Domestic violence can take many forms, with the most common types being physical violence, rape, stalking and emotional or psychological abuse. In the United States, domestic violence is commonly associated with cases of sexual assault, stalking, homicide, mental illness and suicide. The pervasiveness and complexity of domestic violence mean that anyone — regardless of age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion or social standing — can be affected by this kind of abuse at any point in their life.
Every minute, an average of 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). This equates to more than 10 million people per year. There may also be thousands of other victims of domestic violence who never report it or never get the chance to do so. Whether you suspect you are in an abusive relationship, or you know someone who is, finding the answer to your questions can help connect you to the help you need.
How to Recognize Signs of Domestic Violence
The signs associated with domestic abuse can be behavioral or physical. It’s important to be aware of both, whether you’re the one in the abusive relationship or are concerned for a friend or family member. Despite the physical and psychological effects of abuse, some victims deny they’re being abused at all, or may not realize they are being mistreated. Others are well aware, or they may suspect they’re in the beginning stages of a domestic violence situation, but they’re unsure how to escape. In addressing the signs of domestic abuse, it’s important to consider two questions:
- What are the signs of domestic abuse?
- What signs should I look for if I suspect my loved one is being abused?
What Are the Signs of Domestic Abuse?
The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in a relationship that’s used by one person to gain or maintain power and control over another person. It can be:
- Physical: Using physical force to harm someone
- Sexual: Physically forcing someone to perform sexual acts
- Verbal: Using words to manipulate someone’s thoughts and emotions
- Financial: Controlling and monitoring someone’s spending (money, credit cards, etc.)
Domestic violence can also involve emotional abuse.
- Constant insults and criticisms from a partner
- Keeping a person from seeing family and friends
- Controlling the places a partner goes and with whom they socialize
- Insisting on knowing where a partner is at all times
- Stopping a partner from leaving the home
- Intimidating a partner with weapons
- Making threats of harm to a partner or partner’s children or family
- Making accusations of infidelity
- Withholding affection as punishment
- Determining how a partner dresses
- Engaging in infidelity as punishment, and/or blaming a partner for infidelity
What Signs Should I Look For?
For someone who’s never been in an abusive relationship, the signs of domestic abuse may be obvious, especially the physical signs. However, some people may not realize that they are in an abusive relationship, even if they are being physically abused, unless they see the signs laid out for them.
While many of the signs of domestic violence might be limited primarily to the victim, some signs can easily be discerned by third parties, if they are aware of them.
Signs of Domestic Violence for the Victim
Some of the common “red flags” of domestic abuse include:
- Having pain intentionally inflicted by hand or object (punching, slapping, pushing, squeezing, cutting, stabbing, bludgeoning, etc.)
- Constantly fearing the person when they’re around, or feeling fearful while awaiting their arrival
- Being repeatedly humiliated, intimidated, criticized, belittled or yelled at
- Being controlled or dominated
Being objectified (physically, sexually, etc.)
- Blaming yourself for the person’s abusive behavior toward you
- Being physically or verbally forced into doing things you don’t want to do
- Being threatened
- Being isolated and forbidden from seeing your friends and family
- Having your personal belongings confiscated, destroyed or monitored
- Having all of your physical movements monitored
Signs of Domestic Violence to Look For
If your friend, relative or other loved one is being abused, they might:
- Make constant attempts to please their partner
- Act nervous and uneasy around the topic of their partner
- Receive frequent, harassing calls or texts from their partner while with you
- Describe their partner as possessive or jealous
- Tell you frequent stories of accidental injuries to explain cuts, bruises and scratches
- Miss school, work or other social obligations, with frequent excuses or no explanation at all
- Wear long sleeves in warm places or sunglasses indoors or when it’s not sunny out
- Have low self-esteem
- Show signs of depression or anxiety
- Blame themselves for a physical altercation with their partner, if they admit that it happened at all
- Make excuses for their partner and justify their abusive behavior
- Become irritable or angry when you try to reason with them about their partner
Keep in mind that it’s not always easy for people experiencing domestic violence to admit that they’re being abused, and there are many reasons these individuals choose to stay in those relationships. They may be fearful for their safety or that of their children, or they may not want the abusers to go to jail. Some people may also be hopeful that the abuse will stop one day, so they choose to stay and wait for change, often in vain. In other cases, abuse may be all the victim know, so they may be afraid of experiencing the unknown by leaving. Regardless of the reason, it’s important for you to have patience and understanding to help your loved one effectively.
