Its well known that alcohol has a correlation with intimate partner violence (IPV) with many studies over the years showing this relationship. Alcohol is an aggravator of IPV because of its dis-inhibitory effect on aggression, suppression of a person’s ability to negotiate and navigate volatile situations, while increasing lack of self-control. The United Nations Population Fund recent estimates suggest that at least 15 million cases of IPV will occur due to COVID-19 lock-down measures; and with alcohol sales increasing drastically across the globe during lock-down, there’s bound to be a connection between the two. For relationships already suffering domestic abuse during the pandemic, alcohol adds fuel to the fire, but with all the other stressful factors caused by COVID-19, new cases of violence and abuse could emerge. Alcohol and IPV not only have a relationship with the perpetrator and violence incidents, but also with the victim and their increased likelihood of alcohol abuse.
Alcohol consumption by the abuser during lock-down:
Since we already know alcohol can aggravate domestic violence, when combined with the isolation, stress, economic anxiety, and unemployment caused by the pandemic and shelter in place orders, perpetrators are more likely to turn to abusive behaviors, taking out stress and anger on their partners. Not only does the rate of abuse increase with alcohol consumption, but also the severity of abuse. With bars and restaurants closed due to lock-down measures, abusers must drink at home, while victims are unable to leave and get away from them, increasing the risk of IPV.
A core component of IPV is the perpetrator controlling and isolating their victim, which the pandemic has created perfect conditions for. Women trapped at home may be unable to call for help due to their abusers’ constant surveillance of their daily actions and phone and/or social media.
Another worrisome fact is that gun sales are also increasing. This fact, combined with increased alcohol consumption, makes the risk of domestic violence related homicide a growing concern. There are already reports across the globe of intimate partner homicides related to factors due to the pandemic.
IPV and lock-down increasing women’s alcohol abuse:
For women in abusive relationship who have alcohol disorders, the pandemic may be worsening their dependence or likelihood of relapse. Victims of IPV are twice as likely to consume alcohol than their partner who perpetrated the abuse according to a study published by the Institute of alcohol studies. This could be due to how women use alcohol as a means of self-medicating to numb the pain of abuse. Increased IPV and other anxieties already heightened by the pandemic lead to more victim’s turning to alcohol to cope. For recovering addicts such stressors could lead to their relapse during lock-down.
Furthermore, institutions where victims tend to seek emotional support and moments of freedom from their abusers are now closed, taking away healthy coping mechanisms that reduce alcohol use. It is a Catch-22 situation: COVID-19 stressors increase alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, this alcohol consumption increases violence against their partner, this violence increases emotional stress, and thus alcohol consumption by the victim. A difficult cycle to stop.
For women with alcohol dependencies, an abuser may use alcohol as a method of control, maintaining and enabling the addiction. Financial hardships increase this control if a woman is unable to seek help on her own because of economic or job loss.
Has banning alcohol during lock-down helped?
Though most countries that have banned alcohol sales during lock down did so for social distancing purposes, a few others implemented bans for the sole purpose of curbing domestic violence. It’s difficult to tell whether such measures have helped due to the many factors associated with IPV, but multiple reports have shown continued increases in IPV during the pandemic even with alcohol bans. One example being India, where there was a four-fold increase in domestic violence calls from women after their husbands lost their jobs. While with the alcohol ban, there was no significant difference in the number of women seeking treatment due to IPV at hospitals. One program director exclaimed, “There is no difference in their [husbands] treatment of women really. They would abuse the women when they had alcohol, and now they are abusing them because they don’t.” This sentiment portrays the idea that the root causes of IPV need to be address, rather than just blaming alcohol.
Repercussions that could continue after the pandemic:
The increase in alcohol consumption and IPV during COVID-19 could lead to many consequences that continue on even after the pandemic ends. Unintended pregnancies due to sexual violence could prevent a woman from leaving an abusive relationship. The consequences of alcohol abuse increase among IPV victims could persist as well. If a woman does try to leave the relationship after lock-down ends, it could result in her death since most intimate partner homicides happen when the women tries to leave. With so many unknowns on how exactly the pandemic will negatively impact outcomes of IPV, communities need to be prepared with initiatives to support these women during these times as well as afterward.
Campbell, A. M. (2020). An increasing risk of family violence during the Covid-19 pandemic: Strengthening community collaborations to save lives. Forensic Science International: Reports, 2, 100089. doi: 10.1016/j.fsir.2020.100089
Centre for Public Health. (2006). Intimate partner violence and alcohol [Fact sheet]. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/factsheets/fs_ intimate.pdf
Domestic Abuse and Women’s Alcohol Issues. (2020, April 15). Retrieved from https://www.alcohol.org/women/domestic-abuse-and-alcoholism/
Flair, L. N. L., Bradshaw, C. P., Storr, C. L., Green, K. M., Alvanzo, A. A. H., & Crum, R. M. (2012). Intimate Partner Violence and Patterns of Alcohol Abuse and Dependence Criteria Among Women: A Latent Class Analysis. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 73(3), 351–360. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2012.73.351
Institute of Alcohol Studies. (2014). Alcohol, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault. London.
Srivastava, R., & Harrisberg, K. (2020, May 5). Will lockdown alcohol bans affect domestic violence? Retrieved from https://news.trust.org/item/20200505191710-1niva
Stanley, M. (2020, May 9). Why the Increase in Domestic Violence During COVID-19? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/making-sense-chaos/202005/why-the-increase-in-domestic-violence-during-covid-19