Substance Use as a Coping Mechanism for Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: Implications for Safety and Service Accessibility

Gezinski, L.B., Gonzalez-Pons, K.M., & Rogers, M.M. (2021).
Violence Against Women, 27(2), 108 – 123.
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Expanded Abstract: 

Survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) are often facing complex challenges that make intervention difficult, including substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health (MH) issues. Moreover, service providers have reported that SUD and MH-needs themselves represent barriers to safely engaging with survivors in IPV services (Martin, Moracco, Chang, Council, & Dulli, 2008; Murray et al., 2015).

This study examined substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health (MH) among 102 survivors of intimate partner violence. Both survivors and service providers emphasized SUD and MH as top priorities and reported a high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem coupled with increasing rates of heroin, methamphetamine, and pharmaceutical abuse among survivors.

The present study supports past research that has underscored the impact of IPV on trauma and SUD. However, service providers reported being unable to meet the needs of survivors struggling with these issues, echoing previous research (Lyon et al., 2008). Furthermore, service providers reported experiencing a double bind, weighing the needs of survivors with SUD against the safety of other survivors in shelter as well as DV shelter staff, findings reflected by Martin et al. (2008) and Murray et al. (2015). Survivors and service provider participants alike relayed the toll unaddressed trauma has on survivors, including decreased physical functioning in terms of sleeping and eating habits, as well as a decrease in cognitive functioning, findings that affirm the impact of trauma on physical and MH (Afifi et al., 2009; Bonomi et al., 2009).

Themes emerging from this study included (a) trauma impacts functioning, (b) substances as coping strategy, (c) weighing safety against need, (d) lacking SUD and MH services, and (e) need for comprehensive and culturally specific resources. The scarcity of resources to support IPV survivors nationally demands the integration of health care, social services, and clinical treatment programs to collaboratively support clients in shelter settings as a means to maximize resources and holistically address survivors’ needs.

(The expanded abstract is excerpted and adapted from the article cited above)