Module 3: Understanding the Crossover Impact of IPV, Trauma, and Substance Use


The purpose of this module is to familiarize participants with mental health and substance use concepts and their relationship to gender-based violence (GBV), including information on several of the key mental health diagnoses. The information is designed at an introductory level to assist frontline workers develop a fuller understanding of women’s needs. Depending upon your background, you may find the information too basic, or it may encourage you to review the supplemental resources provided to further enhance your learning. Overall, this module is expected to take approximately 90 minutes to complete.

Learning Objectives (i.e., after this module, you should be able to:)

  1. Understand and describe the relationships between GBV, trauma, substance use, and mental health
  2. Recognize and describe the traumatic effects of GBV
  3. Recognize the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD
  4. Understand the relationship between women’s trauma histories and their coping behaviours/responses in the form of substance use
  5. Clarify what is meant by “harm reduction” approaches to substance use

Guide to the Readings

As you go through the readings, the key point to remember is the position that women who have experienced violence have significantly higher rates of substance use and mental health concerns compared to women who have not. Moreover, women’s experiences of violence precede their substance use and/or mental health issues. Women may have sought services for their mental health or substance use issues but did not disclose their experiences of violence to service providers. As well, think about some of the common themes that are represented in the readings. What other factors are shared amongst this particular group of women?

Given the crossover impact of intimate partner violence (IPV), mental health, and substance use, a key practice principle is to provide integrated services that address the complexities of women’s needs. As many of the symptoms can present in a similar way, it is important to be aware of the intersections among them. Helping women understand that substance use at one point may have been an effective coping strategy to manage the feelings of depression and anxiety that are a result of experiences of violence, it may now be creating additional harms. The key point to take from the readings is that while there are many issues that are shared, each woman’s situation is unique. Some women may benefit tremendously from a referral to a psychologist/psychiatrist to assess whether medication may be helpful for her. Other women may have been over-diagnosed and over-prescribed because they did not feel comfortable sharing their experiences of violence. For these women, supporting them to strengthen their cognitive and emotional coping skills may be more helpful. The key point to remember is that recovery from trauma is the key goal, rather than addressing substance use.

Depending upon the organizational context, it may not be appropriate for staff to engage in trauma work with women. However, it is appropriate for all staff to practice from a trauma-informed perspective. When working from a trauma-informed perspective, it is important that you help women make the connections between their mental health, substance use, and the traumatic experiences they experienced. Trauma-informed service providers can create safety for women by building and supporting healthy attachments with care providers. They can create an emotionally, physically, and spiritually safe environment for women. Although not a required reading, the Mason and Toner (2012) resource (in Supplementary Resources) provides a thorough discussion of the intersections of GBV, substance use, and mental health. Chapter 4 provides concrete suggestions for agency staff in terms of responding to women in ways that alleviate stigma and provide effective responses.

How to Proceed

  • STEP 3: Listen to the pre-recorded lecture for the module’s content.
  • STEP 4: Explore the Supplementary Resources relevant to this module. It is recommended that you use these references to expand on the information presented in this module. This section also contains information on a number of external resources that provide a more comprehensive discussion of the key concepts.

Once you complete all of the steps, proceed to Module 4.