Alcohol and other drugs do not cause abuse. They do, however, give abusers a convenient excuse for their abusive behavior. Being abusive is still a choice, even if an individual is under the influence of substances. If a group member is violent and also abuses alcohol, then they have two problems to address.
The use of alcohol and other drugs might increase their abusive beliefs and could lead to an increased level of abusive actions. This does not mean that the substance causes the abuse, but that it merely makes the abuse and violence more dangerous.
One piece of feedback we give to abusers who use alcohol or other drugs as an excuse is to ask how many drinks it would take for them to sexually abuse a child. Abusers will typically scoff at that question and state that there is no amount of alcohol that could cause them to do such a thing. The truth is that, when sober, each person has a set of rules about how they should act towards others. When using alcohol or other drugs, those rules remain in place unless those rules are merely limits to behavior instead of prohibitions. We find that abusers choose harmful behaviors towards their family when sober which are not necessarily violent in nature, but may be verbally or emotionally hurtful. For those abusers, their “rule” is that it is okay to be abusive verbally or emotionally, but they believe that physical abuse is not okay. When intoxicated, since their rule is a limit on their behavior (“it is okay to be abusive in certain ways”) instead of an absolute prohibition (such as “there is no way I will ever hurt a child in a sexual manner”), their rules are like lines drawn in sand. When intoxicated, they may still choose to be verbally or emotionally abusive, and might also be physically abusive.
Eliminating alcohol and drug use does not immediately lead to the end of abuse. Remaining substance-free is difficult, especially at first. This difficulty may lead to more, rather than less, abuse towards partners and children.
Some abusers choose to be abusive to their partner or family because of their partner’s alcohol or drug use. These abusers tend to want to control behavior instead of supporting their partner who is addicted to a substance. This controlling behavior easily becomes abusive and violent and does not allow for the care and support necessary to help someone recover from addiction.
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