Child Abuse

How Sexual Violence Contributes To Addiction Problems

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According to the American Journal on Addictions, 75 percent of women who enter treatment programs report having experienced sexual abuse. And according to the Journal of Traumatic Stress, an alarming 90 percent of women who become dependent on alcohol “suffered severe violence at the hands of a parent” or “were sexually abused during childhood.” And there is not only a strong correlation between childhood sexual abuse and addiction, but one exists between later incidences of sexual assault and addiction as well. Sexual abuse in any form can lead to major problems for the victims. Substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, poor coping skills, antisocial behaviour, depression, anxiety, future victimization, low-self esteem and problems in relationships are all a consequence of sexual abuse. Some studies have suggested that people who are victims of sexual abuse may have an increased risk for substance abuse and other forms of addiction such as, food, sex, gambling, porn, etc. Substances are used by victims for a number of reasons which include:

  • A mechanism to cope or escape the trauma of sexual abuse
  • A way to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • A form of self-medication
  • To improve self-esteem and boost confidence
  • A form of self-destructive behavior or self-harm

Sadly, the statistics flow in both directions, women (and men) who have experienced childhood sexual abuse or who have experienced incidents of sexual assault and rape in adulthood stand a strong likelihood of encountering problems with addiction, suggesting that abuse and assault may lead victims toward addictive behaviors in a search to dampen their pain. But it is also true that addicted victims – particularly those with substance use disorders – stand a higher likelihood of finding themselves at risk for sexual assault. “For illicit drug use, findings support a vicious cycle relationship in which substance use increases risk of future assault and assault increases risk of subsequent substance use.” And on and on it goes.

Drug and alcohol addicts abuse substances to escape from painful or fearful memories, such as sexual violence. They may not realize that they have been self-medicating the traumatic experience, or avoiding dealing with the consequences of the act and a serious dependency on a drug has developed. Self-medicating provides relief for stresses, concerns and fears and gives relief in the short term. However, this is incredibly dangerous as some substances have very high addiction and abuse potential. Dealing with a traumatic experience like sexual violence in this way is very harmful both physically and mentally.

Women and girls have long been vulnerable to crimes of sexual violence, men and boys are certainly victims of these crimes too. Although no one has the power to change their past, one can find the power to alter one’s future. What happened to you then does not have to dictate what happens to you now; you can heal yourself in a way the illusory tincture of alcohol, drugs, or other addictions never could. That healing often begins in finding meaning, and telling, your deepest truths.



The Right Step:

Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

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