The Connection between Sexual Abuse and Addiction



Research has shown a strong correlation between people who have been sexually abused or assaulted and instances of substance use disorder. In America, one in six women and one in thirty-three men have been victims of some form of sexual abuse or attempted rape. About 63,000 children are sexually abused every year across the nation. These harrowing statistics make it apparent that many Americans are dealing with trauma from their sexual assault experiences, leading to conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, OCD, and many other mental illnesses and substance use disorder.


Trauma Survivors and Addiction


Surviving any form of sexual abuse is considered trauma, but many people who have experienced such a horrific experience may not realize how their trauma manifests after the event. Unfortunately, for many, self-medication is a common coping method to get them through difficult periods. This is a common thread that links addiction and control in the human brain. By misusing substances to numb pain, people feel they have more control over their emotions and the after-effects of their assault. However, self-medication can quickly lead to substance use disorder due to the addictive nature of certain substances, particularly opioids.


Coping Mechanisms

Those who self-medicate to cope with their trauma will do it for more reasons than to simply “numb the pain.” It can also help them reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, escape negative memories when exposed to triggers, improve their self-esteem, and avoid speaking with a medical professional about their trauma and the events that occurred. Addiction and control are also connected through this self-destructive behavior because a person may be misusing substances as a form of self-harm. Still, they feel they have control over it, making them feel more in control over their lives.


Treating Sexual Abuse Trauma and Substance Use Disorder


Most people facing addiction will have a dual-diagnosis that involves a mental illness because the two correlate so often. This means that treatment will have to apply a multifaceted approach that treats both issues. Patients who only address addiction and not the mental health aspects of what led them to misuse substances will face relapse at a much higher rate than those who do. While in treatment, patients have access to substance use counselors that can assist them in addressing their mental health needs, which can involve referrals to more specialized medical providers such as psychiatrists and therapists who specifically deal with sexual abuse survivors.


While nothing can undo the terrible assaults that sexual abuse survivors have gone through, dedicated health professionals can help those living with the pain of their trauma and struggling to cope in a healthy way. Healing begins with substance use disorder treatment while also working on ways to overcome harmful coping mechanisms and replace them with healing therapies that can significantly improve those facing addiction and sexual abuse trauma.


To receive the help you deserve, reach out to Recovery Services of New Mexico today. Contact us online or by phone for more information about addiction recovery.