There’s a deep connection between domestic violence, substance use

Alcohol, drugs can intensify violence; be used to control victims

SAN ANTONIO – Domestic violence and substance abuse are two very serious societal issues. However, many people don’t know that the two are deeply connected.

Domestic violence survivor Sarah Martinez was in an abusive relationship 10 years ago with the father of two of her children.

“I still believe that he would have killed me if I stayed with him,” she said.

Martinez added, “it was just bad torture. Physical and emotional. I’m just grateful to be out of it, though,” she said.

It wasn’t just abuse. Drugs were in the picture, as well.

“He was doing it around me, and then he told me, ‘Just try it.’ So then I tried it. Then I got tangled into that, and I couldn’t get out of that relationship,” Martinez said.

It’s something that’s extremely common.

The American Addiction Centers report alcohol or drug use is involved in 40% to 60% of domestic abuse situations.

Substances can cause someone to be more abusive, but experts want to be clear: it’s never an excuse for violence.

“It’s a matter of choice. There are people who abuse alcohol, people who abuse drugs and don’t abuse their partners,” said Alberto Bustamante, the children’s services director at Family Violence Prevention Services.

Bustamante said abusers often use drugs to keep victims under control.

“If I medicate my partner, then she will be easier to handle. If I medicate my partner, she will fight less,” he explained.

Bustamante also said drug or alcohol use could be used to threaten victims.

“Saying, ‘If you happen to go to the cops and tell them that I’m abusing you, guess what? I’m going to tell them you’re using, and they’re going to take the kids away from you because you’re an unfit parent,’” Bustamante explained.

That’s precisely what happened to Martinez.

“He’s the one who introduced me to it, but since I got away from him, he ended up using that against me. He was the one who called CPS against me,” Martinez said, referring to the father of her children.

Sadly, it worked, and she lost custody of her children.

“I checked myself into rehab, and I changed my life for my kids. I did it for them,” Martinez said.

Martinez is now clean and sober and has regained custody of her kids.

She said it’s proof that getting out is possible.

“I want to help other women because I know how much it feels to need help,” she said.

Family Violence Prevention Services staff members hope anyone in this situation will reach out to them.

FVPS partners with other organizations in the community that can help with substance use.

Bustamante also said fixing the problem means addressing the children involved to stop the cycle of violence.

“Just exposure to violence -- not necessarily being a victim directly themselves -- the likelihood of them growing up to be either a victim or perpetrator exponentially grows,” he said.

Bustamante wants victims to know they can bring their kids to the FVPS shelter or utilize any of the organization’s resources.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, there is help.

Contact Family Violence Prevention Services at (210) 733-8810, or visit their website.

You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or chat with a counselor on their website.

There is also a long list of resources on KSAT’s Domestic Violence page.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.