Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Published June 2009

Chapter 3. Offender Characteristics

Section 14 — Is substance abuse an important risk factor?

Acute and chronic alcohol and drug use are well-established risk factors for reabuse as well as domestic violence in general. [118, 221] Prior arrests for drug and alcohol offenses also correlate with higher rates of reabuse. [78] Just one prior arrest for any alcohol or drug offense (e.g., drunk driving or possession of a controlled substance), for example, doubled the reabuse rate from 20 percent (no prior drug/alcohol arrest) to 40 percent (at least one arrest for drugs/alcohol) in a restraining order study over two years. [134]

Defendant alcohol and substance abuse, similarly, are predictive of reabuse and recidivism. [23, 134, 141, 228] The multistate batterer program referral study found heavy drinking to be a significant predictor for reabuse. For the same reason, it found that abuser participation in drug treatment predicted repeated reassaults. [113] Batterers who complete batterer intervention are three times more likely to reabuse if they are found to be intoxicated when tested at three-month intervals. [83, 84, 85, 88]

Many [63, 117, 172], but not all, studies [23] have found abuser or victim abuse of drugs or alcohol at the time of the incident to be a consistent risk marker for continued abuse.

Implications for Law Enforcement

Seemingly unrelated nonviolent offenses such as drunk driving or drug possession, which suggest substance abuse by the abuser, should be considered as risk markers for continued abuse. (Research basis: Multiple, disparate studies suggest that any disagreement regarding the relationship between domestic abuse and substance abuse has to do with whether or not substance abuse "causes" domestic violence, not with the existence of the correlation.)

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

Seemingly unrelated nonviolent offenses like drunk driving or drug possession, which suggest substance abuse by the abuser, should be considered as risk markers for continued abuse. Substance and alcohol abuse should be considered when prosecutors make prerelease and sentencing recommendations and when judges set bail, pronounce sentences, and fashion civil protective orders and conditions of probation supervision. (Research basis: Multiple, disparate studies suggest that any disagreement regarding the relationship between domestic abuse and substance abuse has to do with whether or not substance abuse "causes" domestic violence, not with the existence of the correlation.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009