People often say my partner is abusive when he/she drinks. And from here, they deduce that they are dealing with partner or spousal abuse. However, that may or may not necessarily be so.

How do you distinguish between abuse associated with alcohol and/or drug abuse from abuse associated with “intimate partner violence” (also known as partner / spousal abuse, domestic abuse, domestic violence), as it’s defined in the professional literature? Here’s how.

Key Distinction:

Violence is actually the by-product of domestic abuse. On the other hand, violence that is a by-product of alcohol and/or drug abuse typically falls in one of two categories: a) reckless conduct and loss of inhibitions or b) drug-seeking behavior. The alcoholic and the drug addict may use violence to control his/her access to their substance. Whereas, the partner or spousal abuser users violence to control his/her victim.

It is common knowledge that substance abuse is an addiction to one’s substance of choice, however domestic abuse is more of a psychosocial addiction to control. Knowing this distinction makes it possible to select the appropriate intervention for one’s condition/situation. You wouldn’t want treatment for one condition if you indeed suffered from another condition, would you?

Yet more often then not, couples in abusive relationships quickly cling to one type of intervention without recognizing the importance of this differential diagnosis. Even if the couple is experiencing both domestic violence and substance abuse, each of these conditions must be treated for what it is, not for what it may look like at first glance.

I have seen numerous cases in which a substance abuse treatment protocol has been used for couples suffering from partner or spousal abuse solely, or in combination with substance abuse. Unfortunately, the net result can increase the risk factors for the battered partner.

If you are in an abusive relationship, seek to clarify for yourself if what you’re dealing with is intimate partner violence and/or substance abuse before you begin a regimen of intervention. Doing so could save you your life!

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps individuals, families and healthcare professionals recognize and end domestic abuse. If you want to know whether you are an abused spouse or merely involved with a substance abuser, visit for immediate, private and confidential clarification today. Is this domestic abuse?

Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. -- Domestic Abuse Prevention for Individuals, Families and Healthcare Professionals

© 2008 Jeanne King, Ph.D.