Research has demonstrated that survivors of domestic violence are at greater risk for experiencing a range of mental health and substance use conditions. Yet, most are not asked about their partners’ efforts to undermine their sanity or sobriety, to control their medication and treatment, or to sabotage their recovery and access to resources and support—tactics we refer to as mental health and substance use coercion. In the spring of 2012, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) administered two pilot surveys designed to document these tactics.
Results showed that experiences of mental health and substance abuse coercion were common among hotline callers: 89% had experienced at least one of the three types of mental health coercion, and 43% had experienced at least one of the three types of substance abuse coercion. Most of the survivors who reported any type reported more than one. For example, many survivors who reported that their abusive partner called them “crazy” and did things deliberately to make them feel “crazy,” also reported that their partners threatened to undermine their credibility with authorities and discouraged or prevented them from getting help. Similarly, many survivors who reported that their abusive partners used force or pressure to get them to use substances also reported that their partners threatened to undermine them with authorities by disclosing their substance use. In other words, abusers often contributed to their partner’s mental health or substance use condition and then used that condition against their partners.
Recognizing and addressing these issues is essential to the safety and well-being of survivors and their children and has important implications for the health, mental health, substance abuse, legal, child welfare, immigration, public benefits and domestic violence advocacy systems.