Addictions and Sexual Assault
by Tersia Smith
Sexual assault affects so many people; however, a majority of sexual assaults are not ever reported to the police. While most perpetrators will not suffer consequences of their actions, survivors can feel their life is held captive by the effects of this trauma, unsure how to break free and return to a normal life. Sexual assault can take a toll on one’s mental health. Depression, flashbacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common among survivors. Victims of sexual abuse are three times more likely than the average person to suffer from depression, and six times more likely to suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder.
It is also not unusual for sexual assault survivors to turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with disturbing feelings or to numb their pain. They often find it difficult to open up about their trauma to friends or family and they seek refuge from the pain, even though they know it is temporary. The relief they experience from using these substances doesn’t last long and they find themselves using more and more. When this drug or alcohol use becomes an addiction, it can cause further harm to a person’s physical and mental health and also causes a lot of other difficulties in their life.
Some studies report that sexual abuse victims are 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs than those who have not been sexually abused. Substances may be used by victims as a way to escape from the trauma of sexual abuse as a form of self-medication, to help deal with low self-esteem or feelings of loneliness, and as self-destructive behavior.
If you have a friend or loved one with a drug or alcohol problem, you may want to talk with them and ask what has led them to this place of addiction. Are they a survivor of sexual assault or other trauma they are trying to deal with? With support, these survivors can begin to heal, move forward and escape their addiction. Sexual assault victims deserve trauma informed care, where the role of the experienced trauma in their situation is recognized.
With this type of care, the victim is not re-traumatized by having to continually retell their story, they will not be just a number or labeled by their problems, but will be recognized as an individual. Trauma informed care will create an environment that is safe both physically and emotionally. Trust and boundaries will be established that support the survivors right to making their own choices. Building upon the survivor’s strengths, they are given opportunities to explore their options, take control of their life, and make choices that are right for them.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, it is important to take care of both your physical and emotional health. If you are having a difficult time coping, or coping in unhealthy ways, help is available. Trauma informed care can help you or your loved one rebuild your feelings of safety, control and self-worth. For assistance, call Crisis Services of North Alabama for more information at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.