The Shadow PandemicBy JOSEPH KERTIS
October 11, 2021
But these aren't separate issues. Not only did the Covid-19 pandemic cause the rates of addiction to skyrocket nationally, but it may have also had a profound effect on the issue of domestic violence. Growing evidence shows the pandemic has made intimate partner violence more common and often more severe. Surveys worldwide have shown domestic abuse spiking since January of 2020, jumping markedly compared to the same period in 2019.
In the U.S., police departments have reported increases in cities around the country. For example, there was a reported increase in domestic violence incidents of 18% in San Antonio, 22% in Portland, OR., and 10% in New York City. Researchers at UC Davis found that there are more things to worry and argue about as people find themselves in a more tenuous financial situation due to COVID-19. And with social distancing and other restrictions in place, each household can become a powder-keg.
The United Nations refers to this international phenomenon as a "shadow pandemic," a pandemic of abuse within the Covid-19 pandemic. But there may be a link between the two tragedies that is being overlooked: the connection between Covid, addiction, and domestic violence.
The Covid-19 pandemic markedly worsened America's addiction epidemic. The year 2020 was historic in several aspects, particularly morbidity. More than 93,000 people died from drug overdose deaths last year, the highest number ever recorded. This statistic is an indication that we're experiencing the worst addiction crisis our nation has ever seen, and the pandemic is fueling it. And domestic violence is often fueled by substance misuse.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, as much as 60% of domestic violence crimes are committed by someone with substance use disorder. Further, some form of substance use precedes nearly half of all domestic violence assaults. One report revealed that 92 percent of men who assaulted their female partners had used substances on the day of the assault.
But this phenomenon is not just restricted to the perpetrators. Around 75 percent of victims in an abusive relationship who misuse alcohol or drugs are with a partner who also abuses substances. This correlation becomes startling the more one examines it.
So, we have the Covid-19 pandemic worsening the addiction epidemic and a sharp spike in domestic violence across America. And while we may never be able to pinpoint exactly what is causing what, the three problems are obviously intertwined. Solving one may be dependent on understanding and facing the others.
There is hope that as the number of Covid cases declines and we return to some semblance of normal, drug overdose rates will decline and, subsequently, domestic violence incidents. But unfortunately, there's little evidence to suggest that things were "normal" before the pandemic.
According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths increased nationally by nearly 5% from 2018 to 2019 and have quadrupled since 1999. And opioids are the main culprit still. Over 70% of the 70,630 deaths in America in 2019 involved an opioid.
So, we haven't seen "normal" for a long time regarding substance misuse. And the same is true for domestic violence.
According to National Day Calendar, the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of women murdered by current or ex-male partners during that same time frame is 11,766. That's almost double the number of people who were killed fighting in the war. But the phenomenon of domestic violence isn't restricted to female victims. One in four men are victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.
The Covid-19 pandemic is taking its course. But behavioral pathologies like domestic violence and addiction aren't viral and will take more than a vaccine.
As outlined by Marcel Gemme, an addiction professional with addicted.org, there is a significant link between violence and substance use. "Individuals become intoxicated and or under the influence of drugs, and violent and hostile emotions come to the surface. Alcohol and other drugs act on brain mechanisms that cause a high-risk individual to engage in aggressive and violent behavior."
It's more important now than ever that people have access to lifesaving substance abuse treatment and domestic violence services. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a website where anyone can get anonymous help. There are options to call, chat, or text, as well as templates that can be used to create a "Safety Plan" for victims to lower their risk of being hurt by their partner. These tools can mean the difference between life and death for someone.