Co-existing parental alcohol misuse and parental domestic abuse

As far as possible this area of the website focuses on co-existing parental alcohol misuse and parental violence and aggression. However, there is very literature research literature, and very few examples of practice and policy that have considered these issues together. Much of what we have written about living with either parental alcohol misuse or parental domestic abuse will also apply to this section of the website where we consider children who live with both problems. Therefore, it will be useful for people to read these pages alongside the website pages that deal separately with each issue as we have tried as far as possible to avoid overlap and repetition.


Parental problem drinking and parental domestic abuse can cause havoc for families. Other areas of this website have summarised the problems that children and young people can experience when they live with parental alcohol misuse or parental violence and aggression.  

Read more on parental alcohol misuse 
Read more on parental domestic abuse

Unfortunately, it is very common for parental alcohol misuse and parental domestic abuse to co-exist within the same families. Further, there are usually many other problems also present in these families (for example, use of illicit or prescription drugs, mental health problems, unemployment or social exclusion and deprivation). The type of problems that are experienced, and how this can make children and young people feel, are very similar regardless of the risky environment in which the child or young person lives. In other words, problems can arise in the areas of health, education performance, relationships, family environment, parenting and emotions. However, a common finding is that it can often be the aggression and disharmony that is present, rather than problem drinking itself, which causes more disruption for children and young people and increases the risk of harm. Nonetheless, the evidence suggests that living with alcohol misuse and violence, and other problems, can be a ‘double jeopardy’ for many children and young people:

Research suggests that both parental domestic violence and substance misuse individually increase the risk posed to children, not only of immediate significant harm, but of longer-term negative consequences. If the two factors are experienced together the danger is compounded and consequently the risk of harm is significantly increased. Evans D in Harbin & Murphy, 2006 p74

When domestic violence and parental drug or alcohol misuse coexisted the effect on all aspects of children’s lives was more serious. Cleaver, Nicholson, Tarr & Cleaver, 2006; Executive Summary p5

However, despite the frequency with which it is believed such problems co-exist, very little work has been undertaken to gain a greater understanding of what it is like for these children and young people. Similarly, very few services or interventions exist which can respond to the dual or multiple and complex needs that many of these children, young people and families can present with.

In 2007 ENCARE completed a research project where 5 ENCARE countries (Germany, England, Poland, Malta and Spain) interviewed young people aged 12-18 years about what it was like to live with both problems. Data from this study will be included in this section of the website as appropriate

You may download the ALC-VIOL report from here

Whilst, separately, the issues of parental alcohol misuse and parental violence and aggression are important issues internationally, and across Europe, very little research or policy directive has highlighted the need to consider the co-existence of both issues, how this can impact upon children (and their families) and the subsequent practice and policy responses. For example, the United Nations Secretary General’s Study on Violence Against Children [Launched 20 November 2006] includes a chapter on violence against children in the home and family; however, there is virtually no mention of the link between violence and the common co-existence of alcohol (or drug) misuse.

A causal relationship?

Any behaviour committed in the context of alcohol consumption, violent or otherwise, results from interaction between factors relating to the individual, to the immediate environment and to the alcohol consumed. Research indicates that alcohol is best seen as contributing to violent behaviour, rather than causing it…..Further, the role of alcohol is likely to be multifaceted…. › Link to source (page 4)

Parental alcohol misuse and parental domestic abuse commonly co-exist. The relationship between parental alcohol misuse and abuse is a highly complex one, particularly as other problems are often also present. There are ongoing debates about whether there is a ‘causal’ link between the two behaviours, as it is commonly agreed that such a causal link takes blame away from the perpetrator. Whilst it is recognised that there are strong associations between the two behaviours, with alcohol consumption more likely to predict violent or aggressive behaviour, and with both adult perpetrators and victims more likely to consume alcohol, the evidence favours that one behaviour does not ‘cause’ the other and that alcohol consumption does not negate blame to the perp.

It is also important to highlight here that, whilst a victim of abuse may be more vulnerable if they drink or take drugs, they are not to blame for the behaviour inflicted upon them. People who are violent and aggressive will usually behave in those ways whether or not they consume alcohol (or take drugs), though drinking alcohol may increase the likelihood of abuse occurring and may make that likelihood more frequent and more extreme.

Reading by Leonard, Galvani and Humphreys et al. further explore this debate. The Galvani paper contains a useful summary of the key theories that have debated the relationship between alcohol and violence.

Useful reading 

Evans D (2006). Children, Alcohol and Family Violence. In Harbin F & Murphy M (2006) (Eds). Secret lives: growing with substance. Working with children and young people affected by familial substance misuse. Lyme Regis; Russell House Publishing; p55-79.

Galvani S (2004). Responsible Disinhibition: Alcohol, Men and Violence to Women. Addiction Research and Theory 12 (4); 357-374.

Humpreys C, Regan L, River D & Thiara RK et al. (2005). Domestic Violence and Substance Use: Tackling Complexity. British Journal of Social Work 35; 1303-1320.

Leonard KE (2002). Alcohol’s role in domestic violence: a contributing cause of an excuse? Acta Psychiattr Scand 106(412); 9-14.

Velleman R & Reuber D (2007). Domestic Violence and Abuse experienced by Children and Young People living in Families with Alcohol Problems. Results from a Cross-European Study. ›› Download it from here