GCU report highlights correlation between alcohol and domestic violence

04 December 2014

Alcohol has a significant role in IPV

Alcohol has a significant role in IPV

Two-thirds of domestic incidents involve at least one of the couple being under the influence of alcohol, researchers analysing the role of alcohol in intimate partner abuse have found.

The findings of the two-year project, funded by Alcohol Research UK, are being revealed during the Europe-wide ‘16 Days of Action’ (November 25 to December 10, between UN International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women and Human Rights Day) which highlights the issue of domestic abuse and the help that is available to anyone affected by such incidents.

The Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) research team have called for alcohol consumption and relationship conflict to be tackled as a joint intervention. However the strong beliefs in a direct causal effect of alcohol, and strong culturally shaped beliefs about men and women’s drinking, also demands that alcohol is addressed not as an individual risk factor but in terms of alcohol expectancies, related beliefs and as a gendered issue.

Working with partners including Strathclyde Police, now part of Police Scotland, the Scottish Prison Service and charities, researchers interviewed a range of participants with different levels of conflict in their relationships, collecting data from those convicted of domestic offences, plus those seeking help for relationship conflict and a general population sample, to investigate the roles of alcohol in domestic abuse situations.

Led by Professor of Forensic Psychology Liz Gilchrist and Dr Alasdair Forsyth, and supported by Dr Lana Ireland, Tim Laxton and Professor Jon Godwin, this three-phase study collected quantitative and qualitative data from police call-outs and prisoners to investigate links between drinking and relationship conflict, and also sought to explore cultural events known to co-occur with drinking and domestic violence, such as football.

Analysis of almost one quarter of a million police callouts to domestic incidents, revealed that alcohol was logged as involved in nearly 70% of these, with 61.4% of accused and 36.4% of victims being recorded as under the influence. 82.4% incidents involved a male accused and female victim (though the majority of both male and female accused were under the influence).

One focus was on the Glasgow Old Firm football fixture, which had been linked to spikes in the incidence of domestic violence locally. There are peaks in such incidents at times of contentious football matches, but also during other significant cultural events involving alcohol such as New Year’s Eve.

The project also sought to explore the use of alcohol as an excuse for domestic abuse, and to consider the evidence to support or challenge previously proposed theoretical links between domestic abuse and alcohol.

Researchers found those convicted of domestic abuse were more risky drinkers and associated their drinking with aggression more in comparison to other groups. Interviewed participants considered alcohol to have a direct effect on their behaviour and did sometimes present alcohol as an exculpatory factor.

However, alcohol’s role in conflict was not restricted to times of intoxication but extended across issues such as male entitlement to drink, control or prevention of his partner’s drinking and his spending from family budget to buy drink. When women were drinking, they were held more accountable for any relationship conflict, whilst if men were drinking they were held to be less accountable.

Dr James Nicholls, Director of Research and Policy Development at Alcohol Research UK, said: “This research provides crucial new insights into the troubling relationship between alcohol and domestic violence. It shows that alcohol is clearly a factor in incidents of domestic abuse, while reminding us that its role is complex: sometimes acting as a trigger for violence, sometimes being used as an excuse for violence, and sometimes contributing to occasions, such as ‘Auld Firm’ games, when incidents of violence increase.