Abuse, Addiction and Faith: How Survivors Cope With Domestic Violence

Every fifteen seconds, a woman in the United States is beaten.

Substance abuse and domestic violence often go hand in hand.

Substance abuse and domestic violence often go hand in hand.

Victims of domestic violence, otherwise known as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), unbeknownst to the world around them, are living in a war zone. One of the major battles they often face is the battle with themselves, as they try to gather the emotional, mental and physical resources they need to survive, to cope, and (hopefully) to leave.  

This means that victims are in a constant state of fear - worrying, watching and reading their partners' behaviors and expressions, their tones and mannerisms - looking for cues of the next impending attack. This state is known as hyper vigilance, and it is a result of being chronically "on the lookout" for danger. Hyper vigilance is a common symptom of PTSD, and it's frequently associated with trauma.

And, since it's psychologically taxing and chronically stressful to exist in a state of hyper vigilance, it is unsurprising that survivors of abuse are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 9 times more likely to abuse drugs than the general population.

Survivors of domestic abuse are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol than their peers.

Survivors of domestic abuse are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol than their peers.

Here are some more compelling facts on IPV and substance abuse:

  • Substance abusers are violent more frequently and inflict more serious injuries.  They are more likely to attack partners sexually, and are more likely to be violent outside the home than non-substance abusers.
  •  A study in Massachusetts found that children who witnessed abuse of their maternal caregiver were 50% more likely to abuse drugs and/or alcohol.
  • According to a majority of domestic violence program directors, in 51% of the cases, a women’s use of alcohol can be a barrier to her being able to finally leave a relationship with a spouse or partner.

The use of substances like alcohol or drugs to self-medicate after experiencing trauma is nothing new, and, in fact, 70% of those receiving treatment for abuse report a prior history of trauma. 

The right kind of support will help survivors to cope with their trauma.

The right kind of support will help survivors to cope with their trauma.

It is clear that survivors of domestic abuse and violence need emotional, psychological and physical support systems to equip them to cope with the effects of trauma. What is additionally clear is that alcohol and drugs are not the answer and frequently will re-traumatize victims, as they are now left to cope with the consequences of their substance abuse. 

This is why we at Serving California are proud to partner with great organizations that respond to the spiritual and physical needs of women leaving these circumstances. Studies have shown that a sense of community and the practice of faith have great benefits for survivors:

Women with abusive partners utilize a variety of coping strategies to deal with and heal from the violence and sense of betrayal they have experienced. For many women, their trust in a higher power and the support they receive from their faith community is integral to their healing. Of 151 women interviewed for this study, the majority (97%) noted that spirituality or God was a source of strength or comfort for them. --- Michigan State University, Violence Against Women, Vol. 12

Nearly every survivor of this type of trauma has relied on faith to grapple with her experiences - this is why we recognize the importance of faith communities, then, as we provide resources to victims.

Finding a space of comfort, refuge and tranquility can help restore balance for survivors.

Finding a space of comfort, refuge and tranquility can help restore balance for survivors.

Not every support is right for every victim - this is not a "one size fits all" solution. We've seen that victims and survivors of domestic violence need a variety of healthy methods of relating to the world around them, post-trauma, like therapy, one-on-one counseling and the comfort of safe spaces (such as support groups and faith communities), to overcome their experiences.

Learn more about the great faith-based partners we work with to provide women with the various resources they need to transcend their situations, and read more to learn about other support groups and communities that are available to survivors in California.