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Sexual Abuse and Addiction

sexual abuse and addictionWhen someone experiences sexual trauma, the effects reach far beyond the actual event. The events are so traumatic that many victims turn to alcohol or drugs. New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services1 shares, “Men and women reporting sexual abuse have higher rates of alcohol and drug use disorders than other men and women. Compared to adolescents who have not been sexually assaulted, adolescent sexual assault victims are 4.5 times more likely to experience alcohol abuse or dependence…and 9 times more likely to experience hard drug abuse or dependence.” There are many reasons for this connection between sexual abuse and addiction. Individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to feel better. They may try to escape memories or pain. Drugs and alcohol may offer temporary relief from mental health issues related to trauma. Substances may provide an outlet when individuals are embarrassed or unable to talk to friends or family about their experiences. Drugs offer many false promises. When a person experiences sexual abuse, these promises become even more inviting. If you struggle with addiction and have experienced sexual abuse, you are not alone.

Self-Medication, Abuse and Addiction

If you have a history of sexual trauma, your substance use may stem from a desire to self-medicate. Individuals with a traumatic past or present may try to ease their pain with drugs or alcohol. These substances ultimately create more pain. However they often promise immediate, temporary relief from the effects of sexual abuse. You may be facing these effects alone and in silence. Know that you do not have to. You may not realize that what you are feeling is normal. You may not realize that with professional help, you can feel better.

Survivors of sexual trauma typically experience trust issues. You may also experience guilt or low self-esteem. You may have been abused by someone you once trusted or looked up to. You may have experienced violence from a parent, spouse, sibling or other individual you expected to support you. A lack of trust can make it hard to reach out to those who truly do want to help. Low self-esteem makes your doubt your ability to move forward. Past sexual trauma makes it hard to open up and ask for support. However people provide connection, answers and healing. Drugs can only be trusted to offer temporary solutions and greater problems.

Integrated Healing After Trauma and Addiction

Few people inherently have the coping skills needed to healthily process sexual abuse. We aren’t born with these skills. We shouldn’t need to be. However abuse, violence and trauma happen. When they do, we don’t always know what to do next. Depression, anxiety and PTSD can stem from trauma. These make it even harder to see and take the next right steps. Drugs or alcohol come to seem like a simple, easy answer. Unfortunately there are no quick solutions for long-term health and wellness. When an individual suffers from drug addiction, trauma and related mental health issues, all of these concerns must be treated at the same time. You have to be open and honest about your past and your struggles. This is not an easy challenge. It isn’t fair that you are in the position you are now. However asking for help and opening up comes with rewards. Healing comes through seeking the right professional support. The National Institute on Drug Abuse2 explains, “It is often difficult to disentangle the overlapping symptoms of drug addiction and other mental illnesses, making diagnosis and treatment complex. Correct diagnosis is critical to ensuring appropriate and effective treatment.” Healing begins with an accurate assessment of co-occurring mental and physical health concerns. It continues with appropriate, individualized care.

You Can Heal

When you reach out for help, you can heal. Sexual abuse has put you at a disadvantage. It has not given you any challenges you cannot overcome.

The American Journal of Addiction3 shares, “Patients with a sexual abuse history had higher rates of psychological problems, stronger family histories of substance use disorders, and more impaired family relationships. At six months, there were no differences between patients with and without sexual abuse histories in their response to treatment, or their utilization of treatment services.”

You can heal. You can do so as well as individuals who have not shared your experiences. Do not think sexual trauma and addiction have to continue to limit your life. Addiction doesn’t allow us to move forward. It keeps us trapped in the negative, traumatic past. Recovery provides a path for growth. Treatment puts negative life experiences into context. It teaches you how to live rather than just survive.

How to Recover After Sexual Abuse and Addiction

The Canyon offers the resources you need for complete, integrated healing. Find recovery through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, group therapy and our other traditional and holistic paths to wellness. End substance abuse. Develop real coping skills. Don’t let your past define your future.


[1]https://www.oasas.ny.gov/AdMed/FYI/subused.cfm. “Substance Use Disorders and Disasters.” New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Nov 2012. Web. 17 Nov 2016.

[2]https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/comorbidity-addiction-other-mental-illnesses/letter-director. “Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Sep 2010. Web. 17 Nov 2016.

[3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17453610. “Sexual Abuse and the Outcome of Addiction Treatment.” American Journal of Addiction. Mar 2007. Web. 17 Nov 2016.


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