Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Published June 2009

Chapter 3. Offender Characteristics

Section 4 — Are they likely to be drug and/or alcohol abusers?

As with criminality in general, there is a high correlation between alcohol and substance abuse and domestic violence for abusers. This is not to say that substance abuse causes domestic violence. The Memphis night arrest study found that 92 percent of assailants used drugs or alcohol on the day of the assault, and nearly half were described by families as daily substance abusers for the prior month. [19] Other studies found a lower but still substantial incidence of substance use. For example, a California arrest study found alcohol or drugs, or both, were involved in 38 percent of the domestic violence incident arrests. [228] A large Seattle arrest and protective order study found that alcohol/drug use was reported in 24.1 percent of incidents involving police. [120, 121] It was higher in North Carolina, where 45 percent of suspects were identified as being intoxicated. [68]

A domestic violence fatality review study in New Mexico documented that alcohol and drugs were present in 65 percent of 46 domestic violence homicides between 1993 and 1996: 43 percent abused alcohol and 22 percent abused drugs. [170] Two surveys, one of state correctional facilities in 1991 and the other of jails in 1995, found more than half of those jailed or imprisoned for domestic violence admitted drinking and/or using drugs at the time of the incident. [93] Self-reports from batterers in Chicago revealed that 15 to 19 percent admitted to having a drug problem, and 26 to 31 percent scored more than one on the CAGE (Cut down drinking, drinking Annoyed others, felt Guilt over drinking, and needed a morning Eye-opener drink) test indicating alcohol abuse. [12] Among defendants prosecuted in Chicago's domestic violence misdemeanor court, 60.7 percent were found to have "ever had an alcohol or drug problem." [107]

Interviews with more than 400 North Carolina female victims who called police for misdemeanor domestic assaults found that abuser drunkenness was the most consistent predictor of a call to police. According to the victims, almost a quarter (23 percent) of the abusers "very often" or "almost always" got drunk when they drank, more than half (55 percent) were binge drinkers, 29.3 percent used cocaine at least once a month, and more than a third (39 percent) smoked marijuana. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of abusers were drinking at the scene of the incident, having consumed an average of almost seven drinks, resulting in more than half of them (58 percent) being drunk. [126] The national crime victims survey found substantial, but lesser rates of substance abuse. Between 1993 and 2004, victims reported that 43 percent of all nonfatal intimate partner violence involved the presence of alcohol or drugs, another 7 percent involved both alcohol and drugs, and 6 percent involved drugs alone. [27]

Both a batterer and an alcohol treatment study similarly reveal a consistent, high correlation between alcohol abuse and domestic violence. In one study, for example, for 272 males entering treatment for battering or alcoholism, the odds of any male-to-female aggression were 8 to 11 times higher on days they drank than on days they did not. [56]

Implications for Law Enforcement

Law enforcement officers should note the use of alcohol or drugs in domestic violence incident reports, not to mitigate abusive behavior but to indicate heightened abuser risk for continued abuse. (Research basis: The correlation is found in multiple studies across the country.)

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

The presence of drug and/or alcohol abuse makes continued offending more likely. Although sobriety may not eliminate the risk for reabuse, research suggests it may be a necessary ingredient. When recommending or setting release or sentence conditions, requiring abstinence from alcohol and drugs may be appropriate. (Research basis: Correlation is found in multiple studies across the country.)

Date Created: January 30, 2009