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5 July 2019

What Comes First: Using or Abusing?

There are more studies on the relationship between domestic violence and drug use than we can count, and many identify substance use as a factor in 40-60% of reported incidents of domestic violence.

Other significant factors to domestic violence are homelessness and mental health issues. In the general population, domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and young people. We also know that many people will not leave an abusive relationship for fear of homelessness.

Mental health issues can at times make people more vulnerable to being abused, and abusers can use mental health issues as an excuse for their abuse.

All of these factors: domestic violence, drug use, mental health issues and homelessness can lead to other serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, higher risk of heart conditions and strokes and a shorter life expectancy. If we combine all of these factors (which is often the case) we can see how important it is to get the help and support you might need.

Does it ever feel like you’re caught in a cycle of using and abusing?

This cycle might actually be real. Some people take drugs to forget the pain of being abused. The drugs then make them increasingly vulnerable to more abuse, so then they take more drugs to forget the pain of that abuse. Sound familiar?

The person abusing them may then use their drug use as a form of abuse. They can constantly put them down, saying things like “you’re just a junkie”, “you’re useless”, or “you’re a bad parent”. They may be feeding them drugs to keep them addicted, vulnerable and more reliant on them. An abuser might even take advantage of the victim when they’re on drugs, waiting until they’re out-of-it to have sex with you or take your money.

If the abuser is using drugs, they may use the drugs as an excuse for their violence. Saying “I only hurt you when I’m on drugs”, “I don’t remember hurting you because I was wasted” or “as soon as I stop using, I’ll treat you better”.

There is no excuse for abusing someone you love. If a partner only seems to abuse when they use drugs, then it is their responsibility to stop using drugs around the people they hurt. Although drugs don’t cause abusive behaviours, they can definitely make the abuse more frequent and more violent. In other words, drugs can “add fuel to the fire”. This is even more reason for an abuser to stay away when they’re using, to avoid causing very serious harm.

What are the warning signs that your partner is abusive?

Sometimes it is very obvious when a partner is abusive. If your partner hurts you, insults you, makes you do things that you don’t want to do, if you are afraid of your partner, if you feel like you are always “walking on eggshells” or tip-toeing around them then you are most likely in an abusive relationship.

Sometimes though it may not be immediately obvious, especially in a new relationship. If you’re not sure if you are in an abusive relationship, try answering these questions to find out:

  • Since being with your partner, has your self-esteem gotten worse?
  • Does your partner take their bad moods out on you?
  • Does your partner make all the decisions?
  • Does your partner try to change you?
  • Does your partner put down your friends and family and make it hard for you to see them?
  • Do they tell you that they are the only person who really loves you and will take care of you?
  • Does your partner blame others for their actions, by saying that whatever bad thing happened it is the fault of their ex/the police/their boss/their family/drugs or anyone other than themselves?

If you answered yes to any of these, you may need to take a good honest look at your relationship and how your partner treats you.

What should you do if you’re a victim of abuse?

If any of this sounds familiar and you know or think you’re in an abusive relationship, than the first most important thing that you need to know is that you deserve to be treated better. Every living being has the right to a life free from abuse, and that includes you!

Even if you love your partner, even if they have had a hard life or are doing it tough, you still deserve better and they have no right to treat you badly. If they really do love you, they would want you to be free, happy and living your best life, too.

What you need to do is leave the violence. Sometimes that means leaving the relationship for good, sometimes it means leaving the relationship for a short time, and sometimes it means leaving the cycle of violence that you have found yourself caught in.

Whatever the answer is, it is best not to try to do this alone. Strong feelings like fear, love, pain and stress can make it harder to think clearly and make wise decisions. This is why you need help from someone who is not directly involved in the relationship.

Telephone services and other domestic violence services have specialists ready to assist. They can help you figure out if you are in an abusive relationship and the best plan to keep you safe. Professionals will work with you to do what is right for you.

If you use drugs, chances are you may have second thoughts about contacting professionals. Maybe your abusive partner has even said things to you like: “No one will believe you because you’re an addict” or “If you call someone the  cops will get involved and you’ll be arrested for drugs”.

Saying this sort of thing to you is their way of controlling you and stopping you from getting the help you need.

Rest assured, domestic violence professionals are there to help you, not judge you or get you in trouble.

What if you love your abuser?

To think of people as all good or all bad is not very realistic. The person who abuses you may have a lot of good qualities, you may still have fun together and you may love them. The truth is that at the end of the day you shouldn’t be hurt by them. If your partner really does love you then they should not be hurting you.

Someone abusing you can justify their actions by saying that they only hurt you because they were drunk/high, because they are stressed, because they had a hard childhood or because you made them jealous or angry. The truth is that most people who drink or take drugs, most people who were abused as children and most people who get jealous or angry do not abuse their partner.

An abuser might even blame you for their addiction saying, “I only use because you do”, or “I used because you made me sad/angry.” They may even say things like, “if you leave me my addiction will get worse.”

Using abuse or violence is a choice. People use abuse to get what they want. Maybe they want to feel powerful, to release their stress; maybe they want you to do what they want or to feel like you are not going to leave them and that is why they try to control you. What they really need is to learn better ways to manage these emotions and to see that they don’t have a right to get whatever they want, especially if it means hurting someone else to get it.

There are programs to support people who are abusive called Behaviour Change Programs. They are groups run all across the country and they teach people to see how their behaviours hurt the people they love and how to act in relationships in respectful, caring ways.

Most groups are run for men, more specifically cisgender and heterosexual men, except for Thorne Harbour Health in Victoria who run groups for GBQ men and ACON who run groups for LGBTQ+ people of all genders. In Australia, there are no behaviour change programs for women who are not LGBTQ+, but there are services who will work with women individually to help them change their behaviours, if necessary. If you want to know more about behaviour change groups for you or someone, you can find a service here.

Finally, if you are going to get help, it might be important to keep evidence of your partner’s abuse. If you’ve been using, you can’t always rely on your memory, so save any abusive texts in a safe place, take photos of any injuries or items broken and save those somewhere the abuser cannot access, like a trusted friend to keep for you. You can show this evidence to doctors, counsellors and, if need be, the police. You may even want to collect this evidence for yourself, in case you are having any doubts later. For more information, check out our safety planning page.

In summary, here’s what you can do:

  • Remember that you deserve to feel safe in your relationship
  • Remember that even if drugs and/or alcohol involved, there is no excuse for violence.
  • If you answered yes to any of the questions in this article, visit our getting help page.
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