Managing Risk for Victims of Domestic Violence in Substance Recovery

Managing Risk for Victims of Domestic Violence in Substance Recovery

Substance treatment and recovery present many difficulties and high-risk events for addicted victims of domestic violence. Some of these are:

• Entry into treatment — women may be manipulated into leaving treatment by coercive partners. Women may also be prevented from entering treatment by coercive partners.

• Detox — trauma symptoms surface more acutely without substance use and during the stress of withdrawal. This may prompt the woman to leave substance treatment abruptly while in a debilitated state thus increasing her vulnerability to violence.

• Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome — women may become more vulnerable to violence due to the impairments of early abstinence that make keeping a safety plan difficult.

• Retaliation for “leaving”– battering partners may perceive treatment and sobriety as threatening and escalate code version and abuse in order to punish their partners for participating in recovery efforts.

• Family participation in treatment — batterers may intimidate during visits and meetings at treatment programs and gain “ammunition” for future abuse from therapy sessions or contact with treatment providers.

• Punishment for recovery relationships — batterers may intensify coercion and abuse in order to isolate partners from developing relationships in recovery communities.

• Using the stigma of substance treatment as a weapon of control and abuse — an example is threatening to use a woman’s substance treatment history in a child custody conflict.

• Withholding of supports — batterers may withhold child care or financial support, for example, while their partners are in substance treatment.

• Continued coercion and abuse trigger substance relapse and make successful abstinence very difficult for many victims of domestic violence.

• Batterers may coerce substance use to gain more control over recovering partners.

• Enhanced empowerment of victims in recovery may trigger escalated control and power tactics of batterers and decrease overall safety.

• Regular attendance and travel to community support groups may leave certain victims at risk for stalking, surveillance and assault.

Victims of intimate partner violence will need to incorporate safety planning into their substance recovery efforts. Some of the ways this can be done are by:

• informing treatment providers of victimization and ongoing risk
• providing identifying information and a photo of the batterer to treatment providers, treatment center personnel and recovery support people
• creating an exit plan for safety at treatment programs and support groups
• enlisting the help of recovering supports in advance in case an emergency exit plan must be implemented in treatment or at meetings
• asking treatment providers to restrict the batterer’s access by phone, visits or participation in treatment sessions
• securing appropriate restraining orders and consistently reporting violations to authorities
• entering into shelters that provide domestic violence safety while continuing substance treatment and recovery efforts

Victims of domestic violence must work simultaneously to establish safety and sobriety. Both issues are intricately intertwined and failure to attend to one of these issues will sabotage recovery efforts made to deal with the other.

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