Does Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Affect Men's Likelihood of Committing Intimate Partner Violence?

A concerned young man.

Examining the Association between Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration” (abstract). Josephine W. Hahn, Etiony Aldarondo, Jay G. Silverman, Marie C. McCormick, and Karestan C. Koenen. Journal of Family Violence, Vol. 30, No. 6 (August 2015).

What it’s about: Hahn and her colleagues wanted to know whether men who experience post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, are more likely to commit intimate partner violence, or IPV, against a female partner. To find out, they used data from two waves of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, or NESARC. That survey captured a number of data points for nearly 12,000 men, including self-reports of PTSD and whether or not participants had committed IPV by phsyically hurting a partner, forcing them to have sex, or threatening them with a weapon. NESARC respondents also shared basic demographic information like age and income, along with self-reports of co-occurring mental health outcomes, including major depressive disorder and substance use disorder.

Why read it: Past research has shown a link between family and relationship violence—experiences that may lead to PTSD—and becoming a victim or perpetrator of IPV. The majority of these studies, Hahn et al. write, have focused on U.S. veterans. Their study, in contrast, is among the first to demonstrate a strong positive relationship between experiencing PTSD and committing IPV among a more representative group of U.S. males. The researchers add that their study addresses previous research limitations by including information about drug use and mental health outcomes in the analysis.

Biggest takeaways from the research: The authors outline two main findings from their study, namely:

  • PTSD was linked to higher rates of IPV: Men who reported experiencing PTSD were more likely to engage in IPV than those who did not, regardless of age, race/ethnicity, education, income, and poverty.
  • Mental health disorders were also linked to higher rates of IPV: Men who said they have major depressive disorder or a substance use disorder were more likely to engage in IPV compared to men without these disorders. Among participants who reported both disorders, however, major depressive disorder did not strongly predict violence against an intimate partner. This finding could indicate that of the two disorders, substance use plays a more significant role in committing IPV, the authors write.

These findings may be limited by the NESARC's use of self-reporting, which could lead participants to under-report instances of PTSD and IPV, the authors share. Additionally, the most severe IPV perpetrators may not have been included in the study due to detention or incarceration.

Lastly, Hahn et al. highlight the need for trauma-informed care among programs that seek to prevent and reduce IPV. More research is needed, they argue, to explore these connections among diverse community samples, relationships, and age groups, and to assess further the impact of mental health disorders such as depression and drug use on future violence.

Additional references: Look for more articles about post-traumatic stress disorder and intimate partner violence in NCFY’s research library.

Read “Primary Sources: Surveying the Latest Research on Intimate Partner Violence.”

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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