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Violence and Substance Use Disorders

“Always show good behavior.”

-Cup’ik Cultural Value

The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Violence

There is a strong link between substance misuse and violence. Alcohol and drug use changes the way the brain works. Not all people with Substance Use Disorders (SUD) have violent behavior, but substance use can influence violence for some people. For people that have violent behavior, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs tends to worsen violent behavior.

Stimulant Drugs and Aggression

Substances like methamphetamine (AKA meth) and cocaine can bring out violent behaviors in people who use them. Part of the effects of meth and cocaine use are loss of impulse control and feelings of paranoia.

Although paranoia does not always involve violent behaviors, it is often part of the process. Hallucinations can sometimes feel so vivid that it causes people to act violently towards themselves and others. Read more about substances and the effects on the brain and body.

Alcohol, Drugs, and Sexual Violence

Substance Use Disorders can lead to a rise (increase) in aggressive behaviors, including sexual violence. Substances such as methamphetamine and cocaine can lead to heightened feelings of arousal. When these feelings are mixed with lower impulse control, those who are under the influence are more likely to act on these urges. They may engage in high-risk (for example, condomless sex), violent, or aggressive sexual acts.

Alcohol and Sexual Assault

Alcohol use, especially binge drinking, can cause people to act sexually aggressive towards others. Research shows that nearly half of sexual assaults involved alcohol use by either the perpetrator, the victim, or both.

When alcohol is involved in sexual assault, sexual violence is still not okay. If you have ever been sexually abused or taken advantage of, it’s not your fault. There is help. Even if you were using drugs or alcohol while the abuse happened, again, it’s not your fault. In order to consent, all people must be conscious and sober. 

Substance Use Disorders and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is one of the most common behaviors influenced by substance use. Domestic violence can include hitting, punching, hair pulling, slapping, and sexual assault, but it is not limited to these physical actions.

Domestic violence also can also mean emotional and physiological abuse. These behaviors can include, but are not limited to:

  • Blackmail
  • Physical threats
  • “Gaslighting”
  • Intimidation
  • Stalking
  • Blaming the victim

While these actions are not physically aggressive, they are considered a violent attack on the mind. The target is often left unable to defend themselves or fight back.

Can Violence and Trauma Lead to Addiction?

Being either a survivor of violence and having violent behaviors can be a precursor to addiction because of the way traumatic events affect the brain. Trauma makes the mind work in overdrive, causing fear, anxiety, and stress. A person who survives a traumatic experience may function in a fight-or-flight survival mode.

Experiencing these feelings, even some of the time can be overwhelming and incredibly distressing for someone trying to recover from trauma. Some survivors of trauma turn to drugs or alcohol in hopes of finding relief, causing a worsening of emotional pain.

Get Help

For general resources about relationships, sex, wellness and more, please do a search on the Get Answers page.

Are you in immediate danger?

Call 911 or your local police. If not in an immediate threat, please view resources on the Get Help page.