Alcoholism and Domestic Violence

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is unfortunately a widespread ailment which spans people of all age groups and socioeconomic levels. The health risks of this disease, and alcoholism is a disease, are as widespread as the individuals who contract it. In addition to these health risks, alcoholism is also an influencing factor in another problem plaguing societies, domestic violence. Thus, alcohol and anger create a sometimes fatal combination.

Alcoholism is a disease which can be described by degree. Alcohol dependence describes individuals who have developed a “maladaptive pattern” of alcohol consumption which is characterized by a developing alcohol tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, or hangovers, and the inability to stop drinking. It doesn’t stop there People with alcohol dependence may progress to alcohol abuse which can significantly interfere with their social lives, their work or their interpersonal relationships.

In addition, this abuse can also cause a host of related issues including “major depression, dysthymia, mania, hypomania, panic disorder, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, personality disorders, any drug use disorder,schizophrenia, and suicide” (Cargiulo 2007). According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), drinking up to 14 drinks in a week for men or seven drinks per week as a woman could indicate alcohol dependence. In addition, the NIAAA estimates that up to nearly 18 million Americans could be considered alcoholics (Lauer 2006).

Despite the many mental and physiological problems that are associated with alcoholism, some of the most frightening are the health problems associated with the brain. Evidence exists that shows the damage that alcohol consumption does to the brain. Brain imaging studies have revealed that people with alcoholism have significant differences in parts of their brains than those without alcoholism. The brain volume is reduced in alcoholics as well as the blood flow to the brain.

The reduced blood flow has been linked to a lowering of inhibitions and memory, impaired cognitive function in general and even damage to the corpus callosum (Cargiulo 2007). These problems can lead to long term brain damage. Lesions in the brain form in those with long term patterns of alcohol abuse. This can translate into Korsakoff’s disease which is characterized by motor impairment and thinking impairments which can affect a person’s ability to care for himself. In the end, the individual may have to be cared for institutionally.

Alcohol affects the neurotransmitters in the brain. As the disease progresses to chronic status, the brain cells begin to adapt to the alcohol that seems to reside permanently in the brain. As a result, the brain becomes reliant on the alcohol to work. If alcohol is removed, the symptoms of withdrawal take longer and longer to subside. Ultimately, the brain tissue will rebel, in a way, and the withdrawal symptoms can be severe, even fatal. Once the cells in the brain die, they cannot be regenerated (Shoemaker 2003). These effects seem to affect males to a greater degree than females.

This fact can be explained by differences in drinking patters, choice of alcoholic drinks, rate of alcohol metabolism and the protective effects of hormones such as estrogen (de Bruin, 2005) As such, alcohol dependency and abuse is three times more prominent in men as it is in women even though evidence suggests that for both genders, the numbers are underreported (Cargiulo 2007). As if the physical effects on the body were not bad enough, the behaviors of individuals who are addicted to alcohol are also quite dangerous.

The drinkers find themselves to be less inhibited and more willing to engage in risky behaviors. Many

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of these behaviors can be characterized as aggressive and violent. One of the worst that researchers find among alcoholics is domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV). The Academy of Domestic Violence has defined domestic violence as “a deliberate pattern of abusive tactics used by one partner in an intimate relationship to obtain and maintain power and control over the other person” which includes physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and economic abuses (Niolon 2004)

The types of domestic violence have been organized by Dr. Richard Niolon (2004). He identifies one type as common couple violence which occurs in one or two isolated incidences over the course of the couples’ relationship. Though painful at the time, this type is not usually seen as a recurring pattern of abuse and control. The second type is identified by Niolon (2004) as intimate terrorism in which violence is used as a means of manipulation and control relatively regularly.

Mutual violent control occurs more often when both the male and the female fight each other, and dysphoric-borderline violence is indicative of a dependent, emotional fragile individual who resorts to violence as a last resort. This type of violence often occurs when the abused person in the relationship snaps and lashes out violently against the other partner or when a new set of circumstances radically increases the frustration levels of one of the partners in the relationship, and he or she lashes out as a result of this new situation (Niolon 2004).

