Lost: The Trail from Sexual Abuse to Addiction

Lost: The Trail from Sexual Abuse to Addiction

[Editor’s Note: Thank you to Drugrehab.com for reaching out and offering to share this guest post. I know that in the years following my sexual assaults, I often turned to alcohol – further exacerbating the damage caused by my trauma. I hope that if you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse you are able to reach out to Drugrehab.com for help. – Lauren]

Lost: The Trail from Sexual Abuse to Addiction

By: Kiara Anthony

A high rate of sexual abuse victims turn to substance use as a means to cope with their trauma. In fact, those who suffered from sexual abuse during their childhood are more susceptible to addictive behaviors linked to alcohol and drug dependencies.

Sexual abuse is defined as any undesired sexual behavior or action one person performs on another. It can span from years of trauma to short moments of terror for individuals of any age, gender and ethnicity. Sexual abuse includes physical contact and non-touching behaviors, such as voyeurism, exhibitionism and forced exposure to pornography at an early age.

According to a 2003 National Institute of Justice report, 74 percent of adolescents were sexually victimized by someone they knew well. That can include family members, friends, coaches, teachers and others. This familiarity may make it difficult for victims, especially minors, to report abuse.

Traumatic Effects

It is common for people to experience intense fear and humiliation from sexual abuse. They may deny their sexual encounters and remain silent for years before reporting it, if they report it at all.

Some victims of sexual abuse may even begin to exhibit negative behaviors. A higher percentage of boys than girls may begin to act out, engaging in delinquent behavior and falling victim to acts of crime. More specifically, a little over 12 percent of adolescents — boys and girls, alike — admit to committing at least one of the eight offenses the FBI uses to compile its annual crime index, including arson, rape, homicide and aggravated assault within their lifetime.

On the other hand, there are victims who turn to substance abuse as an escape from their sexual assault. There is no easy way to cope with such a trauma. Rather than seek help, some victims seek temporary escapes as a means of control over their emotions and their circumstances. As a result, the occasional high can begin to spiral into drug or alcohol addiction.

Trauma and Alcohol Addiction

Known as more of a recreational beverage, alcohol is typically consumed to relax or to socialize. However, it is one of the most dangerous and addictive legal substances in the United States. It has the properties to change a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Although the legal age to consume alcohol is placed at 21, many individuals have their first alcoholic beverage early in their adolescent years.

A dependence on this substance can lead to a variety of long-term side effects including:

  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Neuropathy (pain in the hands and feet)
  • Heart attacks
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Inflamed liver
  • Inflamed pancreas

While increased alcohol consumption can impact short-term memory — also known as blackouts — it does not impact long-term memory, which means alcohol will not successfully help a sexual assault survivor forget their trauma.

Trauma and Drug Abuse

People also often use drugs as a coping mechanism to escape the pain of their trauma. Unfortunately, drug use can lead to its own set of problems, including addiction. Different drugs will have an array of long-term effects on the body. Some of the most common include:

  • Risk of HIV/AIDS infection
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Lung disease
  • Mental disorders
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (drug abuse withdrawal symptoms in babies who were exposed to drugs in utero)

Seeking Help for Addiction and Sexual Abuse

It takes courage to reach out for help. Treatment extends further than a rehabilitation facility and may span from weeks to years. Substance addicts with a history of sexual abuse, however, have a more specific set of needs that will be addressed in treatment. There are countless therapy and family groups available so victims of sexual abuse and struggling addicts don’t feel alone in their recovery.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction as a result of sexual abuse, there are resources available to help you, including information on various drugs and co-occurring mental health disorders at DrugRehab.com.

Kiara Anthony regularly contributes to DrugRehab.com, along with other publications. She earned her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications from Towson University, and her graduate degree in Communications from Trinity Washington University.

National Institute of Justice. (2003). Youth victimization: Prevalence and implications. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/194972.pdf




Lauren Reid is the founder of When You're Ready.org, a three time survivor of rape who built this community to let other survivors of sexual violence know that they're not alone. When you're ready, I'll be here.