How to Get Help
If any of the signs of abuse apply to you or a loved one, now is the time to take action. It could save a life. If you’re involved in an abusive relationship, it’s important to know that it’s not your fault, and you can get out of it, even if you think you can’t. There are many resources available to help victims of domestic violence, including confidential helplines and information about shelters, that allow you to reach out with complete confidentiality.
How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship
If you are involved in an abusive relationship, you may think there’s no way out. But the dangers of staying can be far worse than those of leaving. Remaining in the toxic environment of domestic violence can put your life at risk. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), more than three women are murdered by their partner every day, on average. Staying could put others in your life at risk as well. Oftentimes, abusers take their anger out on anyone in their path, even — or especially — children. Aside from the obvious physical dangers of abuse, there are a number of potential emotional consequences to keep in mind for everyone involved, including depression.
In the midst of these risks lies hope. On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlinesnationwide. That means 20,000 people took the brave step to reach out for help and break free from abusive relationships. Taking this step can bring you closer to living free from fear and abuse. Steps you can take to get there include:
Denial is one of the common coping strategies for domestic abuse survivors. Many deny (or don’t even realize) that what they’re experiencing is abuse, or they make excuses for the abuser’s actions. Some may also blame themselves for the abuse. That’s why the first step in getting help is acknowledging the abuse. Acknowledge that it’s wrong; it’s not your fault, and you deserve better.
If you need help for a domestic violence or sexual abuse situation, call any of the following numbers to speak with a highly trained advocate who can help:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Main Line: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- TTY-Accessible Line: 1-800-787-3224
- Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Hotline
- 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
- National Dating Abuse Helpline:
If you don’t feel comfortable getting help today, do some planning first to protect yourself in the meantime. This can involve:
- Dodging triggers: Although it may be frustrating and demeaning to constantly have to walk on eggshells, avoid your partner’s triggers if you can. Keep in mind that this phase is only temporary, and freedom is on the horizon. Your words, actions or clothing can all be triggers, so always be mindful of them as you’re creating your safety plan and means of escape.
- Preparing your home: When you’re home alone and awaiting your partner’s arrival, hide household items that could (or already have been) used as weapons against you. Move or dispose of any exposed glass or solid items on shelves as well, such as picture frames, paperweights and sculptures.
- Identifying safe areas: In addition to preparing your home, make every attempt to situate yourself in a safe area of your house before your partner comes home. Stay away from stairs and rooms where there are sharp or hard objects, especially the kitchen.
- Creating codewords: Teach the people with whom you regularly communicate codewords and attach them to unrelated messages. For example, “I need some ice cream” might be code for “Call the police.” That way, if you’re ever speaking with friends or family over the phone or in person while you suspect you’re being watched, someone will know you’re in danger.
- Devising an escape plan: If you’re ready to leave your home on a long-term basis, whether you plan to go to a shelter or a friend’s house, leave your essential belongings (important documents, credit cards, etc.) with a friend in advance, if possible. That way, when it’s time to go, all you’ll have to worry about bringing is yourself (and your children, if applicable). Make sure you also have your escape route planned, in case you end up having to leave in the middle of a physical incident. Know which door(s) you can exit through; have your keys ready, and pre-plan your destination.
No two abuse situations are exactly alike. You might have more liberty and privacy to reach out for help over the phone or online than other people. On the other hand, you might have less. If you’re unsure about whether or not your partner is surveilling your actions, it’s best to assume that you are being monitored, and consider the following:
- Phone safety: If you know or suspect that your partner monitors your cell phone or the house phone, don’t use it. Instead, use a public phone or a friend’s phone. Just ensure that there’s no way your partner can find out about it. Observe your surroundings before making the call.
- Computer safety: If your partner can access your home computer, don’t use it to seek help. Instead, use a public computer at a library or a computer elsewhere, where it’s safer.
- Confidentiality: When you tell someone about your domestic abuse situation, make sure it’s someone you can trust, who is supportive, caring and understanding. Many domestic abuse helplines offer these same qualities.
- Domestic abuse leave: Many employers also offer domestic abuse leave under the federal FMLA, so be sure to ask your HR department if your employer has this policy.
