Family violence - or male aggression against women in a relationship setting - also known as domestic violence (DV) is most certainly a devastating social and moral problem in our society; but it is also a serious police problem, and an expensive health problem. In fact, the annual health care cost associated with the manifestations of DV is estimated to run as high as $857 million in the United States (Rodiguez, et al., 2001). But moreover, DV takes a toll on American families that is much greater than any dollar amount could ever reflect - and, in addition, DV is a social blemish on the face of America that seems to be getting worse, not better. The "causes" of violence in the family - why men act aggressively against their wives and girlfriends and even their children - are varied and complicated; but in too many cases, the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs is factored into the equation. And while there is a dearth of empirical, clinical research directly linking alcohol's chemical influence on the brain - alcohol is of course a drug - to male aggression against women, there exists a plethora of circumstantial evidence making that specific connection.
Introduction / Thesis
This paper will examine the question of violence and drugs / alcohol in depth: indeed, what factual research is presently available surrounding the issue of alcohol and its connection to male aggression towards women and families? Why are alcohol and drugs a pivotal part of that brutal phenomenon? The paper will also provide research into the question: are there emerging remedies and solutions for DV? What can be done? Clearly, there has, as yet, been no "cure-all" program or solution devised to keep the abuse of alcohol and drugs - and violence against women - in check, but this salient question will be addressed: are there steps families can take to avoid become statistics in the ongoing scourge of booze, drugs, and violence in the family? And what about victims - are their plans and programs to care for their needs, and/or prevent recurrences of assaults upon them? America prides itself on being a nation of laws - but is the U.S. popular culture too steeped in aggression as entertainment - and alcohol as a cool, manly thing to do - to expect a reduction in domestic cruelty to women?
Alcohol/Drug-related family violence doesn't occur in a social vacuum
It's important at the outset to recognize that the dynamics of DV - and violence against women in intimate relationships where there is no matrimony or family affiliation - has numerous and varied causes, well beyond the issue of a male over-consuming alcohol and/or drugs. One of the most frequent and verifiable links to understanding DV is the dynamic of individuals in the low income bracket: "Poverty...increases risk [of DV] through effects on conflict, women's power, and male identity" (Jewkes, 2002). "Violence is used as a strategy in conflict," Jewkes states. "Relationships full of conflict, especially those in which conflicts occur about finances, jealousy, and women's gender role transgressions are more violent...[and] heavy alcohol consumption increases risk of violence." Further, Jewkes reports that violence is "frequently" used to "resolve a crisis of male identity," caused, again, by poverty. "Circumstances in which the woman, but not her partner, is working, convey additional risk," Jewkes adds. "In some settings, men have described using alcohol in a premeditated manner to enable them to beat their partner because they feel this is socially expected of them... [and] men are more likely to act violently when drunk because they do not feel they will be held accountable for their behavior."
The fundamental difficulty with respect to studying DV, Jewkes asserts, is that "evidence for causation of intimate partner violence is weak, when assessed with epidemiological criteria... [since] diseases usually have a biological basis and occur within a social context, but intimate partner violence is entirely a product of its social context." And, Jewkes adds, DV is often a "feature of sexual relationships or thwarted sexual relationships..." Alcohol, she concludes, is a contributor to intimate violence by both reducing inhibitions, and providing "social space" for "punishment."
Family violence research in The Western Journal of Medicine (Rodriguez, et al., 2001), in which 4,780 "married or cohabiting" persons were interviewed, shows that alcohol misuse "interacts with unemployment" circumstances to exacerbate problems of DV. Family violence also is linked to symptoms of "depression" mixed with alcohol, and interestingly, the study also found that "alcohol consumption was significantly related to physical aggression 6 months immediately before and after" the wedding, but "the effects washed out at 18 months." Further, "although no evidence exists that alcohol use causes abuse," the article continues, "criminal justice studies suggest that alcohol is a factor in two thirds of cases of intimate partner violence... [and] alcohol use, often combined with other drug misuse, is a significant predictor of physical, sexual, and psychological violence."
Present realities and statistics
Meanwhile, a recent article in the journal, Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly (March, 2003), cites some stark statistics on alcohol and its connection to the ongoing scourge of family violence. "According to the February issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology...the odds of any male-to-female aggression were eight times higher on days when the men drank alcohol..." The story went on to report that the odds of "severe aggression" (e.g. where injuries requiring medical attention occur) were 11 times higher on days when men drank some alcohol. And on days when men drank "six or more drinks" the odds jumped to more than "18 times higher for any male-to-female aggression," and more than 19 times higher for "severe aggression." The study was conducted by the State University of New York, at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions. The research incorporated the daily diaries and calendars of 137 men who had been in a domestic violence treatment center, and of 135 "domestically violent men" who had entered a treatment program for alcohol abuse.
Alluding again to the data from the recent research project, published in The Western Journal of Medicine (Rodriguez, 2001), the article reports that 16% of American families have experienced at least one "incidence of marital aggression" per year. And, the study - using data compiled by the respected National Survey of Families and Households and by the National Violence Survey - found that two to four million women a year are physically battered by "their intimate partners," and that 12% of all homicides "are the result of intrafamilial violence."
Domestic violence, when it includes not the just the drug alcohol, but other mind- altering drugs, can be extremely vicious. The National Institute of Justice (Brookoff, 1997) conducted a survey in Memphis, Tennessee, funded by the Methodist Hospital Foundation, which revealed that of the men charged with assault of their spouse or intimate partner in the year 1995, "two-thirds had used a dangerous combination of cocaine and alcohol that day" - and two-thirds of the assailants were "on probation or parole" at the time of the crime. On average, Memphis police responded to more than 15 DV calls per 7-hour shift; 72% of the victims were female, and 78% of assailants were male. Ninety-two percent of the assailants had used drugs or alcohol that day; nearly one half of assailants had been using drugs, alcohol, or both, daily, for the past month prior to the assault, according to the families involved.
What does alcohol actually do to the individual and to the brain?
There a numerous theories about the relationship between alcohol and violence, and why alcohol always seems to be present when violence has been visited upon the innocent wife or girlfriend. Some researchers believe that alcohol has "a direct and causal relationship to violence because its psycho physiological properties release violent impulses, tendencies, and inhibitions" (Collins, 1981). But Collins, on the same page (262), sites other research which shows "while drinking varies according to the situational context...this behavior is learned." Other studies cited by Collins view alcohol use and violence as symptoms "of a pathological condition" displayed by the "socially maladjusted personality." Still other studies reported by Collins link alcoholism and DV in various statistical, social, and psychological correlations, but none of them explain what alcohol actually does to the brain, to cause men, even normally peaceful men, to apparently lose control and attack their women.
Meanwhile, in the continuing search to learn how alcohol tweaks the brain, a researcher named, ironically, Paul Brain (Brain, 1986), has edited a book jammed with exhaustive and esoteric scientific experiments - searching for clues to the mysteries of "alcohol and aggression" - on human cells, on fish, amphibians, birds, rodents, cats, and monkeys. The results of those inquiries, while not easy for the lay person to understand, have shown some interesting phenomena; albeit, as researchers Michael S. Berry and Robert Smoothy report (Brain, 1986, p. 84), there are problems associated with these investigations. "Animal studies, with their reduced…