Roles of alcohol in intimate partner abuse

Elizabeth Gilchrist, Lana Ireland, Alasdair Forsyth, Tim Laxton, Jon Godwin

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


There is little available evidence relating to the measurement of alcohol use in IPV relationships (McMurran & Gilchrist, 2008). This mixed-method, multi-phase project aimed to unpick some of the complicated roles that alcohol appears to have in intimate partner abuse. The study did not set out to focus on male to female abuse but the data available resulted in this being the focus.The mixed-method design comprised three phases:Phase 1 involved secondary data, incorporating statistical analysis of cases from Strathclyde Police’s databases which provided details of almost a quarter of amillion police call-outs to domestic incidents.Phase 2 involved 80 quantitative interviews with three groups who were termed as follows; the ‘convicted’ (male prisoners - including both those convicted ofdomestic offence and general offenders’), the ‘conflicted’ (mainly female clientsof agencies dealing with domestic issues – comprising those who might beconsidered as ‘victims’/survivors of domestic problems), and the ‘contented’ (male community football players – envisaged to be experiencing general population levels of relationship conflict). All three groups received the same questionnaire pack which included three validated screening tools that assess alcohol and/or violence risk, specificallyThe Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT),The Alcohol Related Aggression Questionnaire (ARAQ)The revised Conflict Tactics Inventory (CTS2) (Phase2); (Phase3).Phase 3 involved semi-structured one-to-one digitally recorded qualitativeinterviews with a subset of the prisoner group who had completed thequestionnaire pack from Phase2.The police records phase indicated that most domestic call-outs involved alcoholuse in some way (usually with the accused being recorded as ‘under theinfluence’), with alcohol often being noted at more serious cases (those resulting in a crime being recorded, or physical violence).In the questionnaire phase, screening tool scores indicated high levels of riskyalcohol use, alcohol-related aggression, and partner conflict among prisoners.Partner conflict, but not alcohol use, was also high amongst the agency clients.The qualitative interview phase indicated a high rate of problematic alcohol use in prisoners’ family backgrounds, and conscious awareness of the effects of alcohol use in enabling violent behaviour and criminality. Also that participants considered alcohol to have a direct effect on their behaviour and did present alcohol as an exculpatory factor, sometimes. However multiple roles by which alcohol use may influence partner conflict were reported (not just intoxicated violence) including male entitlement to drink and alcohol spend harming limited family budgets.There were clear indications that cultural, sub-cultural, familial and contextualinfluences on gender and alcohol use were intertwined, for example that whenwomen were drinking they were held more accountable for any relationshipconflict (victim blaming), whilst if men were drinking they were held to be lessaccountable (accused excusing).We conclude that alcohol is a correlate of domestic abuse and thus does need tobe addressed. The high levels of alcohol consumption in our convicted sample, and relationship conflict in our conflicted and convicted samples suggests that joint intervention might be appropriate for those experiencing relationship conflicts. However the strong beliefs in a direct causal effect of alcohol, and strong culturally shaped and gendered 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.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUK
PublisherAlcohol Change UK
Commissioning bodyAlcohol Research UK
Number of pages61
VolumeAlcohol Insight
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2014


  • domestic abuse
  • alcohol
  • Scotland


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