Drug Use and Violence: An Unhappy Relationship

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A teen boy and girl arguing.

Most of us have been in an argument. How far it goes and whether it escalates and turns violent depends on a lot of different factors—what the argument is about, the personalities of the people involved, where the fight takes place, and whether or not one or both people are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

A NIDA-funded study looked at youth who were treated in an urban emergency department because of a violence-related injury. It turns out that not all drug use leads to the same kinds of violence. This study looked specifically at whether the violence was “dating violence” or “non-dating violence” and what impact, if any, the type of drug used made.

Dating violence is controlling, abusive, and aggressive behavior in a romantic relationship. It can happen in straight or gay relationships. It can include verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or a combination.

The researchers found that teens treated in the emergency department for an injury related to dating violence were more likely to be girls than boys. There were also differences in the types of drugs used before a dating violence incident vs. non-dating violence incidents. 

For example, some youth tended to use alcohol alone or in combination with marijuana just before a non-dating violence incident occurred and tended to abuse prescription sedatives (Xanax or Valium) and/or opioids (like Vicodin and OxyContin) before a dating violence incident occurred.

This study tells us that the drug of choice may be different for boys and girls, and that girls are more likely than boys to experience dating violence. The drugs used may also be different depending on the situation (for example, being at home versus being at a bar or club). But more research is needed to learn how different drugs may make us more or less aggressive or more likely to be the victim of someone else who is using drugs or alcohol. Understanding more about this, and how gender and substance use factor into dating violence (and non-dating violence), will help public health educators develop programs to help teens who may end up in violent situations.

National Youth Violence Prevention Week is March 23–27, 2015. This is a good time to stop and think about how drugs and alcohol can play a role in violence.  

If you or someone you know is also being hurt physically or emotionally, try some of these resources: 

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Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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