Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

39P The Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence: An Examination of Research Methodology

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Mark D. Thomas, PhD, Assistant Professor, Indiana University Northwest, Gary, IN
Purpose: Of the factors that appear to be related to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), the relationship between substance abuse and IPV remains one of the most unclear. While several studies have found a significant relationship, this finding has not been consistent across the literature. Some studies have found the relationship to be mediated by other variables, while others have found no association between substance abuse and IPV. Because of this lack of consistent findings, the primary purpose of this research is to summarize and synthesize the literature related to the relationship between substance abuse and IPV in order to gain special insight into whether research methodology might play a role in the variation of findings.

Methods: A review of 43 studies was conducted. For the purposes of this research, the literature was organized into four groupings: 1) studies that found a significant relationship between substance abuse and IPV; 2) studies that found a significant, but weak relationship; 3) studies that found that mediating variables altered the relationship; and 4) studies that did not find a significant relationship between substance abuse and IPV. Points of comparison included sampling method, research design, sample size, measurement method and sample type (e.g., clinical versus general population).

Results: Of the 43 studies examined for this review, the majority (n=24) found a significant relationship between substance abuse and IPV, while 6 found a statistically significant, but weak relationship. Though these studies employed larger samples and utilized random sampling in some cases, most were cross-sectional in nature and did not control for other variables. Studies that found no significant relationship tended to utilize even less rigorous methodology. Of the 7 studies that failed to find a significant relationship, all utilized cross-sectional research designs and samples derived from community or clinical settings, and all but one utilized non-random sampling methods. Other studies (n=6) in this review found the relationship to be mediated through other variables such as the belief in male dominance over women, perpetrator jealousy, and the expectation of aggressive behavior following alcohol consumption. Though fewer in number, these studies utilized rigorous methods similar to other studies in this review such as random sampling, and large sample sizes.

Implications: These results suggest that substance abuse may play a role in IPV. However, even though the majority of studies found a significant relationship between substance abuse and IPV, we must exercise caution in interpreting their results. Though these studies were more likely to utilize rigorous research methods, other studies utilizing similar methods obtained different findings. For example, some of these studies found that the relationship between the variables may be mediated by other factors, while other studies utilizing longitudinal designs found that the relationship may not be stable over time. This suggests that cross-sectional designs may not adequately capture the true strength of the relationship. As a result, future studies should employ a longitudinal design and control for potentially mediating variables.