Fred Nyberg: "Violence in close relationships often linked to alcohol and drugs"

2021-05-03

It is obvious that the political ambition to put an end to violence against women must also include a scientifically grounded and far-sighted drug policy, writes Fred Nyberg, Professor em. in Biological Research on Drug Dependence.

Fred Nyberg, Professor em. in Biological Research on Drug Dependence.
Fred Nyberg, Professor em. in Biological Research on Drug Dependence.

Men's violence against women – and not least violence against intimate partners – have recently attracted attention in many places, not least when it comes to the recently actualised brutality that over the past month has led to several deaths in Sweden. The phenomenon is today recognised as a violation of human rights and appears as a global societal problem and a problem that greatly affects public health. It is present in all cultures in all social groups.

It is well known that violence takes different forms. According to the National Center for Women's Peace (NCK) it can be psychological, physical, sexual, material or economic violence. At NCK, it is emphasised that this type of violence aims to control and exercise power over the victim. What rarely comes up in the debate, however, is the fact that a large part of this violence is carried out under the influence of drugs.

That there is a causal link between the use of force against one's close partner and the use of drugs is scientifically confirmed. Several studies have shown that men with substance abuse are at clearly higher risk of using violence against their close partner. There is evidence that up to eighty percent of intimate partner violence is associated with drug abuse. In this context, alcohol has played a central role, but recent years' research has documented that drug-classified substances are taking an increasing place in the use of violence. Including heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis.

A recent study conducted by American researchers showed that a large proportion of those who committed violence against intimate partners frequently used cannabis in larger quantities and this was confirmed by positive results in urine tests. The greater the amount and frequency of use of the drug by the perpetrators, the greater the degree of both psychological and physical violence. Other studies have shown that the link between cannabis use and partner violence remains even if one excludes contributions from alcohol consumption and an antisocial personality disorder.

Methamphetamine in the form of crystal ice is another drug that in several countries has been linked to violence against intimate partners. It is central stimulant, highly addictive and can trigger a violent behavior of the user. A recently published report from the Australian Institute of Criminology pointed out that inmates who were addicted to methamphetamine showed a significantly higher propensity to commit violence against close partners than those inmates who used the drug without being addicted. The same pattern was noted for inmates who were addicted to cannabis.

Some years ago, there was a report of widespread violence against women in Stockholm's drug user environment. Studies at inner city restaurants showed that many of the women who have been abused are homeless and suffer from mental illness. Causes of violence were explained by men's drug abuse, crime, mental illness, unfinished studies and unemployment. Decisive incentives for violence against the intimate partner were thus seen to be the perpetrator's education, professional status and not least drug abuse.

A recent study by Spanish researchers showed that perpetrators of intimate relationships showed significantly higher and longer-term use of drugs – alcohol, cannabis, cocaine and heroin – and also a markedly impaired cognitive ability than non-violent people. The most frequent drug use over time was shown to be linked to the most marked deterioration in cognitive capacity and the most severe violence to which their intimate partners were subjected.

All these studies and also a large number of others confirm that alcohol and several of today's most common and most used narcotics can have a strong connection with the currently notorious deadly violence against women. Against this background, striving for a decriminalisation and legalisation of drug possession and use seems more backward-looking than far-sighted. Even if the addicted user benefits from avoiding legal consequences for their use, it can be very risky for female partners with the above-mentioned violent drugs in the pocket or inside the brain of a man close. Here, today's young politicians with the ambition of legalising drugs should definitely think again. It is obvious that the political ambition to put an end to violence against women must also include a scientifically grounded and far-sighted drug policy.

Fred Nyberg, Uppsala University
professor e.m, Biological Research on Drug Dependence
Senior advisor, U-FOLD

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Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt, the text was previously published in Upsala Nya Tidning

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Last modified: 2021-06-22