Abuse and Addiction
How to Distinguish between Spousal Abuse
and Substance Addiction

Dr. King


by Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.

Many people in abusive relationships notice that the altercations toward them happen when their abusive partner is drinking or drugging. The question that they ask is: How do I know if this is spousal abuse or a byproduct of my partner’s substance addiction?

Spousal Abuse and Substance Abuse

What is the relationship between spousal abuse and substance abuse? Sometimes they overlap, existing concurrently. But, they are not the same at all. It is important to realize that they are, indeed, two separate syndromes.

Your partner may become more verbally abusive toward you when he/she is drinking. It is as though the alcohol tears back a layer of composure allowing underlying rage to emerge.

Or, it may be that as he/she becomes intoxicated, inner irritability catches up and smacks you in the face in the form of a derogatory comment, name-calling or a character assault. In both cases, the altercation springs forward in an impulsive explosive manner.

You know your partner is being abusive toward you because you feel the effects of being battered and you recognize the obvious verbal, emotional or physical assault. What may be less clear to you is the underlying “power and control” dynamics characteristic of intimate partner abuse.

Domestic Abuse Is About Control

Intimate partner violence, in and of itself, is more about control than it is about the loss of control. Spousal abusers use battering as a means to an end—partner control.

The violence may be a manifestation of domestic abuse, but domestic abuse is fundamentally about control. And the perpetrator can’t bear to be out of control. When the abuser feels he/she is losing their grip, violence will escalate so as to re-engage control. The addiction in this syndrome is an addiction to interpersonal control.

Controlling Spouse and Their Addiction

The most important question for survivors of domestic abuse is: what inspires the battering? Is it the loss of control or the effort to seek control? In other words, is the addiction to a substance or is the addiction to maintaining the power and control within the relationship?

I have noticed patients seeking to answer this question find it useful to see the full constellation of symptoms characterizing intimate partner abuse. Feel free to consider this if you, too, are asking the question.

Intimate partner abuse is characterized by the following:

1) Possessive and controlling behavior

2) Lack of empathy toward the intimate partner

3) Tendency to isolate the partner from other sources of support

4) A pattern of externalizing blame onto others

5) Ongoing use of battering to establish and maintain an unequal distribution of power and control within the relationship.

When you separate these symptoms from the abuse of a substance, you more easily distinguish between substance abuse and domestic abuse.

For more information about abusive relationships, visit www.preventabusiverelationships.com and claim your Free Instant Access to Survivor Success eInsights. Psychologist Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps people nationwide recognize, end and heal from domestic abuse. © Jeanne King, Ph.D. — Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention

Dr. Jeanne King is a licensed psychologist and domestic abuse consultant. Feel free to contact us if you need help with physical and/or emotional pain, stress-related illnesses, or relationship abuse issues at home or in court. Contact Us to reach Dr. King.