The Link Between Sexual Trauma and Addiction

The Link Between Sexual Trauma and Addiction

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    Addiction is often a result of a deeper trauma. People who are victims of sexual abuse may look for ways to mask the pain. Drugs and alcohol might provide a temporary answer. 

    However, this quick fix makes them worse off than they were before. Sexual abuse and addiction need help via a sexual abuse treatment center. That is the bonafide answer for true recovery. 

    How Often Do Sexual Abuse and Addiction Co-occur?

    Sexual abuse and addiction are common. A journal within the National Institute of Health (NIH) notes that interpersonal trauma and substance abuse are strongly linked. For instance, hundreds of women and men were surveyed at an urban inpatient center. The study found 72% suffered from physical and sexual abuse. 

    Also, sexual abuse is a catalyst for mental health issues. With no treatment, it can get much worse. Mental illness and addiction co-occur by the millions. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that 7.9 million people had a dual diagnosis in 2014. In other words, millions deal with both mental illness and addiction. 

    Reasons why sexual abuse and addiction can co-occur: 

    • Victims might not have health insurance to get medical help
    • Symptoms of mental illness temporarily leave while they use
    • They use it to numb the pain while they are sexually abused 
    • It lets them stop thinking about the trauma for a short time
    • It could be a cry for help that is too painful to speak out loud 
    • Their family has a history of addiction 

    In summary, there is an endless list of how sexual abuse can end in a substance use disorder. It’s a traumatic experience that victims spend reliving their entire lives. Hence, the only way to relieve it permanently is through the help of a medical professional. Drugs and alcohol seem like a quick fix. 

    Does Sexual Abuse and Addiction Co-occur More In Women?

    Statistics show that both men and women deal with sexual abuse and addiction. Yet, these co-occur more often with women. NIH found that when a woman is abused, she is more likely to delve into addiction than a man. 

    A journal on NIH found that 81% of surveyed women were recovering addicts and were victims of physical and sexual abuse. In contrast, it was 69% for men. They noted that multiple studies have come to a similar conclusion. 

    Some factors can make a woman more at risk for sexual abuse: 

    • Lack of resources to report rape 
    • They personally know the person who sexually abused them 
    • They come from a lower socioeconomic background 
    • Sexually abused women may feel threatened by someone physically larger than them 
    • Women may feel more submissive due to cultural upbringing sexual abuse treatment

    Notably, women have higher rates of sexual abuse and addiction because they have a higher chance of being raped. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) reported that 1 in 5 American women have been raped. This is about 18.3% of all American women. On the other hand, 1 in 71 American men have been raped. That is about 1.4% of American men. 

    In summary, since women are statistically more at risk of sexual abuse than men, it makes a dual diagnosis more likely. Many women don’t report that they’ve been raped, so the number of women raped could actually be higher. From 2017 to 2018, there was a 37.5% decrease in sexual abuse reported to the police. 

    Teen Abused Sex: Young Women Are Often Victims

    Sexual abuse at a young age is linked to addiction. For example, a journal within NIH found that on average women experience sexual abuse at 13. This study focused on women who were recovering addicts. 

    Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 42.2% of sexually abused women are raped before they turn 18. Young women are targets for sexual abuse says statistics. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 82% of child rape cases are women. 

    Also, RAINN noted that children with sexual trauma are four times more likely to suffer from a substance use disorder. Young women face more obstacles than adults. If they’re out when they shouldn’t be, they are less inclined to tell their parents. A teacher may also sexually abuse them and threaten their grades. 

    Signs of Sexual Assault in Teens 

    Teens may be reluctant to tell their parents about sexual abuse. Research indicates that the majority of adolescents don’t report rape to an adult. It’s more likely they’ll mention it to a peer. 

