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Understanding the Connection Between Violence and Addiction

Substance addiction is a chronic illness and mental disorder, which can severely affect functioning. It is defined by its compulsive and uncontrollable addictive behaviors. These behaviors may result in harmful outcomes not just for the addict, but for people the addict may come into contact with.

Substance addiction can stem from numerous places. There are genetic associations and also psychological links, which can trace back to trauma of some kind, like violence or child abuse. The initial consumption of drugs or alcohol may begin as an experiment, but a lure to escape pain often solidifies substance abuse in an individual’s life.

Addiction and a History of Trauma

A history of trauma, especially in an individual’s formative years, drastically increases the risk of developing unsafe coping mechanisms, like substance abuse in adulthood. According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, “People with both a positive history of early childhood trauma and co-occurring alcohol dependence have a more severe clinical profile, as well as worse treatment outcomes when compared with those with either early trauma or alcohol dependence alone. Recent investigations highlight the importance of assessing trauma…”

Victims who witnessed or were on the receiving end of childhood violence may experience changes in brain functioning. This becomes more certain if they were repeatedly exposed to violence in their formative years.

Additionally, addiction is linked to a variety of mental illnesses and behaviors like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and outbursts of unpredictable or violent behavior. Research studies show that “childhood abuse predisposes adults to a number of chronic mental and physical health problems many years after the abuse.”

Witnessing or experiencing childhood violence causes a cycle to develop. Many are unaware of the repercussions that violence of any kind can have on children or young adults. Multiple reports show that children or young people who witness violence within the home have an elevated risk of becoming violent abusers as adults. As a witness, they may unconsciously process that that is what a normal relationship looks like. This could not be further from the truth.

Violence, Crime, and Alcohol Addiction

Approximately seventeen million people have or will experience some form of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in their lifetimes. Furthermore, alcohol addiction is a continuing problem due to its legal status in purchasing and consuming it. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “Alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes today, and according to the Department of Justice, 37% of almost 2 million convicted offenders currently in jail, report that they were drinking at the time of their arrest. Alcohol, more than any illegal drug, was found to be closely associated with violent crimes, including murder, rape, assault, child and spousal abuse.”

Acts of violence are a harmful result of unchecked alcohol addiction. By making sure people have access to mental health care and addiction treatment programs, this pervasive problem can receive the help and attention it needs.

Victims of Violence May Develop Addictions

While violence and crime are dangerous consequences of widespread addiction, domestic violence can also be a harmful result of addiction. Domestic violence and substance addiction can affect anyone. It’s often inferred that abusers in domestic violence scenarios often have a high level of addiction.

However, domestic violence also elevates the risk that victims will use substances as a coping mechanism. The negative parallels surrounding addiction and violence circle back to one another in disastrous ways. Addiction treatment is necessary for anyone with co-occurring disorders and violent tendencies.

The National Institute of Health and multiple sources show that domestic violence is one of the most common methods of abuse aimed toward women. Females are reported as having twice the inclination to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than males. If a woman experiences violence or abuse of any kind, she is more likely to turn to unsafe coping mechanisms to deal with her immediate fear and pain.

Addiction in women can manifest in many forms, not just through substance abuse. Eating disorders, shopping, and food addiction have strong ties to trauma, particularly in women.

Domestic Violence and Other Types of Addiction

Experiencing domestic violence may result in other types of addiction, such as an eating disorder. The development of an eating disorder and its compulsive behaviors can form as a coping mechanism in response to trauma, like repeated violence.

Additionally, women with PTSD may have been victims of violence like child abuse or sexual assault within intimate relationships. Studies show that, “a third of American women experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse before they reached 18 years of age.”

While substance addiction is often discussed, food addiction often affects PTSD sufferers as well. Food may help victims of violence suppress pain. It can be used and abused in the same way that a person might use and abuse substances. There is an irrefutable relationship between trauma, violence, and addictive behaviors.

Addiction Therapy and Treatment

Addiction affects the likelihood of violence, whether within the home or by acts of committed crimes in the community. While the quest to find more definitive ways to cure addiction is ongoing, one way to understand addiction and consequently, violence is by getting rid of the stigma around it.

The stigma of mental health care and addiction is an important issue. By discussing mental health more, it can become a social norm. This benefits society as a whole, because people then may be more inclined to seek help for growing substance abuse, instead of denying it, as many do.

Addiction stigma is a set of false and negative ideas that society holds around the nature of substance abuse. Stigma is a major contributor to the secrecy and shame surrounding addiction.

Addiction and subsequent violence can be better understood through clear discussion and education. Additionally, creating easier access to treatment and addiction therapy can help substance abuse and violence rates go down. Addiction is an illness, which deserves attention and honesty in all of its discussions.


Chris Massman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Chris' training includes Family Systems Theory along with numerous other theories. She believes therapy is an art and chooses the theory she feels will most benefit the individual sitting in front of her. Her specialty lies is in the field of Chemical Dependency and Addictions. Chris is currently seeing individuals, couples and families. Chris is a Clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists as well as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Chris has two locations including Tarzana and Agoura Hills, CA.