Alcohol and Domestic Violence

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Strong connections between alcohol and domestic abuse found once again in studies from Ireland & Australia 


Two research reports released last week looked at the issue of alcohol and domestic abuse. The first, from Australia, aimed to measure whether restricting the sale of alcohol affected rates of family and domestic violence. The results were clear: yes, they did. 

The study used two sites in different parts of New South Wales and found that measures put in place – restricted entry to late-night venues after 1:30am, trading ceasing at 3:30am, and other restrictions on alcohol services – showed effects compared with two other areas with no restrictions. The researchers found that reported rates of domestic violence assaults fell at both intervention sites, while reported domestic violence assaults increased over time in the control sites. In one area with restrictions on late night access to alcohol, there was a robust and statistically significant reduction of domestic abuse by 29%. 

This study once again demonstrated a correlation between alcohol use and domestic abuse – and indeed the risks associated with availability of alcohol in late night settings. 

It’s ironic to say the least that currently in Ireland, the department of Justice, which is at the forefront of championing domestic abuse policy, is also championing the Sale of Alcohol Bill. This bill is seeking to increase the availability of alcohol across society and late into the night. Based on many robust studies, the outcome of this will very likely be increased domestic violence rates.   

As highlighted previously by Alcohol Action Ireland, it appears that the department is choosing not to make a connection between alcohol use and domestic abuse, even given the overwhelming evidence linking the two. 

But despite high level government strategy documents, the reality on the ground tells a different story. This emerged very clearly in the second report on domestic abuse from last week. 

The Irish study, ‘You can’t fix this in six months’: Understanding the intersectionality of women’s substance use in the Irish context, funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme and undertaken in partnership with Merchants Quay Ireland, laid bare the close connections associated between alcohol and devastating harms across lifetimes and into the next generation. 

Interviewing women who had experienced the intersectional and intertwined issues of substance use, domestic abuse and mental health issues, the study found that women’s substance use tended to comprise of alcohol only, alcohol and medication misuse, or alcohol and poly use of a variety of substances, depending on the context, availability and circumstances. So – drugs featured, but alcohol was always at the core of the problem. This is to be expected in a country that has normalised problem alcohol use and tends not to really see alcohol for what it is – a carcinogenic, neurotoxic, teratogenic and addictive substance. 

That it’s so normalised almost lets the government get away with it- but not when they are on one hand telling us they care about domestic abuse and on the other preparing to sign laws that will increase it. 

The majority of women in the MQI study reported growing up in households where there was problem parental substance use, in most cases alcohol.  

Often there was also significant trauma experiences, within the family or wider community, which may have included direct abuse as well as exposure to violence and violent contexts. As one woman described: Well, there was a lot of trauma in my life. There was, from a young age and all, there was abuse that was very difficult growing up and my father… was an alcoholic so we lived in a house with lots of substance misuse… but there was just a lot, then growing up and been around drink all the time. 

Again, this chimes with what we know about the trauma of growing up with problem alcohol use – an adverse childhood experience that so many of our young people experience.  

There are multiple issues to consider within this research, but ultimately it points to the very close links between problem alcohol use in families and communities and the devastating consequences that ripple out from it.  

Given these very stark reports, and indeed others – an equally devastating report from Saol, found that In Ireland, in 2020, at least 11,000 women suffered the duality of hidden domestic violence and substance use within that year alone, government must rethink a move towards widening the availability of alcohol. Other jurisdictions are learning from their experiences in this area. For example, Amsterdam is placing further restrictions on alcohol consumption and earlier closures for bars. Some districts in Amsterdam had previously seen an increase of 34% in alcohol related injuries for every one-hour extension of its licensing hours. 

AAI and others have consistently raised these issues in the context of the Sale of Alcohol bill, but it appears that vested interests are seeking to question the research or undermine it, or both. This is expected from vested interests, but not from department officials and politicians. 

We are once again calling on the Minister for Justice, Simon Harris, to carry out a Health Impact Assessment of the Sale of Alcohol Bill as recommended by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice. Otherwise, it appears that the most vulnerable citizens are to be sacrificed in the name of business and a so-called ‘nighttime economy.’