Substance Use Linked to Increased Intimate Partner Violence

Do men who abuse drugs perpetrate more relational violence? According to a new study of men who were receiving treatment for alcohol misuse, they do. “Importantly, male perpetrators’ antisocial characteristics predicted increased stimulant and cannabis use, which in turn predicted higher frequencies of physically aggressive behaviors toward their female counterparts,” said Richard E. Mattson of Auburn University. Mattson, the lead author of a new study on male aggression in intimate partner violence added, “These findings suggest that individuals higher in antisociality aggress more frequently in part because they are more inclined to use particular illicit substances.”

Mattson and his colleagues from VA Boston Health Care System, Harvard Medical School and the University of Maryland examined 181 couples in which the male partner was currently receiving treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence. They assessed the men for anti-social behavior, drug use, alcohol use and aggression. They measured the female partners for the same factors and found that the anti-social behavior in the men directly led to illicit drug use, which in turn led to violence. “In addition, they found that sedative use and stimulant use by male perpetrators’ partners was associated, respectively, with their receipt of psychological and physical aggression.”

This finding was significant because the team realized that drug use in women and men both accounted for increases in aggression at different levels. “We also replicated the finding that higher stimulant usage uniquely predicts more frequent IPV across levels of aggression severity.” They said, “It is possible that the pharmacological effects of stimulant intoxication and/or withdrawal lead to alterations in mood such as irritability, anxiety, and paranoia; to psychotic symptoms; or to shifts in information processing involving memory, problem-solving, and perceptual-motor speed that may escalate otherwise benign exchanges into severe and potentially violent conflicts.” The team hopes these results will support the need for further examination of the effects of drug use on intimate partner violence, particularly in men with alcohol use issues.

Mattson, R. E., O’Farrell, T. J., Lofgreen, A. M., Cunningham, K., & Murphy, C. M. (2011, August 29). The Role of Illicit Substance Use in a Conceptual Model of Intimate Partner Violence in Men Undergoing Treatment for Alcoholism. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025030

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Charles D

    Charles D

    September 6th, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    Abuse and misuse can make you do some crazy things and sadly one of those things happens to be violence against those that love you the most and who are only trying to help you. But many abusers see this as being too intrusive and it makes them angry. I know that it did for me. I am not proud to say that in drinking bouts I have hit my spouse and then regretted it sorely afterwards. And then one day, rightly so she decided that this was not the life for her. I am trying to make it not the life for me too but this is a hard pattern to break after so many years of having this be my go to drug of choice.

  • Adele Finch

    Adele Finch

    September 6th, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    When you take drugs of ANY kind, your barriers are down and you will do or say things normal commonsense would hold you back from. No wonder they get into fights more.

    So much for drugs not being so bad after all, which is what all these people advocating the legalization of cannabis are always bleating. Tell that to the wives.

  • Rosemary Fletcher

    Rosemary Fletcher

    September 6th, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    Cannabis has such a mellowing affect that you can buy it like cigarettes in some European countries.That’s not equivalent to going to a crack house. You’re well off the mark there Adele if you think all drugs are the same.

    Why would doctors be able to prescribe cannabis for chronic pain in some states if that was true? One thing a joint won’t do is make you violent.

  • damien


    September 6th, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    as a medical user of cannabis,its really sad to read this.If the effect is seen in a user of both cannabis and alcohol then it is not right and you should consider people that do only either of these and then put out the results. That will be far more accurate.

    I have seen pictures of public awareness posters that were put up by the government a few decades ago and it said cannabis is “a powerful narcotic in which lurks Murder! Insanity! Death!”. now that was the government playing with the people back in the day,I didn’t know they are continuing the same.

    @Adele Finch:Have you ever tried cannabis? If you haven’t then you have no idea about what you’re talking and if you have then why is it that you don’t remember the basic fact that cannabis makes the user mellow and not violent like alcohol can and hard drugs can?!



    September 7th, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    We need to better understand whether substance use promotes the violence or it is the same thing that encourages substance abuse in the first place!a person may be having issues and that may be why he is on drugs.then he does something stupid coz of the issue and we think it is the drugs!I’m not defending drugs(have always hated them myself) but we need to be clear about the cause!

  • dayton OH

    dayton OH

    September 7th, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    So alright ladies listen up! If your partner is abusing alcohol or drugs you have to know that the chances for him abusing you too are gonna go way up. So now is the right time to get that radar out and look for the good guys in life and stop letting those losers in our lives always maintain control. We have better sense than that, and we are strong enough to break that cycle!

  • N-arrow


    September 7th, 2011 at 7:31 PM

    I don’t think the first time usage of drugs would bring out a beast from within the user.But the continual use is to be blamed for sure.There is that period wherein this non-violent crime turns violent-when the addict or drug abuser turns to abusing his partner-that therapy could be of immense use.identifying such people is a problem but if its listed then partners could report..

  • P.W.


    September 8th, 2011 at 12:53 AM

    @Adele–Speaking as one of those bleating folks, I will say my piece. :) Responsible users of such substances will not become drunk or violent because they already know what they can handle and won’t cross that line. When a drink or drug starts having a negative effect, you are still in the responsible zone for a short period and aware you’ve crossed the line. The second you drink or smoke something else on top of that realization, you’ve stepped into irresponsible territory. However many do not. That’s my point.

  • LA Ben

    LA Ben

    September 10th, 2011 at 9:15 PM

    Speechless. Absolutely speechless. I despise all of these articles down talking marijuana. Marijuana isn’t like other drugs that cause you to become violent. It has a calming and peaceful effect for those who use it. While I have never used marijuana I feel that it should be legalized. Once you read past all of the government’s anti marijuana propaganda designed to help big business you will agree that marijuana should be legal too. People don’t get high on marijuana and fight strangers, so why would it cause domestic abuse? I agree with the Damienator on this one. Putting alcohol and marijuana users together is wrong because we already know that people get drunk and abuse their husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/whatever. So putting them together is an easy way to give weed a bad rap!

  • Tristian Morrison

    Tristian Morrison

    September 12th, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    One of the three things I find out about a woman early on when I’m dating is how well she handles her drink. If she doesn’t know when to stop or can’t control herself while drunk then I’m not having anything to do with her. It’s embarrassing to be seen out with them and you never know what kind of trouble you would get in by being with them. No thanks, I like a quiet life.

  • e.a.


    September 13th, 2011 at 9:52 PM

    @Adele-Marijuana actually reduces your aggression levels, relaxes you, and also slows your body down to a mellow pace. If you or anyone you know smokes weed and becomes aggressive because of that, I can assure you that’s not weed. They are smoking something else entirely, possibly even a harmful substance, or saying they did when they didn’t as an excuse for physical violence. It simply doesn’t do that to you.

  • Kyrie J.

    Kyrie J.

    September 14th, 2011 at 5:10 PM

    @Charles: The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one in the first place. You can be the guy who gave up alcohol, or you can be the drunken wife beater. It’s completely up to you which one you pick. You’ve seen already what can happen if you continue your love affair with the bottle.

    You’ve taken the first and hardest step and are to be commended for your efforts, so you might as well keep going and follow through with it. I sincerely wish you all the best.

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