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Alcohol’s Role in Domestic Violence

Kenneth Leonard, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist, Research Institute on Addictions
Vice Chair for Research and Research Professor
Department of Psychiatry, University of Buffalo
School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

U.S. society has very opposite views on alcohol, ranging from acknowledgement of its harmful physical effects to using it as a means of celebration e.g. champagne at weddings. Alcohol can also cause conflict, which can then result in domestic violence. First, the distal and proximal links between excessive alcohol consumption and intimate partner violence were reviewed. Second, the processes believed to underlie the acute impact of alcohol on intimate partner violence were discussed, and finally, the effects of treatment for alcoholism on partner violence were examined. Results from various studies showed that marital violence was high for men who scored high on hostility measures and low on marital satisfaction. Results also showed that domestic violence was 22 times more likely to happen on a heavy drinking day than a nonheavy drinking day (particularly for those men who met criteria for antisocial personality). This finding implies that the impact of domestic violence seems to be in terms of heavy drinking rather than just any drinking. Treatment studies may remove or reduce a putative causal factor, which is reduced with couple’s therapy for alcoholism, as well as with individual treatment.


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