The relationship between intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration and substance use is not well understood. We conducted a meta-ethnography of qualitative studies to explore how substance use features in survivors’ and perpetrators’ accounts of IPV perpetration.
Qualitative studies from 1995 to 2016 were identified from PsycINFO, ASSIA and Web of Science, with an update in PsycINFO and ASSIA to December 2017. 7654 abstracts were screened for accounts of heterosexual IPV perpetration, then full-texts were screened for mentions of substance use. Key concepts from 26 qualitative studies (363 female survivors’ and 219 male perpetrators’ views) were synthesised to develop a grounded theory that put similarities and differences between studies into an interpretive order.
Six themes emerged: five related to the complex interplay between substance use and IPV perpetration in the context of intoxication, withdrawal and addiction, impact on relationship and wider dynamics of power and control and psychological vulnerabilities; a final theme related to survivors’ agency and resistance to IPV perpetration. Survivors and perpetrators noted how both intoxication and withdrawal could pre-empt IPV perpetration. Survivors, however, were more likely to see intoxication and withdrawal as part of a pattern of abusive behaviour, whereas perpetrators tended to describe a causal relationship between intoxication and discrete incidents of IPV perpetration. Irritability and frustration during withdrawal from or craving alcohol, heroin and stimulants, and/or a failure or partner refusal to procure money for drugs increased the likelihood of violence. Survivors were more likely than perpetrators to identify abuse in relation to the impact of substance use on their relationship and dynamics of power and control.
The interplay between substance use and IPV perpetration occurs at numerous contextual levels and is perceived differently by perpetrators and survivors. Behaviour change interventions must address the meanings behind divergent narratives about IPV perpetration and substance use.