When alcohol is involved in domestic abuse, much of the evidence suggests that it is not the root cause, but rather a compounding factor, sometimes to a significant extent with research showing that alcohol use increases the occurrence and severity of domestic violence.1
Scale of the problem in Ireland
Although there are no official statistics on alcohol use and the prevalence of domestic violence in Ireland, several studies have pointed to the extent of the problem.
In 2006, the scale of domestic violence in Ireland was reported in a study by the National Crime Council in association with the Economic and Social Research Institute.2 This research found that 11% of the population experienced severe abuse described as “a pattern of behaviour that had an actual or potential severe impact on their lives”.
Findings from this survey also indicate that alcohol was involved ‘some of the time’ for 44% of respondents, ‘always’ for 27% of respondents and ‘never’ for 29%
As noted by the authors, ‘alcohol use may be more likely to lead to injury, so its role in triggering domestic abuse needs to be taken seriously’.
A report published in 2018 looking at alcohol’s harm to others also delved into how alcohol affects home life. 3
Among respondents who reported being negatively affected by the drinking of people they knew, two in every five respondents (42%) experienced alcohol-related domestic problems.
The top five domestic harms due to the drinking of known harmful drinkers were:
- Family problems
- Having felt threatened at home
- Having been shoved or pushed
- Having less money for household expenses
- Having had to leave home.
Overall, the report found that more women than men experienced harm from another’s drinking in the domestic environment (46% vs 38%).
Internationally, estimates of the occurrence of domestic abuse and alcohol vary country-wide. Europe-wide research in 2014 found that domestic violence is higher among women whose partners consume alcohol. 4
A survey of violence against women in 28 European countries, including Ireland, found that prevalence of physical and sexual violence by a current partner was significantly higher among partners of women who got drunk frequently. Prevalence of domestic violence among women whose partner doesn’t drink or doesn’t get drunk was 5%, compared to 23% amongst women whose current partner gets drunk at least once a month.
Jurisdictions such as Australia and New Zealand have carried out research on this issue calling it family violence and/or intimate partner violence.
A comprehensive study on the range and magnitude of alcohol’s harm to others in Australia, the Australian Harm to Others Report, found that 69,433 Australians were victims of alcohol-related assaults, among whom 24,581 were victims of alcohol-related domestic violence, and in 2006-07, 19,443 cases of child abuse involved alcohol.5
It also reported that that 12% of parents/carers reported that one or more of their children (u18) had been physically hurt, emotionally abused or exposed to domestic violence because of others’ drinking.
In-depth interviews of Australian women with lived experience of alcohol-related intimate partner violence demonstrated that they experience a common cycle of escalating violence, linked to the progression of intoxication by their partner. 6
A government commissioned report in New Zealand found that alcohol is linked to intimate partner violence and child maltreatment, highlighting that alcohol escalates aggressive incidents between intimate partners, that women experience more severe outcomes of violence than males when alcohol is involved and that child maltreatment is associated with alcohol use by carers and heavy alcohol use by carers is related to more severe child maltreatment outcomes. 7
The report also noted that intimate partner violence and child maltreatment are related to the density of alcohol outlets in an area.
Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing significant hardship, anxiety and stress for families. Coupled with a surge in at-home drinking, there are reports from around the world during COVID indicating that these conditions are creating an environment of heightened risk of family violence. 8
During 2020 and 2021, Alcohol Action Ireland consistently raised the issue of parental alcohol use in the home during COVID, warning of the issues that are being stored up for the future with children locked in with parents without their usual social outlets and peer supports. For children, domestic abuse can affect them directly if they are victims of abuse but also if they are a witness to violence and abuse.
The WHO states that public health agencies have a central role to play in the prevention of intimate partner violence including addressing its relationships with alcohol use. 9
Key responsibilities include to:
- Collect information on the prevalence of intimate partner violence, alcohol consumption levels and drinking patterns
- Conduct research on the links between alcohol consumption and intimate partner violence, both by victims and perpetrators, that improves understanding of risk and protective factors.
- Increase awareness regarding intimate partner violence in services addressing alcohol abuse.
- Measure information about the health, social and wider economic costs associated with alcohol-related intimate partner violence.
- Evaluate effective and cost–effective prevention strategies for reducing levels of alcohol-related intimate partner violence.
- Promote multi-agency partnerships to tackle intimate partner violence by raising awareness of the links between alcohol consumption and intimate partner violence.
- Advocate for policy and legal changes to protect victims of intimate partner violence, to reduce problematic drinking, and to exclude alcohol as a mitigating factor for violent acts.
- Ensure close links between intimate partner violence and alcohol support services, allowing those presenting at one to receive screening and referral to the other.
Given the scale of this issue and the damage it causes, it is clear that more research, data collection and policy strategies are urgently required in Ireland to tackle this issue.
- Graham K, Bernards S, Wilsnack SC, Gmel G. Alcohol May Not Cause Partner Violence But It Seems to Make It Worse: A Cross National Comparison of the Relationship Between Alcohol and Severity of Partner Violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2011;26(8):1503-1523. doi:10.1177/0886260510370596
- Watson D & Parsons S. (2006). Domestic Abuse of Women and Men in Ireland: Report on the National Study of Domestic Abuse. Dublin: National Crime Council in association with the Economic and Social Research Institute. www.crimecouncil.ie
Hope A, Barry J & Byrne S. (2018). The untold story: Harms experienced in the Irish population due to others’ drinking. Dublin: Health Service Executive. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/28839/
- Violence against women: an EU-wide survey: https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/fra-2014-vaw-survey-main-results-apr14_en.pdf
- Laslett, A.-M., Catalano, P., Chikritzhs, T., Dale, C., Doran, C., Ferris, J., … Wilkinson, C. (2010). The range and magnitude of alcohol’s harm to others. Canberra, Australia: Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation.
- Wilson I, Graham K and Taft A (2017) Living the cycle of drinking and violence: A qualitative study of women’s experience of alcohol-related intimate partner violence, Drug and Alcohol Review, 36, 115-124
- Media reports from various jurisdictions have shown an increase in domestic abuse. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/covid-19-sharp-increase-in-women-and-children-fleeing-domestic-violence-1.4404850; BBC. (2020). Coronavirus: Domestic Abuse Calls up 25% Since Lockdown, Charity Says. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk‐52157620; End Violence against Children. (2020). Protecting children during the COVID‐19 outbreak: Resources to reduce violence and abuse. Available at https://www.end‐violence.org/protecting‐children‐during‐COVID‐19‐outbreak https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s13034-020-00347-1