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Domestic Violence before and after Alcoholism Treatment: A Two-Year Longitudinal Study

Timothy J. O'Farrell, Valerie Van Hutton, Christopher M. Murphy

Objective: An initial study of 88 male alcoholics and their wives had shown that domestic violence decreased significantly in the year following a behavioral marital therapy (BMT) alcoholism treatment program (see J. Cons. Clin. Psychol. 63: 256-262, 1995). To determine if violence reductions were stable, the present study examined domestic violence during the second year following BMT for the 75 (of the original 88) couples who provided 2-year follow-up data on violence. Method: The prevalence and frequency of domestic violence were assessed for 75 male alcoholics and their wives at entry to and at 1 and 2 years after completing BMT. Data on frequency and consequences of alcoholics' drinking were collected for the 2-year follow-up period. Comparison rates of domestic violence for a demographically matched nonalcoholic sample were derived from a nationally representative survey of violence in American families. Results: Husband-to-wife violence occurred in nearly two-thirds of cases in the year before BMT. For both the first and second year after BMT, violence was significantly reduced and the extent of violence was associated with the extent of the alcoholics' drinking. Frequency of posttreatment drinking was positively correlated with violence, and remitted alcoholics no longer had elevated domestic violence levels when compared with matched controls whereas relapsed alcoholics did. Analyses using various assumptions about violence for the 13 cases without violence data showed that sample attrition did not invalidate the present results. Conclusions: These results indicate that domestic violence decreased after BMT alcoholism treatment. Further, among remitted alcoholics, violence returned to the level experienced by other American families, in the same way that other aspects of marital, family and psychosocial functioning improve after successful treatment of alcoholism. (J. Stud. Alcohol 60: 317-321, 1999)