Emotions can be difficult to process, especially when they come up all at once. Not everyone who is raped turns to drugs to escape their emotional turmoil, but it is a common thread in addiction treatment. Victims of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault may not even realize why they turned to drugs or that the sexual abuse is at the root of their current addiction problems. Some victims work very hard to block the experience and the resulting emotions out of their minds. At first, drugs may provide the mental escape they need. Over time, addiction sets in, and it doesn’t matter why they started – they are hooked. Trauma teaches children to be afraid, and consequently, they can suffer anxiety and other mental health issues. They become pre-programmed to feel out of control and expect the worst in every situation. A similar transition from sexual assault to addiction can happen in adults. Even victims who were not inclined to use drugs before the assault sometimes find their way to drug addiction to escape the resulting emotional pain.
Sexual assault victims are more likely to transition to drug abuse if:
- Someone in their family uses drugs.
- They are close friends with a drug user.
- They had body image issues before the rape.
- They were exposed to any type of trauma in their childhood.
- The incident made them believe they were going to die.
- They sustained severe physical injuries from the assault.
- They had any pre-existing mental illness.
- They already suffered from low self-esteem before the assault.
- The sexual abuse was on-going for a long period of time.
There is no accurate way of predicting, with total certainty, which sexual assault victims will have addiction problems. These are, however, some indicators. Any woman or man whose state of mental health is already compromised has a greater chance of a poor psychological outcome from a sexual assault. The longer the assault went on and the more traumatic or violent the incident, the more likely a victim is to have trouble overcoming the psychological results on their own.
Warning Signs for Substance Abuse
If someone you know is the victim of sexual assault or witness to any other trauma, you should watch for signs of substance abuse or other forms of addiction like, food, sex, porn, gambling, etc. It is not a good idea to make accusations, especially to someone suffering trust issues as a result of rape. Recognizing the signs of drug use, however, could put you in a position to really help your loved one before the addiction gets out of control.
Here are some signs of drug abuse to watch for:
- Changes in Behavior. It is normal for someone to become withdrawn after a sexual assault, but this should not go on for too long. Secretive behavior could be a sign of drug use. Most people are ashamed to share their addiction problems with friends or family. They will try to hide the habit from you. Other behavior changes could include new social patterns, hanging out in different places or making new friends. If these changes are signs of drug use, your loved one will want to keep these new activities separate from you and your regular group of friends. They may begin to drift away and spend more time with people who share their desire to use drugs or who can help them procure their substance of choice.
- Physical Changes. Any sudden weight loss or weight gain could be a sign of drug use. For many women, weight is a sensitive issue, so tread lightly. Weight loss or gain could also be a sign of an eating disorder – something else that can develop following a sexual assault. Of course, red eyes, dilated pupils, runny nose, or persistent cough can also be signs of drug abuse. Other physical signs have to do with stress and anxiety. Someone who suddenly cannot sit still or isn’t able to focus on the topic of conversation might be exhibiting signs of drug use. Changes in sleeping patterns like staying up really late at night or sleeping during the day can also be signs.
When you know someone really well, you notice changes in their behavior or appearance. If you recognize some of these changes, you might want to address the issue of drug use or other addictions. Providing some factual information about the cause and results of addiction might move the individual to get the help they need. Ultimately, recognizing the signs of child sexual abuse or other forms of sexual assault can help you intervene on behalf of a loved one before s/he turns to drugs or alcohol. Preventing the potential addiction is certainly better than going through rehab, if possible.
If you suspect someone you love is being sexually abused, it’s best to get help right away. Contacting the authorities or possibly removing the individual from the abusive situation is the first step. The sooner the abuse stops, the less damage there will be in the long run. No matter how quickly the abuse stops, however, even one incidence of child sexual abuse is damaging and puts that child at greater risk for addiction problems.
For detailed information read:
- Working with Addicted Survivors of Sexual Assault.
- Substance Use and Sexual Violence – A Guide for Counselors and Advocates.