- Hotlines and domestic shelters: By calling a 24-hour domestic abuse hotline, you can speak with a highly trained advocate who can help you. These include:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
- National Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474
There are also hundreds of domestic violence shelters all over the country willing to offer help, including emergency shelters. At www.domesticshelters.org, you can simply type in your zip code to find the location closest to you.
Once you’re in a safe place, get a restraining or protective order, if you think it’s necessary, and always keep it with you. If your abuser approaches, harasses, threatens or contacts you in any way, you will be able to take legal action against them.
If you’ve already chosen to seek help and are in a safe place, know that you have made a brave decision. If you still need help but don’t know where to turn or who to trust, you’re not alone. Thousands of other men and women have stood where you stand and are now safe because they reached out to someone for help. Abuse is not your fault, and it doesn’t have to be part of your life.
Did You Know?
Domestic abuse is covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if you are experiencing a medical condition as a result of domestic violence. For example, if you must spend time in the hospital for an injury from a domestic violence incident, or you are in treatment for a mental health condition resulting from your experiences, you may be eligible for FMLA coverage. This means you may have the option to take paid time off from work as a result of a domestic violence situation. Ask your HR department to learn more about this policy and to determine if you’re eligible.
How to Help a Domestic Violence Victim
If you suspect someone you love is being abused, there are ways you can help from afar, or intervene if necessary. It’s important to remember that your friend or family member will likely be hesitant to admit that anything is going on behind closed doors out of fear of their abuser or denial of their abuse. But domestic violence is not something to ignore and can lead to other dangerous activities, like drug and alcohol use. Don’t wait until the situation worsens — here are some of the best ways you can help a victim of domestic violence:
Not all domestic violence is physical abuse, so you may never see any physical signs. It can often take the form of emotional manipulation or verbal abuse. In any case, those living in an abusive relationship usually become more withdrawn or less vocal, may seem suddenly nervous when the topic of their partner arises in conversation, and may miss work or bow out of social events.
This will not be an easy conversation, but your loved one needs to know they have someone they can trust. You can start by expressing your concern with a statement like, “I am worried about your safety.” Be prepared for them to be upset with you, as they may still be in denial. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault and that they’re not crazy or responsible for their situation. Withhold negative comments about their abuser, as this may make the victim become defensive. Above all, listen to what they have to say.
Tell your loved one to make a detailed account of any abuse, documenting it to the best of their ability. Encourage them to seek medical treatment if it’s needed. You can also offer to drive them to counseling sessions or to a shelter. In addition, many victims of domestic violence have extremely low self-esteem and believe that they deserve their abuse. Even if they don’t want to hear it, reassure your friend or family member that they are smart, brave and strong, and remind them of all the reasons you love them.
Every domestic abuse victim needs a safety plan, and as a member of their support system, you can play an integral role in it. Sit down in a safe place with your loved one and outline a contingency plan, being as specific as possible. Be sure to account for each of these important points:
- Where to go at a moment’s notice
- Important documents, keys and other essentials to bring in an emergency bag
- Code word(s) to clandestinely ask family, co-workers and friends for help
- An escape route for the home
Make sure your loved one is aware of all these avenues for help:
A helpful guide: How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship
- Available hotlines:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
- National Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
- Nearby domestic violence shelters: Type in any zip code at www.domesticshelters.org to find the nearest safe haven.
- Personalized safety plan checklist
- Options for counseling
It can be heartbreaking to watch someone you love stay in an abusive relationship, but remember, you’re not the one in it. Even if you’ve been in a similar situation, you may not know their reasons for staying. Furthermore, you don’t want to pressure them to leave their abuser either, as this will only create more stress. Be respectful of your loved one’s choices, and offer to help in as many ways as you can.
Don’t turn a blind eye to domestic violence. If you suspect a friend, co-worker, family member or acquaintance is being abused, there’s always something you can do to help. If someone you love is abusing drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with domestic violence, The Recovery Village can offer them a safe space to seek treatment and healing. Call today to learn more about the comprehensive rehab care available.
Facing the Facts: Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence
Examining the research on when and how these issues occur can shed light on their correlation and further discourage the use of dangerous substances.
- Young adults who experience past-year physical dating violence are more likely to have mental health and substance use disorders within six months of the abuse.
