What is the Link Between Sexual Abuse and Addiction?

What is the Link Between Sexual Abuse and Addiction?

In the United States, one in five women and one in thirty-eight men have been sexually abused. Furthermore, before the age of 18, one in four girls will be sexually abused. The emotional pain often leads to the co-occurrence of sexual abuse and addiction. But, seeking sexual abuse treatment can prevent the added struggles of addiction.

Sexual abuse is a very traumatic experience. In fact, many survivors of sexual abuse also have PTSD. But, many people try to hide their struggles, afraid of what others might think. Instead of getting sexual abuse treatment, they turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. 

Without sexual abuse treatment, the trauma of the abuse can be impossible to handle. As a result, people self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to cope with their feelings. However, occasional use can quickly turn to everyday use and, eventually, addiction. 

What is the Link Between Sexual Abuse and Addiction?

If you are struggling with sexual abuse and addiction, your sexual abuse treatment should co-occur with addiction treatment. If you only seek addiction treatment, then the real source of your addiction is not being treated. 

A comprehensive dual-diagnosis treatment center, such as Sana Lake, treats your struggles with sexual abuse and addiction simultaneously. 

How is the Trauma of Sexual Abuse and Addiction Linked?

Traditional substance use disorder treatment isn’t always effective with trauma survivors. But, to understand why it’s not, you must understand the link between sexual abuse and addiction. 

Both sexual abuse and addiction can have vague starting and stopping points. Unfortunately, children are at high risk for physical and sexual abuse, especially if they have parents struggling with addiction. 

Drugs and alcohol impair judgment, which interferes with the daily care and support of children. Even if the parent isn’t abusing the child, the lack of supervision due to addiction can leave them vulnerable to other adults. 

Sexual abuse doesn’t mean that a child will turn to drugs and alcohol right away. And they may never use drugs and alcohol. But, the trauma of sexual abuse doesn’t go away. So a person may turn to drugs years later when the emotional pain becomes too much. 

Children who watch their parents use drugs and alcohol may also use drugs and alcohol later. For some, this use can turn into an addiction. Why? Because using drugs and alcohol changes the chemical makeup in the brain and body, leading to dependency and addiction.

Why Do Survivors of Sexual Abuse Turn to Drugs and Alcohol?

Survivors of sexual abuse often feel a great deal of guilt and shame. And many times, they don’t have anyone to talk to. Some survivors feel guilty or responsible for their experience. These thoughts and feelings can be challenging to cope with. 

The shame of sexual abuse often leads to addiction.

Sexual abuse survivors want to escape their painful memories. They don’t want to think about the pain and fear of the trauma. So, they self-medicate. Drugs or alcohol give them temporary relief from traumatic thoughts and feelings. 

However, self-medicating can have negative consequences, including addiction. Often, a person doesn’t even realize they are becoming dependent on the substance. 

In many cases, using drugs or alcohol is the only way to make them feel good about themselves. In other cases, however, survivors use drugs and alcohol as a form of self-harm and punishment. 

Sexual abuse and addiction often co-occur for the following reasons.

  • To reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • To cope and escape from the traumatic memories. 
  • To improve self-esteem.
  • To engage in the form of controlled self-harm.
  • To self-medicate instead of seeking sexual abuse treatment. 

Women, Sexual Abuse and Addiction

Ninety-one percent of sexual assault survivors are female. Before the age of 18, one in 4 girls will be survivors of sexual abuse. As a result, women are at a higher risk of addiction in response to the trauma. 

The long-term effects of sexual abuse on women include:

  • 94% of women experience PTSD in the two weeks following the abuse
  • 30% of women still have PTSD 9 months later
  • 33% of women consider suicide
  • 13% of women attempt suicide

Women who experience sexual abuse and addiction are:

  • Three times more likely to use marijuana.
  • Six times more likely to use cocaine.
  • Ten times more likely to use other drugs.

Men, Sexual Abuse and Addiction

While sexual abuse most commonly happens to females, it does also happen to males. However, males are less likely to report acts of sexual abuse. 

Beyond the challenges females face, additional challenges stop males from reporting the abuse. For instance, there are certain attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity. 

Some men who have been survivors of sexual abuse believe they should have been able to prevent the assault. And like women, men may also feel guilty or feel like they asked for it. 

Although the rate of sexual abuse and addiction is higher in women, male survivors also struggle with co-occurring sexual abuse and addiction. Therefore, seeking sexual abuse treatment can minimize the risk of addiction and help you heal from the trauma of sexual abuse. 

Teen Abused Sex: Sexual Abuse and Addiction

While both males and females struggle with teen abused sex, it is more common in females. The trauma of teen abused sex can lead to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. The use of substances is a way to escape the memory of teen abused sex temporarily. 

