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Substance Use, COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

Marcel Gemme By Marcel Gemme | Last Updated: 23 November 2023

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.

  • What You'll Learn

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 are 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 use 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 at 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 use. 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 with 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 by 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, drug abuse, and violence is complicated by the many direct and indirect interactions. For example, drugs activate aggression-specific brain mechanisms, drugs act as 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 use.

When someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, the substance takes over physically and mentally. The only way to live each day is by using drugs or alcohol despite the consequences or the individuals who are hurt in the process. A relationship between two people using drugs is started because of co-dependency and or financial reasons. Unfortunately, the abuse of drugs or alcohol only makes neurotic thought patterns more intense and destructive, as pointed out by the author. These relationships continue until someone leaves, goes to treatment, or the abuse leads to injury or death.

Domestic violence is a shared affliction between the perpetrators and victims. Excessive use of drugs or alcohol increases the risk of being a victim of domestic violence. Domestic violence perpetrators increase their drug use, which increases the risk and intensity of the crimes. The victims also turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, increasing their risk of overdose and being a victim. The COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing government restrictions forced millions of Americans into their homes, caused job loss, added significant stress, and financial instability, and as a result, has led to increases in domestic violence and substance use across the nation.

Statistics Surrounding Domestic Violence

  • On average, in the United States, 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute. Annually, this is around 10 million abuse victims.
  • One in three women and one in four men experience abuse by an intimate partner. 
  • On an average day, domestic violence hotlines nationwide receive approximately 20,800 calls. 
  • Intimate partner domestic violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes committed in America.
  • Intimate partner domestic violence is most common among women between the ages of 18 and 24.
  • Approximately 19% of intimate partner violence involves a weapon. 
  • Physical violence is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior as part of a much larger, systematic pattern of dominance and control.




More Information

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.