- Teen victims of dating violence are more likely than their non-abused peers to smoke, use drugs, engage in unhealthy diet behaviors, engage in risky sexual behaviors, and attempt or consider suicide.
- Domestic abuse victims are 70% more likely to drink excessive amounts of alcohol than those in healthy relationships.
- More than 20% of male perpetrators report using alcohol or illicit drugs prior to the most recent and severe acts of violence.
- On days of heavy drug and/or alcohol use, physical violence was 11 times more likely among IPV batterers and victims.
How Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse Are Connected
Domestic violence and substance abuse are intimately linked and often occur simultaneously. They are related much in the same way that co-occurring mental disorders like depression and anxiety are linked to increased drug use and vice versa. Often one is a symptom of the other, and in many cases, they go hand in hand. Yet while they’re intertwined, one doesn’t always precede the other. Abusing drugs doesn’t always spur aggressors to physical or emotional violence, and being a victim of abuse doesn’t necessarily lead to an overindulgence in dangerous substances. When domestic violence and drug use do happen together, they can wreak havoc on everyone involved.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, multiple studies have shown that substance abuse occurs in 40 to 60% of domestic violence situations, with some research suggesting that substance abuse either comes before a violent act or makes violence worse. In addition, the research indicates that perpetrators may force their victims to abuse substances, and substance abuse is more common among victims of domestic violence compared to those who have not been victims.
The Nature of Domestic Violence
To understand the relationship between substance abuse and domestic violence, it’s important to study the root causes of this specific type of aggression. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as a 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.
The key to understanding why domestic violence occurs and why it’s so closely followed or preceded by substance abuse is that domestic violence is part of a pattern of dominance or a need for control. A need to have control over another person’s behavior often stems from distorted thought processes and deep-seated psychological distress, whether the perpetrator realizes it or not. The use of alcohol or illicit or prescription drugs only makes neurotic thought patterns more intense and destructive.
There are several emotional dynamics that contribute to domestic violence. The most prevalent involves a destructive “critical inner voice” that perpetuates irrational thoughts such as “You’re not a man if you don’t hit her,” or “She is making fun of you. Who does she think she is?” Acting on the lies this voice tells can convince aggressors to attempt to control their partner (or loved one) by taking violent measures toward their seemingly “insubordinate” or “disrespectful” behavior. This unhealthy, and often delusional, inner monologue can be seen in both male and female perpetrators of this kind of aggression.
If you are being physically or emotionally abused by a loved one, lying to yourself or others about what’s happening only makes it worse. You’re not the first to live through this, and there are people who can help you.
Issues Intertwined: Drug Use and Domestic Violence
Substance abuse is a shared affliction between domestic violence perpetrators and victims. According to the American Psychological Association, excessive drug or alcohol use increases the risk of being a victim of domestic violence — and of becoming an abuser. Heavy use of drugs or alcohol increases a person’s chances of becoming abusive, and the mental anguish of domestic violence causes many victims to turn to dangerous substances. Numerous studies affirm that substance use often plays a facilitative role in violent behavior, and usually exacerbates pre-existing patterns of abuse.
For victims of domestic violence, this weight of repeated abuse is an extremely heavy burden. To ease the strain, many people turn to substances for relief. In some cases, women in abusive relationships are coerced into using drugs or alcohol by their partners. Victims can experience panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a host of other mental ailments as a result of domestic violence. The percentage of women who consider their mental health to be poor is almost three times higher among women with a history of domestic violence than those in healthy relationships. As a result, intimate partner victimization is often correlated with an alarmingly high rate of depression and suicidal behavior.
The Bottom Line: Substances Aren’t Shoulders to Lean On
Regardless of whether someone is a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence, one form of abuse should not lead to another. Heavy drug or alcohol use only enables aggression and silences guilt for those who believe they need to control others. For victims, substances only offer temporary relief from an unbearable situation.
Perpetrator or victim, drugs are not a suitable crutch, and with the right help, they don’t have to be. If you are a survivor of domestic violence, you’re never beyond help — learn how to get out of a dangerous situation or call any of the hotlines below.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Crisis Text Line
Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Hotline
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village can help. With centers across the country offering a variety of treatment programs, this effective network of facilities can empower you along the path to healing, and help you break the cycle of addiction for good. The first step is reaching out — call The Recovery Village today.
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.