These stages of violence typically follow a predictable cycle. The first stage of this cycle is a calm period in which tension slowly builds. Minor incidents may occur in this stage which can continue for various periods of time. The second stage is the one in which the abuser seems to explode and actually engage in the violence. Outside parties may have to intervene to stop the onslaught. The third states is called the honeymoon stage because the abuser will show distinct remorse for his actions, apologize profusely, and even shower the abused with gifts and affection, even promises.

Unfortunately, the abused is likely to forgive the abuser at this point. (Niolon 2004). Risk factors for IPV include lower educational levels, lower income and/or employment levels, and, of course, alcohol misuse (Jeyaseelan, 2004). Sadly, alcohol and IPV often do go hand in hand. Not surprising, the most common locations for IPV to occur is in the home and at bars. According to interviews with abused wives, men were much more likely to have been drinking during the attacks than not.

When the abusive husbands were interviewed, they reported to have had at least six drinks before the onset of the violence (Quigley and Leonard, 2004/2005). Thus the concurrence of alcoholism and IPV is shown. When drinking, a dangerous combination of increased aggression and reduced inhibition lead to these batterings. Many studies support this problem, which again seems to afflict more men than women. Quigley and Leonard (2004/2005) recount a study by Kaufman, Kantor and Straus in 1990 which found that the husbands heavy drinking was associated with husband on wife violence.

Further studies show that a husband who drinks early in marriage is more prone to IPV later in marriage, and husbands who drink heavily before marriage are more likely to be violent toward their wives in the very first year of marriage (Quigley and Leonard, 2004/2005). In addition, these authors cite Caetano in noting that there are racial differences involved in IPC. They note that “nineteen percent of European American husbands and 24 percent of Hispanic husbands who drank at least five drinks a week committed IPV, as opposed to 40 percent of African American husbands who drank” (Quigley and Leonard, 2004/2005).

This has harrowing implications for women of all races, particularly African American women. Galvani (2004) gives several possible reasons why this may be true. Physiological theories argue that ethanol, the drug in alcohol increase aggression biologically. A theory known as Disinhibition Theory notes the earlier link between alcohol and cognitive function, specifically the portion of the brain mentioned above that regulates levels if inhibition. The Deviance Disavowal theory argues that the abusers use alcohol as a reason for their behavior and consciously drinks so that they can blame the alcohol for their actions.

Social Learning theories explain that people will act in a way based on their experiences around others. Therefore, parents and societal expectations can lead to alcoholic abuse and abusive behaviors (Galvani, 2004). Both alcoholism and IPV are scourges upon society, creating physical and mental damage. When these are combined, their effects are even stronger and more widespread. With hope, individuals who find themselves in these situations will soon seek help to avoid permanent tragedy. References Cargiulo, T. (2007).

Understanding the health impact of alcohol dependence. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy 64: S1-S17 De Bruin, EA. (2005) Does alcohol intake relate to brain volume loss? The Brown University Digest of Addiction Theory & Application 24 (7): 5-6 Galvani, S. (2004). Responsible disinhibition: Alcohol, men and violence to women. Addiction Research & Theory 12 (4): 357-371 Jeyaseelan, L et al. (2004). World studies of abuse in the family environment – risk factors for physical intimate partner violence.

Injury Control & Safety Promotion 11 (2): 117-124. Lauer, CS. (2006). When drinking turns serious. Modern Healthcare 36 (16): 22 Niolan, R. (2004). Types and Cycles of Domestic Violence. Retrieved 1 May 207 from http://www. psychpage. com/learning/index. html Quigley, BM & Leonard, KE. (2004/2005). Alcohol Use and Violence Among Young Adults. Alcohol Research & Health 28 (4): 191-194 Shoemaker, W. (2003). Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain. Nutritional Health Review: The Consumer’s Medical Journal 88: 3-8 .

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