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Created On Wednesday, 06, January 2021
Modified On Wednesday, 06, January 2021

Substance Use, COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

This is a picture of a woman who is going through domestic violence

The pandemic has impacted every facet of America, and it has left millions of Americans without employment and safety nets. Countless families struggle with substance abuse, domestic violence, and not knowing what the next week or month will bring adds to the stress.

Millions of Americans struggling with substance abuse and those in recovery have faced significant hurdles when accessing help and maintaining sobriety. Families and individuals struggling with domestic violence have also faced these same hurdles for accessing support and help. Unfortunately, there is a direct link between the pandemic, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

According to recent studies, when someone with a substance use disorder loses the structure of employment and a sense of purpose, the severity of substance use increases. Many of these same issues were seen occurring during other economic crises in the United States. Also, there were significant changes in drug use patterns during the pandemic, which resulted in more overdose deaths, as noted above by the American Medical Association. Countless families dealt with shrinking social networks, smaller support systems, social isolation, and the death of loved ones. Unfortunately, complicated grief and prolonged bereavement are associated with problematic substance use and relapse.

Human beings are meant to socialize and interact. Yet, the continued infringement on freedoms, endless media cycles, and the stress of job loss are pushing people to a breaking point, and some of the most vulnerable on the receiving end. In an article published by the American Psychological Association after the first stay-at-home orders were announced in 2020, nine major metropolitan cities reported approximately between 20% and 30% increases in domestic violence service calls.

If the government lockdowns continue and the pandemic rages on through 2021, the problems with increasing domestic violence and substance abuse will likely not diminish. The support systems can only manage so much, and many people are falling through the cracks. However, the support is there, and if you need it, reach out and ask for help—whether through a local shelter, 911, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233, support and help are available.

The Pandemic's Effect

At the beginning of the pandemic, experts predicted that isolation, economic pressure, excessive government overreach, and job loss would cause a rise in mental health issues nationally. As of 2021, the statistics have shown this to be 100% true. Problems with suicide, domestic violence, and drug overdose have increased dramatically because of the pandemic and government restrictions.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, there were considerable increases in mental health disorders since the onset of the pandemic. In a web-based survey cited in the article, researchers reported that about 41% of participants said they had experienced adverse behavioral or mental health symptoms. One-third reported anxiety and depression symptoms, and these rates were three to four times higher. One in four reported trauma or stress-related symptoms and 13.3% said their substance use increased as a way to cope.

When individuals begin to struggle with stress, substance use, anxiety and depression, and other issues, it does lead to domestic violence problems, whether this involves children, adults, or spouses. Countless problems with domestic violence are rooted in issues surrounding substance abuse. According to the American Medical Association, for example, more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with mental illness or substance use disorders. Even the United Nations reported that the pandemic would increase the number of cases of domestic violence globally. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not going anywhere, and state governments continue with lockdown measures interfering in millions of Americans' lives.

Domestic Violence and Substance Use in America

Domestic violence and substance use are issues that impact millions of Americans. The overlap between substance use and domestic violence has been noted and explored for more than 30 years per The British Journal of Social Work. In the study, the author says, “There is nevertheless significant evidence of the vulnerability of survivors of domestic violence to substance use. Most of the studies explore alcohol use, though there is an emerging literature on drug use and, of course, the dual use of alcohol and a range of drugs together” (Domestic Violence and Substance Use 1305).

Unfortunately, there is a significant link between violence and substance use. Individuals become intoxicated and or under the influence of drugs, and violent and hostile emotions come to the surface. Alcohol and other drugs act on brain mechanisms that cause a high-risk individual to engage in aggressive and violent behavior. According to research, the link between alcohol, drugs of abuse, and violence is complicated by the many direct and indirect interactions. For example, drugs activate aggression specific brain mechanisms, drugs act as a licensure for violent and aggressive behavior, and drugs act as commodities in an illegal distribution system that relies upon violent enforcement. Finally, violent behavior represents one way addiction is maintained.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is defined as willful intimidation, assault, battery, or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control, perpetrated by one intimate partner or family member against another. In research studying the link between domestic violence and substance use, the author notes it is part of a systemic pattern of dominance or a need for control. For example, two people who are using drugs together in a relationship are usually a relationship of convenience. Typically, one of the individuals is more abusive to the other as this is a way to maintain control and continue with substance abuse.