Finding Healing Through Interpersonal Abuse and Alcohol Support Groups

Family and domestic abuse is a widespread public health issue in the United States, affecting over 10 million people each year.1 Alcohol misuse often plays a role in interpersonal abuse.2 If you are struggling with alcohol problems and abuse in your relationships, you may find healing and support through alcohol support groups.

What Is Interpersonal Abuse?

Interpersonal abuse is the current term for “domestic violence.” Interpersonal abuse encompasses many behaviors. 1 Abuse can appear as intimate partner violence, child abuse, elder abuse, or other forms of familial violence. This includes physical, verbal, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse to children or adults.

Interpersonal abuse is any type of violent or abusive behavior occurring within an interpersonal relationship.

How Are Alcohol and Interpersonal Abuse Related?

Domestic violence researchers believe that alcohol is the largest contributing factor to interpersonal abuse. Substance misuse, including alcohol misuse and addiction, and interpersonal abuse intersect in destructive ways and can make the consequences of both worse. 3

The amplifying effect of alcohol on abuse, and vice versa, can be observed in individuals who misuse alcohol and abuse others, those who suffer from substance use disorder and are being abused, and those whose history of abuse contributes to current or future alcohol misuse.

The development, progression, and occurrence of alcohol misuse and interpersonal abuse share certain characteristics. For example, both the disease of alcohol addiction and the chronic behavioral pattern of abuse:3

  • Tend to escalate in frequency and severity over time
  • Have a social stigma where people not involved insist that a person can “just leave” or “just stop drinking,” despite the complexity of the situation
  • Can be observed in families and are often referred to as “family diseases” due to the risk factors of behavior modeling, trauma, and genetics
  • Involve a level of denial and/or secrecy around the problem
  • Often continue until a crisis occurs

Risk of Perpetrating Abuse When Misusing Alcohol

Alcohol use to connected to higher levels of hostility, anger, and aggression. Alcohol has a direct effect on parts of the brain governing both physical and cognitive performance. It reduces self-control, impairs judgment, and makes it more difficult to recognize signs of danger.2

Alcohol misuse is a significant risk factor for becoming a perpetrator of interpersonal abuse. Research indicates that drug and alcohol misuse greatly increases the incidence of interpersonal violence.1

Individuals who have been arrested, charged with, or convicted of abuse have a higher rate of both drug and alcohol use than the general population.1 One study in Brazil found that individuals in over half of the identified cases of interpersonal abuse were under the influence of alcohol.2

Between 25-50% of men who commit acts of interpersonal abuse have additional substance use problems. Alcohol use has also been correlated with more severe acts of violence. 2

Risk of Misusing Alcohol in Adulthood Tied to Childhood Abuse

As many as 80% of child abuse cases are associated with alcohol and drug use. Child abuse is also a documented risk factor for later-life substance use.3

Women with alcohol addiction are more likely to report a history of childhood abuse than women who don’t have drinking problems. Women who were victims of childhood sexual abuse or assault also have a higher incidence of substance abuse than the general population.3

How Does Interpersonal Abuse Affect Addiction Treatment?

People are often reluctant to disclose the full extent of their abuse and trauma history.

But, for treatment to be most effective, it is vital to address all issues that contribute to patterns of alcohol misuse, including interpersonal abuse.3

The goal of addiction treatment is ultimately to attain long-term recovery, whereas the goal of domestic violence programs is to protect the survivor and ensure their safety. Sometimes it can be difficult to achieve both these goals simultaneously. 3 Other programs, usually entirely separate from survivors’ programs, seek to help individuals who have hurt those they love and may have been arrested, charged, or convicted as a result.

Unfortunately, over 75% of those injured by interpersonal abuse do not seek help. 1 Those who seek help may need to do so multiple times before finding ways to set healthy boundaries and find independence from abusive family members and loved ones.

How Do Peer Groups Support Healing?

In-person or online alcohol support groups can play a crucial role in the healing process. Many people find strength and solidarity in sharing their experiences with peers who relate to their struggles.

Peer Support Groups in Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Peer support groups are not formal therapy or treatment. However, active engagement in peer support programs has been shown to improve recovery. Research indicates that watching others’ positive behaviors tends to increase belief in their own abilities.

