause violence, but may increase the risk that the user will misinterpret his partner or another’s behaviour. Additionally, substance abuse may increase the aggressive response of individuals with low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Research also indicates that there may be a correlation between the risk of domestic violence and certain personality characteristics. Furthermore, a 1991 study done in the United States found that the average amount of alcohol consumed prior to the use of violence was only a few drinks, which “suggests that the act of drinking may be more related to woman abuse than the effect of alcohol.”
Thus, abusers follow their own “internal rules and regulations about abusive behaviours”, which may include destroying property, relying on threats of abuse, and threatening children.
In effect then, domestic violence and substance abuse should be understood and treated as independent problems. Most importantly also, the myth that alcohol is a cause of domestic violence needs to be laid to rest, so that the concept of gender-based violence can be understood for what it is. The fact is that abusers may feel this need to control their partner because of their own low self-esteem, extreme jealousy, and difficulties in regulating anger and other strong emotions. Some people with very traditional beliefs may think they have the right to control their partner, and that women aren’t equal to men. Others may have an undiagnosed personality disorder or psychological disorder. Still others may have learned this behaviour from growing up in a household where domestic violence was accepted as a normal part of being raised in their family.
Abusers learn violent behaviours from their family members, people in their communitis, and other cultural influences as they grow up. They may have often seen violence being displayed, or they may have themselves been victims of violence.
On a final note, The Caribbean Voice holds no brief for alcohol use. In fact, anti-alcoholism is one of the pillars of our platform.