The Role of Coping and Problem Drinking in Men's Abuse of Female Partners: Test of a Path Model

Article excerpt

This article examines the relationship of coping and problem drinking to men's abusive behavior towards female partners. While previous research has demonstrated a consistent association between problem drinking and male abuse of intimate partners, virtually no studies have assessed the role of coping in relation to men's violence. Furthermore, multivariate studies have not examined how these factors operate together to increase risk for abusive behavior. An ethnically diverse sample of 147 men in a court-mandated program for domestic violence offenders completed questionnaires at the first session. Path modeling was conducted to test the extent to which coping and problem drinking predicted both physical and psychological abuse. In addition, the relationships of problem drinking and physical abuse to injury of the men's female partners were examined. Results indicated that both the use of avoidance and problem-solving coping to deal with relationship problems were related indirectly to abusive behavior through problem drinking. Greater use of avoidance coping strategies was more likely among problem drinkers. By contrast, men who used higher levels of problem-solving coping were less likely to be problem drinkers. Avoidance, but not problem-solving coping also was directly and positively related to physical and psychological abuse. Men identified as problem drinkers were more likely to use both physical and psychological abuse. Finally, greater use of physical violence was strongly related to higher levels of injury among female partners, and served to mediate the relationship between problem drinking and injury. Results are discussed in terms of their contribution to the identification of risk and protective factors for men's violent behavior toward intimate female partners and implications for developing intervention strategies.

Keywords: coping; problem drinking; men's abuse; injury

Interventions for men who abuse their female partners have emerged over the past two decades, and program approaches and strategies are continually being developed and refined (Gondolf, 1999). While extant research suggests that participation in such programs may reduce to some degree the rates of men's rearrest or reassault (Babcock & Steiner, 1999; Gondolf, 1997), there still is no decisive evidence supporting one particular program model over others (Gondolf, 2000; Violence Against Women & Family Violence Publications, 2002). In fact, in a recent meta-analysis of 22 studies examining the treatment efficacy of programs for domestically violent men (Babcock, Green, & Robie, 2004), interventions in general were found to have small effects on reducing recidivism and no differences emerged in the effectiveness of the different program models compared. We propose that one way to improve intervention programs for abusive men is to address specific risk and protective factors that may be important predictors of physical and psychological abuse, such as avoidance and problem-solving coping, or problem drinking (Gleason, 1997; Okun, 1986; Russell, 1988). Moreover, further research that employs multivariate designs that allow for the simultaneous examination of the interrelationships among these variables and abuse is particularly needed (Holtzworth-Munroe, Bates, Smutzler, & Sandin, 1997). Use of such designs provides a basis for determining the relative contribution of multiple variables to the occurrence of a given behavior or other type of outcome (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001), in this case, men's abusive behavior.

The present study uses path modeling to examine the role of coping strategies and problem drinking in men's abusive behavior towards female partners. In addition, the relationships of men's physical abuse and problem drinking to injury of their female partners are assessed. While numerous studies have found high rates of alcohol use among men who are abusive, no attention has been given to examining the relationship between men's coping strategies and their commission of abusive behavior. …