Alcohol’s Link to Partner Violence

Alcohol use, especially heavy regular or binge drinking, has been linked to male-to-female partner violence. Across different cultures, violence is more severe when one or both partners has been drinking.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a significant global public health issue according to the World Health Organization. When both partners have been drinking, the role of alcohol in violence may be even greater because of the potential for alcohol to affect the thinking, perceptions and risk-taking behaviors of both partners. That is, both partners are more likely to misperceive the other’s behavior, be less able to resolve the situation without aggression, and be more likely to engage in risky aggression.

Researchers recently searched eleven databases for English-language studies published January 1992 thru March 2013. Data investigating whether alcohol interventions or policies were associated with IPV reduction within adult intimate relationships was gathered. Researchers found that despite evidence associating problematic alcohol use with IPV, the potential for alcohol interventions to reduce IPV has not been adequately researched. This is because studies have not focused on those most at risk of alcohol-related violence, young adult populations among whom drinking is highly prevalent. More studies are warranted to give attention to this serious and often hidden problem. We need to know precisely which interventions give the best results, with which populations they are most likely to work, and what it is in these interventions that reduces violence.

Consistent evidence shows alcohol use by one or both partners contributes to the risk and severity of abuse. This suggests that interventions that reduce alcohol consumption may also reduce IPV. Combining alcohol and violence intervention approaches at the relationship and individual-level may provide the best opportunity for effective violence reduction. Additionally, culturally sensitive interventions may need to be developed and implemented to be most effective.

IPV against women is a critical health, human rights, and development concern, with global estimates indicating that approximately one in three women have reported such violence at some point in their lives. Health care professionals may identify IPV and assist women with risk mitigation. Connecting women to resources in their community, creating safety plans to reduce the risk of severe violence, and diminishing any adverse health risk is important. Recovery is possible for those who suffer intimate partner violence.