February, the month mostly connected to love and friendship. February also happens to be Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

It is unfortunate that both love and friendships could have any connection to dating violence, yet “one in five teens in a dating relationship report being hit, slapped, or pushed by their partner” (loveisrespect.org).

In the state of Texas, one-third of teens report experiencing some kind of abuse in their romantic relationships, including verbal and emotional abuse, according to data from the Texas Advocacy Project. In addition to the psychological, physical, emotional, sexual, there is also a statistical correlation to substance abuse by the abuser and the victim. Eighty-seven percent of domestic violence program directors agree that the risk of intimate partner violence increases when both partners use/abuse alcohol or drugs, according to the National Council Against Domestic Violence.

Substance abuse has been found to co-occur in 40-60 percent of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Although alcohol and substance abuse can increase the possibilities of violence, and make it worse it is not an excuse. In addition, victims of abusive relationships have often reported being pressured into consuming alcohol or other drugs. The reason for this is that perpetrators can use alcohol or drugs as a way to disable their victims, and make it easier for them to facilitate the act, whether it be a sexual assault or some other form of violent act, says David Lisak, an American clinical psychologist. Sexual assault and/or physical abuse victims may use alcohol or drugs to numb or escape from painful memories or PTSD symptoms (Caron Treatment Centers).

Although there is no quick solution to teen dating violence, there are a few reminders that individuals considering a relationship may want to keep in mind. When starting a relationship, set boundaries, emotionally and physically. Be okay with saying no if something makes you feel uncomfortable, or you are simply not ready. Try to avoid settings that include heavy binge drinking, or use of other drugs, such as house parties, clubs, bars, troubled and negative acquaintances, especially during the beginning of the relationship, or if you see it becoming the constant. Remember, there are other ways to have a good time with a significant other, that do not involve alcohol or drugs.

As a community, what can we do to address the issue? A starting point would be to educate our youth on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, mentally, physically and emotionally. Also, it would beneficial for parents and adults to not just encourage, but also demonstrate healthy relationships to our youth. Set the example, this includes, respecting one another, listening and properly communicating. Make youth aware that they can trust you as the adult but even if they feel uncomfortable with you, there are organizations and agencies that can help. Remind youth that although alcohol or drugs, may seem socially acceptable, their use can include lasting personal, health and legal consequences, and, if use is occurring early on in the relationship, it is best to address the issue as soon as possible.

Editor’s Note: The author of this guest column, Vianca Vieyra, works for Uniting Neighbors In Drug Abuse Defense (UNIDAD) Coalition, a program of Behavioral Health Solutions of South Texas that seeks to understand the connection between teen dating violence and substance abuse. UNIDAD strives to educate the community and empower its members to take action for a healthier drug-free environment. Visit UNIDAD at 5510 N Cage Blvd., Suite R Pharr, Texas for research, prevention, intervention, and treatment services. For more information, go to www.bhsst.org. If you would like to learn more about how to become involved with UNIDAD projects or request a presentation, please contact author Vianca Vieyra at (956) 787-7004 ext. 14 or [email protected].