Brandi Fink, PhD
Brandi Fink, PhD, believes that alcohol-induced over-arousal plays a crucial role in heightening patterns of violence between couples.
Credit: Sara Mota

Intimate relationships are complex, fueled by biology, chemistry, emotions, environment and upbringing. Mixing in alcohol with often-contentious issues such as finances, child rearing or in-laws can be a recipe for violence, according to a University of New Mexico researcher studying the link between alcohol and domestic violence.

Brandi Fink, PhD, an assistant professor in the UNM Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, believes that alcohol-induced over-arousal plays a crucial role in heightening patterns of violence between couples.

Intimate partner violence is a big problem in the U.S. An estimated 22.4 million physical assaults are committed every year, costing $6.2 billion in direct medical and mental health services alone.

“Fifty to 75 percent of partner violence incidents involve one or both partners under the influence of alcohol,” Fink says. “You can’t study partner violence without studying the effects of alcohol.”

Alcohol-induced over-arousal reflects changes in heart rate, respiration, skin conductance and brain responses that Fink hypothesizes play a crucial role in triggering partner violence.

Fink’s study compares the arousing effects of alcohol amid conflict, as well as the different responses in emotion regulation between violent and nonviolent partners.

She’s applying rigorous screening, interviewing and coding, precise demographic and psychophysiological data collection and EEG neuroimaging measures to her carefully selected sample.

Current partner violence interventions rarely address alcohol use and can be tainted by cultural assumptions, Fink says. They often focus on males, based on the belief that the male is always the aggressor.

“In fact, there are over 200 studies that show both genders are equally violent,” she says. “And when only one partner is violent, it’s more often the female. By blending psychology, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences research methods, we have teamed to scientifically dissect this serious public health issue that destroys New Mexico families.”