Sexual Trauma and Addiction

Last Updated: Feb 29th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Sexual Trauma and Addiction

There’s no question that substance abuse is difficult on its own without the complications of external factors. When sexual abuse is thrown in the mix, things get a lot more complicated. Countless problems have been caused by instances of sexual abuse in the lives of many. The physical and psychological damage it serves is second to none. It is imperative to understand that sexual trauma and addiction are more interconnected than some people are led to believe. 

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is any action that takes advantage of someone sexually when they do not want to be taken advantage of. Circumstances like these cause victims to experience trauma, and each one feels as though they are not in control of their own lives.

Are Sexual Abuse and Addiction Related? How?

Sexual abuse and addiction are indeed related in many cases. In fact, some reports suggest that two-thirds of those involved in addiction treatment have experienced sexual trauma, physical abuse, or emotional abuse in their life prior to their drug use. There are other reports that also suggest that women who are sexually abused as children are at an increased risk of drug abuse as an adult. 

Contrary to popular assumption, however, women are not the only ones abused sexually. There more sexual abuse victims than some may realize. Millions of men and boys in the United States have been victims of rape. Some studies suggest that 1 in every 10 rape victims are male. Some data has been gathered and suggests that 2.7 million men in the United States have been victims of attempted or completed rape. One more alarming statistic states that college student males ages 18-24 are five times more likely to become rape victims than male non-students.has

The most alarming thing about sexual assault is that there are many more victims than most people may assume. There are an average of close to 320,000 victims of sexual assault yearly in the United States. There are other studies which suggest that those who have suffered from sexual abuse are 3 times more likely to develop depression, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol. 

Why Do People Cope Using Drugs or Alcohol?

Everybody copes with trauma and tragedy in their own ways. Some throw themselves into their work or extracurriculars, others isolate themselves, and others turn to substance abuse. There is a certain stigma of shame when it comes to sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is one of the most isolating circumstances that leaves many feeling vulnerable and violated. 

Sometimes, people who have fallen victim to sexual abuse can feel guilty because they felt as if they could have done something about it. The amount of remorse these people feel is immeasurable. In these circumstances, however, it is imperative to remember that if something could have been done, it would have been done. 

The people who have been treated so poorly often grasp at the most effortless ways to cope. Some resort to abusing substances to help them forget the pain that they felt. This is sometimes referred to as self-medication. The subconscious goal is to feel temporary safety and relief. 

Self-medication is dangerous and should never be glorified beyond understanding why someone would do so. Sexual abuse, or abuse of any kind, is very difficult to forget about; someone’s privacy and sense of control have been compromised. The feeling of vulnerability and susceptibility in this regard is a difficult reality to face. Responding to the abuse with excessive drug or alcohol use can end up leading to dependence. 

Dependence on Drugs and Alcohol

When someone is experiencing a difficult circumstance such as sexual abuse, coping methods that involve drugs and alcohol can often seem like the most accessible choice. Because of this, actions done with the intention of coping end up repeating themselves and becoming habitual. This is due to the brain’s chemical reaction to the use of drugs or alcohol. 

When someone uses drugs or alcohol, no matter what the reason, the pleasure center of the brain is triggered. Once this happens, the chemical signals sent to the brain communicate a good feeling to the user. Oftentimes, these feelings supersede any sort of pleasure the user has ever felt. It is then that the user desires more. Upon consuming more of a substance, sober judgment begins to wither, throwing self-control out the window. Once a user consumes more of a substance over a certain period of time, a dependence develops.

People who suffer traumatic events such as sexual abuse most often want to do whatever they can to forget about what happened. The more they use drugs and alcohol, the more that ability to forget becomes possible. The more that becomes possible, the more they’ll eventually need to achieve the desired result. Then, the more they consume to achieve that desired result, the more they need the substance. The more they need the substance, the more they can’t function properly without it. This is referred to as withdrawal. 

Detox: Treating Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal

Being dependent on a substance is difficult, especially for those who want to quit using. There are treatment options available to help move past dependency without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. This method is referred to as detox.

Detox, often known in professional levels of care as medically assisted treatment (MAT), is a method of rehab that provides a user with medicine in order to combat the symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal makes recovery very difficult if one is dependent on a substance in order to function, but medically assisted treatment can help. This recovery option has proven itself successful in providing patients with treatment that allows them to move past their addiction with comfort. 

Other Treatment Options for Substance abuse

There are many different recovery options when it comes to combating substance abuse. Apart from detox (as mentioned in the section above) some of them include the following:

  • Inpatient Treatment
  • Outpatient Treatment
  • Therapy

Inpatient Residential Treatment 

Inpatient residential treatment is a recovery method in which patients stay in the care of a treatment facility overnight. Those who participate in inpatient treatment programs have 24/7 access to professional medical personnel. Not only that, but they are also provided with access to professional therapists and psychiatrists throughout the week. As far as the length of the program is concerned, this could last anywhere from 28 days to 6 months. 

Outpatient Treatment 

Used to treat milder cases of addiction, outpatient treatment is a great option for those who don’t require the intensive nature of an inpatient residential program. Patients are able to attend treatment while residing in the comfort of their own homes, which makes this option more convenient than others. Throughout the week those who participated are given 10-12 hours of weekly access to professional therapists and psychiatrists. This program could last anywhere from 3 months to over a year depending on the individual. 

Therapy for Victims of Sexual Abuse

For victims of sexual abuse, it is difficult to move past their trauma. Thankfully, at 1st Step, we have therapy approaches that will seek to fit their specific needs. Therapy, in general, is a method of care that attempts to help patients process their emotions and past experiences. This method, over many years, has proven itself successful, whether in group or individual settings. For us, it’s all about meeting the individual where they are; there is no one-size-fits-all method to addiction treatment. Our philosophy and the way we take care of our patients reflects that.

What Will Others Think of Me?

It is immensely difficult in times of trauma to feel confident in oneself. Oftentimes those who suffer from sexual abuse will think to themselves, “What will others think about this?”, or simply be ashamed of what has happened to them. The whole world can feel as though it’s crashing down around them. 

Unfortunately, lots of people have their minds made up about addicts and sexual abuse victims. This is a sad reality to have to face, but there is hope. Just as there are many who have their minds made up concerning addiction and sexual abuse in a negative way, there are also those who seek to understand and validate the pain you’re experiencing. There are many who want to stand in your corner ready to fight for you.

1st Step is There for You

Victims of sexual abuse and addiction deserve the best treatment available. The family here at 1st Step Behavioral Health is understanding and compassionate. We are prepared to provide our patients with the best treatment in order to fulfill their recovery needs. There is a link between sexual abuse and addiction, and we owe it to the victims to sit with them in their sorrow, helping them get to a place of emotional stability and sobriety. If you or a loved one suffers from addiction and/or has been a victim of sexual abuse, contact us here

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.