The Link Between Sexual Abuse and Addiction: How to End the Cycle

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by Jane Moore

Anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse, though a larger percentage have proven to be women or girls.  The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats, or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.” 

The Link Between Sexual Abuse and Addiction

Women with a history of childhood or previous sexual abuse have a stronger likelihood of developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Long term symptoms of sexual abuse, such as anxiety, fear, low self-esteem, and post traumatic stress disorder, can all be factors in driving victims toward addictive behaviors.

Sexual Abuse can cause major trauma to the victim, both physical and mental.  Many times the victim even knows their abuser.  This abuse can cause victims to turn inward, feeling lonely, isolated, and unable to trust others.  The use of drugs or alcohol is a common way for sexual abuse victims to self-medicate or mentally escape memories of trauma. 

Addiction happens when the sexual abuse victim continues to abuse drugs or alcohol consistently, whether to escape pain or as a self-destructive behavior.  Unfortunately, addiction reinforces poor coping skills, antisocial behavior, anxiety, depression, relationship problems, self-esteem issues, and aids in future victimization. 

How to End the Cycle

If you know someone who has been sexually abused, seek help immediately.  The victim will need treatment for physical trauma as well as emotional trauma.  Therapy can aid in placing guilt where it belongs, on the perpetrator.  Therapy can also help the victim gain strength, confidence, and control of their future so that they will not have to turn toward drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. 

Once a sexual abuse victim is already addicted to substances, such as drugs or alcohol, they will need a much more in-depth recovery program.  They will need rehabilitation from their addiction in an environment that is safe, secure, and free from judgment.  The victim will need support and patience to recover from their addiction while simultaneously receiving therapy for the sexual abuse that was suffered.

Recovery from sexual abuse could take significantly longer than recovery from the addiction.  Sometimes victims are not able to verbalize why they feel the way they do or do not experience all the effects of the sexual abuse right away.  Therapy can help victims understand that all their feelings and responses are normal.  It can also offer more healthy ways to cope with the stress and trauma, such as writing down daily feelings in a journal. 

The effects of sexual abuse and subsequent addiction do not have to last forever. Healthy intervention for addiction and therapy to counter the effects of sexual abuse can make a major difference in the life of the victim.  The important thing is to end the abuse and addiction.  The victim can then move forward with continued therapy as long as needed and live a happy and productive life. 

–Jane Moore believes in the healing power of travel. She loves exploring unfamiliar places and writing about her experiences at FitwellTraveler.

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