Peer support groups do not replace the need for professional addiction treatment, but they be supplemental. Twelve-step groups are the most common. Higher levels of attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are correlated with longer periods of abstinence.4

Other positive recovery outcomes include:4

  • Reduced alcohol and drug use
  • Decreased relapse rates
  • Increased treatment retention
  • Increased self-efficacy
  • Development of healthy coping skills
  • Improved relationships with treatment providers and social supports
  • Increased self-esteem and confidence

Peer Support Groups for People Who Have Experienced Abuse

Support groups for survivors of interpersonal abuse can improve self-esteem, create a greater sense of belonging, and reduce feelings of distress.5

Research conducted on peer support groups for survivors of sexual abuse and assault show the following additional benefits:6

  • Increased tolerance for negative emotions
  • Development of healthy coping strategies
  • Ability to process repressed emotions for the first time
  • Decreased feelings of numbness or dissociation
  • Feel less isolated and withdrawn
  • Increased feelings of optimism and hope
  • Enhanced sense of personal power (e.g., moving from feeling like a victim to a survivor)
  • Increased feelings of belonging and interconnectedness with other survivors

While peer support groups are beneficial to survivors of interpersonal abuse, it is imperative to recognize that peer support groups are just one component of the healing process. Most survivors benefit from additional forms of treatment such as psychotherapy.

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Peer Support Groups for People Who Have Abused Others

If you want to break the cycle of abuse in your own life, meeting regularly with peers can help to reduce stigma and promote healing. Some peer support groups for individuals who have abused others may be court-mandated, while others are entirely peer-led.

Domestic violence perpetrator programs (DVPPs) are preventative group programs that help with recognizing harmful, violent behavioral tendencies and choosing alternative behaviors. DVPPs also help with reflection on personal identity because people struggle to acknowledge the part of themselves that has abused, manipulated, or controlled others and may project or deflect responsibility.7

There are also peer support groups such as Revive, which provide groups and services for people who have offended against others sexually. In these groups, individuals are given a safe, confidential space to connect, share, and receive support regarding their behaviors. Revive encourages attendees to take responsibility for their behavior and alter their behavior patterns.8

It can be critical to engage in other forms of treatment while engaging in peer support. While it is helpful to find support and establish bonds, abusive behavior can be instigated or condoned by peers.3

Peer support is only one aspect of a person’s treatment plan. This may include counseling, medication, and other therapeutic services.

How Do I Find Abuse and Alcohol Support Groups Near Me?

There are support groups to meet the unique needs of different demographics. You can find 12-step programs specifically for women, men, survivors of domestic abuse, as well as Al-Anon groups, which are for loved ones of alcoholics.

Some people find the religious nature of the program and lack of integration with treatment to be a deterrent. There are also secular support groups out there, such as SMART Recovery.

If you are in alcohol addiction or trauma treatment, your providers may also be able to recommend local or online peer support groups.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction and the impact of interpersonal abuse, call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak with an addiction treatment specialist.

Resources

  1. Huecker, M., King, K., Jordan, G., & Smock, W. (2022, February 10, 2022). Domestic Violence. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.
  2. Ferreira de Paula Gebara, C., Ferri, C., Lourenco, L., Vieira, M., Monteiro de Castro Bhona, F., & Noto, A. (2015, September 24). Patterns of domestic violence and alcohol consumption among women and the effectiveness of a brief intervention in a household setting: a protocol study. BMC Women’s Health, 15(78).
  3. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2012). Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence.Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 25. Rockville (M.D.): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (U.S.).
  4. Tracy, K. & Wallace, S. (2016, September 29). Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 7, 143-154.
  5. Sullivan, C. (2017, July 18). Understanding How Domestic Violence Support Services Promote Survivor Well-being: A Conceptual Model. Journal of Family Violence, 33(2), 123-131.
  6. Konya, J., Perot, C., Pitt, K., Johnson, E., Gregory, A., Brown, E., Feder, G., & Campbell, J. (2020, June 12). Peer-led groups for survivors of sexual abuse and assault: a systematic review. Journal of Mental Health.
  7. Bellini, R., Wilson, A. & Smeddinck, J.D. (2021). Fragments of the Past: Curating Peer Support with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence. CH 21: Proceedings of the 2021 SIGCHI Conference on Computer-Human Interaction. ACM.
  8. Community Justice Initiatives. (n.d.). Revive: Groups and Services for People Who Have Offended Sexually.

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