Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

By The Fix staff 12/10/18

Too often substance abuse and codependency can lead to domestic violence.

Male body in hall, holding bottle of alcohol, substance abuse and domestic violence

When Marie Edmonds was a child, her father left when she was just four. Her mother, struggling with drug addiction, was distant and violent. Edmonds was focused on surviving her childhood, and didn’t realize until much later that her traumas would affect her for years to come.

“This is how much co-dependency was formed,” said Edmonds, who now works for works for Serenity Health and Substance Misuse, a UK organization that provides treatment and connects people with other recovery resources.

As she grew, Edmonds got into a series of abusive and codependent relationships, which were made worse by the fact that she and her partners were abusing drugs. Now, Edmonds tries to educate others about the overlap of addiction and domestic violence.

“I had a desperate need to be loved, and I would settle for the abuse in exchange for the cold comfort I received from my abusers,” she said. “Any attention was better than no attention.”

Domestic violence and substance abuse can sometimes go hand and hand. In her role with Serenity Health and through her own recovery, Edmonds has met many women who have been abused by partners who share their drug addiction. She also sees people who have been raised in addictive families become co-dependent in their romantic relationships, exposing themselves to abuse.

“There are many women, who have been beaten, controlled and abused by men in their drug addiction,” Edmonds said.

When Leanne fell into a romantic relationship with her dealer that turned abusive, her drug addiction prevented her from going to police for help.

“In my mind at the time, the police couldn’t really help me. I was also extremely messed up through drugs and alcohol,” Leanne told Edmonds. “I was in a very dark place. I felt ashamed and just broken.”

After just two and a half years in recovery, Leanne is sober and in a healthy relationship. She shares her story to help other people heal.

Emma, who was an alcoholic, met her abusive partner at a bar, where he was working.

“He seemed so charming,” she remembered. However, after the pair moved in together the abuse turned physical, with Emma's partner even head-butting her while she held her one-year-old son.

Emma has now been sober for four years, and out of that relationship for eight years. However, she said that the abuse had long-term effects on her.

“For a long time I couldn’t imagine a relationship where I didn’t get hurt,” she said. “Then I became very angry. I’ve lashed out at men for no reason. I still now have nightmares and flashbacks. It’s taken me this long to rebuild my confidence.”

Even women who are in recovery from their substance use disorder can be vulnerable to abusive relationships because they have low self-esteem, Edmonds said. She found herself in an emotionally abusive relationship when she was two years sober.

“I stayed,” she said. “Even after all the work I had done, my low self-worth and low self-esteem led me to believe that was all I was worth.”

In addition, just because a partner gets sober doesn’t mean that he will stop being abusive.

“I’ve come across a few women in meetings who have stayed in abusive relationships with partners who are in recovery,” Edmonds said. “And you would have never known or would have guessed at the time this was happening to them.”

Sam met her partner at a fellowship meeting. He was prominent in the recovery community, and she put him on a pedestal. However, he continued to abuse her mentally and emotionally, isolating her from her recovery community.

Just like with addiction, an important part of breaking the cycle of codependence involves getting to the root of the issue and healing those wounds, Edmonds said.

“I’m working on my co-dependency. I’m working on my trauma around my mum and dad, who I have also found some level of compassion and forgiveness towards,” she said. “Do I still feel a need to be loved, valued and wanted by a man? Of course I do. I’m human and humans need love to survive. The difference is today, I no longer look for love in cold places; if it comes, it comes, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I have all the love I need, from my children, my sponsor, and my female friends who value me and nurture me to help me grow. And for now, that’s all the love I need.”

Get more information on Serenity Health on the website or on Twitter.

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