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The Girl on The Train: Domestic Violence & Substance Abuse with Women

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The other day I rented the film, The Girl on the Train starring Emily Blunt who portrays Rachel, an alcoholic who rides a train every day through upstate New York. While doing so, she gazes out of the window of the train, looking at a beautiful Colonial-style house, which is across the tracks. It turns out that the Colonial was her old home, where once upon a time, she lived with Tom, her ex husband, who dumped her to marry a beautiful blonde named Anna. Apparently, Tom deserted her because she could not get pregnant. And now he has a beautiful baby with Anna, a fact that torments Rachel even more. Besides mourning her old life and drinking herself to death with vodka, Rachel is obsessed with another couple, Megan and Scott who live next door to her old house in an equally majestic Colonial. Every time Rachel’s train goes by, Megan and Scott are kissing on the balcony.  Suddenly, Megan disappears. After her body is located in the woods, the story revolves around finding her killer. Rachel is one of the suspects, because she was in the vicinity when Megan disappeared. However, Rachel does not remember what happened that day because she blacked out due to her heavy drinking.  Throughout the course of the film, Rachel’s memory slowly comes back to her and she locates the killer.

I rented the movie because I wanted to see how Rachel’s alcoholism played out in the film. According to the New York Times movie review, the character of Rachel “does not appear that far gone.” And even though she drinks “way too much” I had a hard time believing that Rachel was an alcoholic. Another thing that made me gape in disbelief was how quickly Rachel, who guzzled vodka from a water bottle all day long, just stopped drinking. She had no withdrawal symptoms, nor did she suffer from delirium tremens (DT’s). How in God’s name did she do that?

However, (spoiler alert!) this movie is not about Rachel overcoming her alcoholism. It’s about her becoming an instant sleuth and trying to figure out who killed Megan. During the course of her investigation, in which she ends up in some dangerous scenarios, she realizes that Tom had physically and emotionally abused her while they were together. She also figures out that the abuse that she endured at the hands of her slimy ex-husband had triggered her alcoholism.

Domestic Violence & Substance Abuse

Domestic violence and substance abuse can walk hand in hand.

Women who are victims of domestic violence often turn to drugs and/or alcohol to eradicate the feelings of pain that they experience, while being in such toxic relationships. Sometimes batterers encourage them to drink and/or use, as shown in the Power and Control Model for Women’s Substance Abuse. The wheel shaped model shows the different ways in which batterers exert power and control over their victims. When their victims develop substance abuse disorders, batterers exert control. In the film, there is one scene where Tom pours Rachel a glass of vodka, and we discover that he coerced her to drink while they were married. By that point, however, she has been sober for a few days. After she refuses to drink the vodka, he hurls it into her face.

Like Rachel who drank because she was a victim of domestic violence, women drink and/or use during a violent relationship because the alcohol and/or booze become coping mechanisms.  Typically, abused women are 15 times more likely to develop alcoholism, and nine times more likely to abuse drugs, than women in healthier relationships. By abusing chemical substances, women have a harder time leaving their batterers. Sadly, if they are under the influence, and call 911 for help, the police might question their credibility. During a scene when Rachel confronts the female detective (played by Allison Janney), the detective treats her as if she is a suspect.  She also mocks her and does not believe Rachel’s suspicions.

Perpetrators often sabotage their partners’ newly found sobriety. This is another way to ensure that the women remain trapped in the relationship.  Sometimes perpetrators do atrocious things to women who are trying to get help, like bringing booze and/or drugs into the house. These men, who are walking time bombs, will even go crazy if their partners tell them that they are going to a co-ed 12-step meeting. Chances are, they will forbid them to go to the AA/NA meeting because they are jealous of their partners hooking up with another recovering addict!

Batterers also have a tendency to drink and/or use. By being loaded, they can lose control and hurt their partner.

Intimate Partner Violence and Addiction

The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that substance abuse has been found in conjunction with 40 to 60% of intimate partner violence (IPV). It’s hard for a female addict, especially one with children, to get away from a batterer.  IPV is the primary reason of female homicides and injury-related deaths during pregnancy.

While our country is making advancements in dealing with domestic violence, we still live in a society where some women fear for their lives on a daily basis.

Sometimes it’s hard for a woman to take her children and leave, but getting out of a violent relationship often becomes a matter of life or death. There are many organizations that help women who suffer from domestic violence.

And it is vital that victims of domestic violence get treatment for substance addiction.

Recovery can be a powerful weapon for a woman.

With a clear mind, and a lighter spirit, it’s easier for her to break the chains from the past, and feel a sense of freedom and peace.  Recovery will help her become a better mom for her children. Women who have suffered from domestic violence require clinical, evidence-based substance abuse and addiction treatment, as well as a strong dual diagnosis program. Depression and other co-occurring disorders often walk hand in hand with newly clean and sober women who have been in brutal relationships.  At Cycles of Change Recovery Services, our substance abuse and treatment program provides a holistic approach to treatment. Not only do we offer clinical, evidence-based practices, and dual diagnosis support, but also our program includes trauma-informed care.

Women who have suffered in horrible relationships will discover that this is the best treatment. By treating their minds, bodies and spirits, they will feel hope, and the promise of a new life.


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