Domestic Violence Awareness Month should also Address Substance Abuse
A local Northwest Indiana paper reported last week that a couple in Lowell, IN, were allegedly killed by their adult son; an apparent murder-suicide happened in suburban Park Forest, Ill; a five-month-old baby died from abuse in Gary, IN; and a mother and her next-door neighbor (who babysat) were charged with abusing the motherâ€™s four-year-old son badly enough that he had to be hospitalized to relieve the pressure in his brain. He suffered burns, bruises, and had a bleeding wound on his butt. They deprived him of food.
But the real devastation of what that child endured will show up much later, probably in his teen years and beyond, when he has his own family. Physical wounds heal much easier than the psychological ones.
All this was reported in a four day span that included a cancellation of the domestic violence awareness presentation at Indiana Universityâ€™s Gary, IN campus. And all this was reported at the tail end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is a mere blip that most ignore or are unaware of. The child abuse cases were included to illustrate the fact that no one in the family goes unscathed. And if one were to dig a bit further into these cases, I believe that substance abuse probably was a factor in all these incidences, as there seems to be a direct correlation between the two.
Statistically speaking, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported that 80% of child abuse cases are associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs. 61% of domestic violence offenders have alcohol or drug abuse problems. Many perpetrators blame their actions on being intoxicated, or they justify their actions by blaming the spouseâ€™s addiction as the cause. And those of us who are plugged into the recovery world and see and hear whatâ€™s out there know that Methamphetamine addicts on a run can become psychotically violent and commit horrendous crimes.
Then thereâ€™s the sexual and psychological abuse that colors lives in more ways then one would guess. Many of those who suffered child abuse move on to be abusers themselves. They often become substance abusers because thatâ€™s how theyâ€™ve been schooled to deal with lifeâ€™s pain. Those who work in the field know that without recovery from substance abuse, the addiction/abuse cycle tends to perpetuate in families until someone breaks the cycle. Rehabs are full of those who have been touched by domestic violence – as both victims and perpetrators.
Maybe itâ€™s because the area of the brain that deals with sound judgment becomes deadened under the influence. Maybe itâ€™s because addiction creates much stress in households, either financial, emotional, or by the lack of taking care of the business of life. The depression, fear and dysfunction in the alcoholic/drug using household feed the addiction, the addiction feeds the violence, so the addiction becomes both the coping mechanism and the catalyst for perpetuation of the cycle.
When we include drugs that may cause psychotic breaks, like methamphetamine, bath salts and others, the violence potential goes up. Heroin addiction may lead to neglect, prostitution and illegal activities needed to support the addiction, affecting the whole household. I once watched a documentary illustrating drug-addled violence which included a man who was using a combination of steroids, marijuana, alcohol and psilocybin mushrooms when he killed his friend and roommate – he literally removed the manâ€™s heart from his chest. He didnâ€™t even know what he had done until he began to sober up in jail. Kids who use things like â€œskittlesâ€ (Coricidren) or go â€œrobo-trippingâ€ (intentional overdosing on Robitussion), have also committed heinous violence to themselves or others. Again, they donâ€™t come to until they began sobering up and have to face the aftermath. But by then, itâ€™s too late.
Betsy Maher, adult advocate of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at St. Jude House, Crown Point, IN, sees many victims who are referred to treatment right off the bat, since the shelter is not equipped to deal with entrenched addiction issues. Of those who are accepted into the shelter, she estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the clients still have to address substance use, and that doesnâ€™t include the absent spouseâ€™s addiction. She also thinks that in upper middle class areas like Crown Point, more outreach is needed, since domestic violence affects more than the stereotypical poor.
â€œItâ€™s a huge issue in our area,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™re in a middle to high class area. Thereâ€™s a lot more shame involvedâ€¦ I donâ€™t think itâ€™s talked about enough in our community for women to know where to go.â€
Domestic violence, as I see it, needs a two-pronged approach. The violence itself needs to be dealt with, but also the underlying addictions that are often part of the picture. Psychological intervention is needed and should be a part of treating the whole household to stop the cycle of addiction and abuse.