Living the cycle of drinking and violence: A qualitative study of women's experience of alcohol-related intimate partner violence

Drug Alcohol Rev. 2017 Jan;36(1):115-124. doi: 10.1111/dar.12405. Epub 2016 May 19.


Introduction and aims: Heavy and binge drinking contributes to increased risk and severity of violence in intimate relationships, but its role in the initiation and escalation of intimate partner violence (IPV) is not well-understood. This study explores the dynamics of drinking and IPV from the perspectives of women with lived experience of alcohol-related IPV.

Design and methods: A qualitative constructivist grounded theory study using interviews with 18 women aged 18-50 years who experienced fear or harm from an alcohol-affected male partner. Participants were recruited from the community in Victoria, Australia.

Results: Participants experienced alcohol-related IPV as a cycle of escalating violence accompanying the male partner's progression to intoxication as follows: starting to drink (having fun); getting drunk (looking for a fight); intoxicated ('switching' to escalated violence); drunk (becoming incapacitated); hungover/coming down (becoming mean-tempered); sober (returning to 'normal' life); and craving (building up to drinking again - for dependent drinkers). Participants identified safe and unsafe stages in the cycle but feared the unpredictability of drunken violence. Participants actively managed safety through four main strategies: preventing (e.g. limiting his drinking); predicting (e.g. recognising signs); responding (e.g. avoiding arguments); and protecting (e.g. removing self and children). Anticipating abuse when a partner drinks was the central process for participants living this cycle.

Discussion and conclusions: For some women, alcohol plays a central role in the cycle of violence, abuse and fear. Alcohol-related intimate partner violence should be the focus of further research, prevention and treatment. [Wilson IM, Graham K, Taft A. Living the cycle of drinking and violence: A qualitative study of women's experience of alcohol-related intimate partner violence. Drug Alcohol Rev 2017;36:115-124].

Keywords: alcohol drinking; cycle; grounded theory; partner violence; safety.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / complications*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / epidemiology
  • Binge Drinking / complications*
  • Binge Drinking / epidemiology
  • Fear / psychology
  • Female
  • Grounded Theory
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Intimate Partner Violence / psychology
  • Intimate Partner Violence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Victoria / epidemiology
  • Young Adult