The impact of co-occurring adversities: Childhood Domestic Violence and Substance abuse

There isn’t a great deal of research that deep-dives into the impact of growing up with Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV) when there is also another major adversity or multiple other adversities, like  substance abuse or child abuse

There isn’t a great deal of research that deep-dives into the impact of growing up with Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV) when there is also another major adversity or multiple other adversities, like  substance abuse or child abuse. Is it temporary, or does it linger for life? Does it cause the impacted child to later repeat the same patterns in their own future relationships?  

The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) back in 2005 conducted a study that revealed some eye-opening data about the dyad of substance abuse and violence in the home, plus some additional data about the co-occurrence of other major adversities. The key data points are summarized below: 

  • At least 40 million children live in homes where the primary caretaker is addicted to alcohol or other drugs.
  • Children whose parents abuse substances are almost 3 times more likely to be abused and 4 times more likely to be neglected. 
  • Up to 675,000 children per year suffer serious abuse or neglect as a result of that substance abuse.
  • 2 out of 3 cases of child abuse have a co-occurrence of domestic violence and substance abuse.
  • Children in homes with domestic violence are abused or neglected at a rate 15 times higher than the national average.

The study also highlights an eye-opening list of symptoms a child may experience living with CDV and substance abuse, broken down by age group. The comprehensive list of effects on a child’s well-being is sobering, often creating a snowball effect where the symptoms grow and new ones are added on, impacting both a child’s mental and physical well-being on many levels.

The children that grow up in these conditions will often develop a false belief system that mirrors their feelings. This belief system includes shame, distrust and fear. This environment also suggests to a child that how their family lives  is normal – that violence is acceptable and has no consequence, plus that substance use is a necessity to manage and cope with negative emotions. This foreshadows a troubling pattern for the future relationships of these children – namely a danger of repeating the violence and substance abuse in their adult relationships and passing the cycle on to the next generation. 

The full IDHS study provides more in-depth information about how CDV and substance abuse feed off each other in these households and what can be done to usher in better solutions.

The full piece, “Children Dually Exposed to Batterers and Parental Substance Abuse”, on the Illinois Department of Human Services website, can be viewed here. (https://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=38483)

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