Adults who faced teen abused sex are 1.5 times more likely to misuse substances such as drugs and alcohol. Studies by the NIH also indicate drug use is more common than alcohol use in victims of teen abused sex. 

Sexual abuse leaves not only physical scars but also emotional ones. But, self-medicating only creates more problems. If you know a teen who struggles with sexual abuse and addiction, it’s important to urge them to seek sexual abuse treatment. 

What to Do If You Suspect Sexual Abuse

While addiction is typically linked to past sexual abuse, it’s important to emphasize this: if you think someone is being abused in any form, it’s crucial to urge them to seek help. You can help your loved ones by giving them options. Encourage them to call the police or go to the hospital. You can even provide them with the number to the National Sexual Assault Hotline. 

It’s never okay to turn a blind eye to someone being abused. It can be awkward to interfere, but the alternative is much worse. If you don’t know how to help, there are also resources to help you help them. If the situation involves a child, getting child protective services involved is best. 

How Can You Talk to a Loved One Struggling with Sexual Abuse and Addiction

It can be difficult knowing how to talk to a survivor of sexual abuse, whether it’s been ten months or ten years. Besides encouraging them to seek sexual abuse treatment, being an ear for them to talk to and a shoulder to lean on can be valuable. 

There are three primary ways to help a loved one whose been a victim of traumatic abuse. 

Know the available resources. 

Whether you have the number for a sexual abuse hotline or talking with treatment professionals, it’s vital to do your research. Although you may not share all your research with the survivor, it’s essential to understand what they’re going through. The research can help you walk them through the recovery process. 

Remember, recovery is a process. 

Working through the trauma of sexual abuse and addiction is a process. Furthermore, survivors will not be healed overnight. The traumatic memories won’t disappear, nor will the urges to self-medicate. Remind them recovery and healing is a personal journey and doesn’t have a timeline.

Make regular check-ins.

Regular check-ins will be different for everyone. For some, it may be a daily call of encouragement. While for others, it might be a weekly visit. Whatever your check-ins look like, make sure your loved one knows you love and support them. 

However, if your loved one is in sexual abuse treatment, their communication may be limited. Be sure to ask about the center’s guidelines, so you don’t interfere with treatment and recovery.

Phrases to Support Loved Ones Struggling with Sexual Abuse and Addiction

I’m sorry this happened. By acknowledging the trauma of sexual abuse, it shows empathy. It also shows you’re glad the loved one trusts you. 

It’s not your fault. Survivors of sexual abuse often blame themselves. For this reason, it’s comforting to remind them it’s not their fault, and they did nothing wrong.

You are not alone. Being there for your loved ones can encourage them to work through their memories. When survivors have a trusted person to talk to can be valuable in healing. However, you should also encourage them to speak to a professional. 

I believe you. When your loved one shares their story with you, don’t question your loved ones’ memories or press for more details. These actions show you believe them and make them feel comfortable and safe. 

Mental Health Issues from Sexual Abuse and Addiction

After sexual abuse, survivors may feel like their body isn’t their own. They often feel shame, guilt, and terror. They may also blame themselves for the abuse. 

Due to the trauma and emotions of sexual abuse, survivors often struggle with mental health issues and addiction. Sexual abuse and addiction may lead to the following mental health issues. 

  • Depression: Sexual abuse is often brutal to cope with. It can create feelings of hopelessness or despair. It may also lower one’s sense of self-worth. The symptoms of depression may be mild, or they can be intense and long-lasting.
  • Anxiety: Sexual abuse can also cause severe anxiety and panic attacks. Survivors may fear the sexual abuse could happen again. They may also develop agoraphobia and become frightened to leave their homes. 
  • Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD): Survivors of sexual abuse may have intense memories of the abuse. In some cases, flashbacks may be so disruptive they cause a survivor to lose track of surroundings. 

When a person struggles with co-occurring trauma and addiction, it’s crucial to treat both conditions simultaneously. If you only treat the addiction and not heal from sexual abuse, the chances of using again are high. Both seeking sexual abuse treatment that also treats addiction can increase Recovery for Life.

Sexual Abuse Treatment at Sana Lake

At Sana Lake Recovery Center, our goal is to treat your addiction and heal past traumas that lead to addiction. Survivors of sexual abuse have a tough road to recovery. Our caring and compassionate therapists use holistic and trauma-based therapies to heal at your own pace. 

If you or a loved one struggles with sexual abuse and addiction, it’s time to get help. To find out more about sexual abuse treatment, contact us today.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/sexual-violence/index.html#:~:text=Nearly%201%20in%205%20women,it%20occurred%20before%20age%2010.

https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5082739/

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.