    Further, knowing the signs of sexual assault in teens can help open a discussion on it: 

    • Isolation from friends and family 
    • Extreme reactions from criticism   
    • Avoiding touch of any kind 
    • Avoiding a certain person without reason 
    • Seeming more irritable than usual 
    • Random bruises appearing with no cause 
    • Trouble eating and sleeping
    • Unusually sexual actions
    • Sudden physical changes 

    These signs often indicate a teen suffers from sexual abuse. If so, a gentle conversation should occur. They might be unwilling to speak about it. Still, the conversation is necessary. 

    What Does Sexual Abuse Treatment Look Like? 

    Firstly, sexual abuse treatment can vary per person. This is doubly true for women that suffer from sexual abuse and addiction. The first step is consulting a medical professional. They will be able to craft a personalized plan based on the patient’s need. 

    There are different forms of sexual abuse treatment: 

    • Talk therapy: Therapy is a common aspect of sexual abuse treatment. A therapist or counselor might specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT is especially effective for victims that also have a substance use disorder. 
    • Eye movement desensitization and processing (EDMR): This is a form of psychotherapy that uses movement to advance recovery. A medical professional will ask them to recall disturbing images. They will use movement to ease the pain of these images. 
    • Experiential therapies: A sexual abuse treatment center can use adventure and physical activity to aid recovery. The brain releases hormones linked to happiness when someone engages in exercise. The same can be said for musical activities. 
    • Medication-assisted treatment: Medical professionals may use medication to help with addiction and mental illness. This depends on the severity of the case. Medication is used to ease withdrawal and help relieve symptoms of mental health disorders. 

    Recovery After Treatment

    Sooner or later, recovering victims will need some form of aftercare. People with mental health issues and substance use disorders are likely to relapse without it. Aftercare may include linking a patient with alumni. Another option is continued therapy. 

    How To Talk To A Loved One About Sexual Abuse and Addiction 

    Trauma and addiction are difficult topics for most people to talk about. Generally speaking, it’s even harder to talk about when it’s a personal experience. Ultimately, it might be helpful for a loved one to talk about it if they want to. 

    To continue, it’s a delicate conversation. It shouldn’t be a casual conversation. People should take the time to think about it before they decide to speak to a loved one. Their reaction will be an emotional one. 

    7 Steps to Talk About Sexual Abuse and Addiction 

    1. Decide if it’s the right time. An intervention about addiction and trauma is an important discussion to have. However, sometimes it’s not the right time to talk about a difficult topic. In other words, are they having a bad day? Did they just get in a car crash? Maybe hold off a bit. 
    2. Plan out what to say. This doesn’t have to be word for word. Even so, an outline of what to say can help guide a conversation. A basic outline stops awkward silences. It covers all bases this way. 
    3. Ask them to meet in person at a private location. A tough heart-to-heart means more in person. A large bulk of communication is nonverbal. They might not express how they feel in words. It may be tears or a furrowed brow that reveals deeper sentiments. 
    4. Come from a place of care. Make sure to gear the discussion from a place of empathy. They shouldn’t feel bad. It’s to help them work through their feelings. Giving them a person to talk to can be life-changing. Everyone needs support to lean on. 
    5. Try not to use “shoulds.” They have an inkling they’re not on the right path in their life. They don’t want a lecture. Try to gear advice through questions. For example, ask if they think an addiction treatment center would benefit them. 
    6. Don’t make them uncomfortable. In other words, don’t make them talk about what makes them uncomfortable. If they shy away from a topic, drop it. It may be a chat for later, but not at that moment.  
    7. Suggest an addiction treatment center. Do it gently. Have a few addiction treatment centers that specialize in sexual trauma. Write down their information and give it to them. Don’t push it. Just mention it. 

    Get Sexual Abuse Treatment in Costa Mesa 

    Sexual abuse and addiction are deadly. Victims of either need professional help to resolve intrapersonal struggles. The fight is a tough one, but New Directions for Women can help. 

    New Directions for Women understands that the recovery process is different for women. It’s especially true if they are victims of sexual abuse. Contact us now if you or a loved one needs a sure path to recovery and well-being. 


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