Opioid Abuse Blamed for Dating Violence

Posted on January 17th, 2014

Dating violence is one of the terms used to describe physical, sexual or psychological violence that occurs between people involved in a dating or intimate relationship. Other terms used for these same acts include domestic violence and intimate partner violence. In a study published in January 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from several institutions explored the impact of drug and alcohol use on the risks for dating violence in teenagers and young adults. For comparison’s sake, these researchers also explored the impact of drug and alcohol use on non-dating-related violence in the same age groups.

Dating Violence Basics

Although dating violence is synonymous with intimate partner violence, public health officials and researchers tend to use the term dating violence when focusing on intimate violence that takes places among teenagers rather than adults. According to the results of a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention project called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, roughly 9 percent of U.S. high schoolers experience dating violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend. In addition, when the histories of adults affected by intimate partner violence are examined, about 20 percent of women and 14 percent of men first experienced such violence as preteens or teenagers between the ages of 11 and 17. This fact underscores the long-term impact of dating violence, which can also contribute to an escalation in short- and long-term risks for problems that include involvement in other forms of physical violence, participation in a dangerous form of alcohol consumption called binge drinking and substandard academic performance.

Compared to adults, teenagers typically have relatively poorly developed communication and reasoning skills. In addition, their experience with dating and intimate relationships is likely to be quite limited. In combination with a range of additional factors, including cultural and social influences that emphasize the effectiveness of violence, these underdeveloped communication and dating skills may help set the stage for acts of dating violence. Teens specifically at risk for either committing or experiencing this type of violent behavior include individuals who simultaneously maintain multiple intimate relationships, bully others in the present, bullied others in the past, have violent friends, have problems with impulse or frustration control, have symptoms of depression or anxiety, perform poorly at school, have peers who perpetrate or receive dating violence, don’t receive adequate parental oversight or live in violent communities or households.

Impact of Substance Use

In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from five University of Michigan-affiliated institutions and the Serious Mental Illness Treatment Research Evaluation Center explored the connection between substance use and dating violence among a group of 575 teenagers and young adults with an average age of 20. The researchers also explored the connection between substance use and non-dating violence in the same group. All of the participants were emergency room patients with a history of recent substance use. The researchers asked each of these individuals to track his or her involvement in dating violence at the beginning of the study, then again six months later and one year later. After receiving this information, they collated it with each participant’s pattern of substance intake.

Upon completing their analysis, the researchers concluded that about half of the acts of dating violence in their sample group occurred shortly after some form of substance use. Overall, the substances most likely to be used prior to an act of intimate violence were prescription opioid medications and prescriptions sedatives. However, when girls or young women committed these acts, the combination of alcohol and marijuana was used much more frequently. Roughly 40 percent of the non-dating-related acts of violence in the sample group also occurred in the aftermath of substance use. The substances most likely to play a role here were alcohol or a combination of alcohol and marijuana. Study participants from both genders typically cited jealousy or an angry or foul mood as a reason for engaging in dating violence. Motivations for the participants involved in non-dating violence included a desire to seek revenge, respond to rumors or help a friend who had previously been attacked.

Significance and Considerations

The authors of the study published in Addictive Behaviors were struck by the complex combination of gender and substance use that plays a role in dating violence. Based on their findings, they recommend that public health officials seeking to prevent or intervene in this type of violence create targeted campaigns that fit each gender and relevant substance instead of addressing the problem in a more general manner.

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