COVID-19 and Mental Health (CMH) Initiative: Research

Substance Use (SU) among Women in the Context of the Corollary Pandemics of COVID-19 and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

Key Messages

Consequent to COVID response measures has been increased help-seeking for intimate partner violence (IPV) and indications of increased substance use (SU). Pandemic responses affect IPV and SU due to social isolation, ‘stay-at-home’ orders, distancing, limited service provision, unemployment, financial stress, loss of routine, additional caregiving and lack of outdoor access. Disasters are associated with IPV increases and disaster planning should include responses to IPV, trauma and mental health issues. IPV and SU are bidirectionally related but IPV impacts long term impacts on mental health, SU and trauma in women. Improved responses and interventions that address IPV and SU in the context of disasters must be developed.

Lay Summary

The links between pandemic, IPV and SU are complex. Disasters are associated with a rise in IPV, along with lasting parallel issues such as PTSD, trauma, and mental health issues. Policy responses to pandemics, such as isolation and lockdowns, exacerbate the conditions for both, as perpetrators adopt new measures to carry out IPV. SU and IPV are bidirectionally related, in that: SU among perpetrators and/or victims can accompany violence; and SU can be a lasting adaptive coping mechanism for survivors after IPV. Best practices and interventions in response to these issues in the context of pandemics and disasters are underdeveloped. The few interventions and tools in the academic and grey literatures indicate that intensive interventions reduce IPV or SU, but rarely both, and that related mental health issues such as depression and trauma require ongoing service support. Even so, the element of coercion can apply to women experiencing IPV, SU and post disaster mental health issues, and could be a promising linking concept on which to develop better training and responses for brief interventions in disasters and pandemics. Disaster related interventions and planning must incorporate effective, timely responses to IPV; first responders must be sensitive and timely in responding to IPV during disasters; health care providers must investigate presentations of either SU or IPV for both issues; and substance use responders need training in understanding and responding concurrently to SU and IPV. Ongoing mental health issues result from both SU and IPV post disaster and need to be monitored. This area requires tailored awareness raising, first responder training, and development of brief interventions, referral tools and ongoing SU and IPV training for service providers. In short, disasters often highlight a rise in IPV and/or SU and require sharpened responses from HCP, SU workers and first responders.


  • Intimate Partner Violence
  • Substance Use
  • Pandemic
  • Disaster
  • Isolation
  • Health care providers
  • First responders
  • Trauma


  • Nominated Principal Applicant: Lorraine Greaves PhD, Senior Investigator, Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health
  • Andreea Catalina Brabete
  • Lorraine Greaves
  • Lindsay Wolfson
  • Julie Stinson
  • Sarah Allen
  • Nancy Poole

For more information, please contact: Lorraine Greaves PhD,

Related Syntheses


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Vulnerable or At-Risk Populations, People Who Use Drugs (PWUD) and Substance Use


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