Addiction and Childhood Sexual Abuse:
The Connection and How Early Intervention Can Save Lives
Highlighting the devastating effects of childhood trauma, singer Jessica Simpson recently spoke out about her addiction issues spurred by the sexual abuse she experienced as a six-year-old child. Simpson details her battle with alcohol and drugs in her new memoir, “Open Book,” and discusses how she finally realized she had a problem when she was so intoxicated she couldn’t dress her children for Halloween. Luckily, she found help and has been sober since 2017. As more celebrities and famous public figures openly discuss childhood sexual abuse, the stigma and shame surrounding this trauma can begin to dissolve, and more lives can be saved.
To understand how child sexual trauma can lead to addiction, it’s important to understand the definition of child sexual abuse, how this trauma often leads to mental health issues and addiction, and how you can find the help you need to deal with these co-occurring disorders.
What is Child Sexual Abuse and How Common is it?
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), “child sexual abuse is a form of abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor. A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period. When a perpetrator engages with a child this way, they are committing a crime that can have lasting effects on the victim for years.” Some forms of child sexual abuse include (but are not limited to):
- Exposing oneself to a minor or masturbation in the presence of a minor
- Sex trafficking
- Intercourse or sex of any kind with a minor
- Obscene phone calls, text messages, or other digital interaction
- Producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children
In terms of recent statistics on child sexual abuse, RAINN reports:
- 82% of all abuse victims under 18 are female.
- Every 9 minutes, authorities respond to another report of child sexual abuse
- 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18, experienced sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult
- Females ages 16-19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault
Childhood Sexual Abuse, The Brain, and Addiction
According to a study in The National Institutes of Health (NIH, 2010), there is significant evidence showing that childhood trauma affects the brain’s neural structure and functioning, causing an individual to become susceptible to cognitive deficits and mental health disorders, including major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse. In a recent U.S. News and World Report (2020) Theresa Valach, clinical director of La Rabida Children’s Hospital Chicago Child Trauma Center, states, “What we’re seeing is that exposure to ongoing, multiple traumas really changes a child’s brain development. When your brain is developing as a child, and you’re being exposed to chronic stress and trauma, it can neurologically change the way your brain develops. You become predisposed to respond to stress differently. You constantly perceive threats, sometimes where there is no threat because your body has been trained to constantly be on alert.” For those in the constant “fight or flight” mode from childhood trauma, alcohol or drugs are often used to deal with these feelings, memories, and emotions. According to RAINN, other reasons for substance abuse in those with a history of childhood sexual trauma may include:
- Fear that family or friends won’t understand
- Wanting to feel better
- Numbing, soothing, or escaping the pain and memories of the trauma
- Confusion, guilt, shame, or self-consciousness about the experience
- Lacking an effective support system
How to Find Help And Treatment for Trauma and Addiction
In terms of how to begin healing from childhood trauma, Valach reveals, The older children get and the more their brain is wired to go into trauma responses, the more long-term care is needed to help repair and change that.” Unfortunately, for those who never receive early intervention for childhood sexual abuse, mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD often develop. Substance abuse soon follows or co-occurs, to deal with these disorders, and the terrible cycle of addiction begins. What can be done to change this devastating result?
- Early professional intervention, community support, and awareness are key in dealing with those affected by childhood sexual trauma.
- Due to the strong connection between substance use disorders and childhood sexual abuse, professional trauma therapy is vital for those suffering from this form of trauma.
- Better education of health professionals on trauma-informed care.
For those who are struggling with addiction and experiencing mental health disorders such as depression from sexual trauma, entering a rehab treatment program tailored to co-occurring disorders is crucial for a successful recovery. If you or someone you love is using substances to deal with mental health issues, please reach out to Silver Lining Recovery today.
We understand the challenges of co-occurring disorders, and our treatment program is tailored to each client’s specific history and offers one-on-one therapy sessions with highly-trained, compassionate, and experienced counselors. These individualized programs and treatment methods guide you step-by-step to slowly unravel unresolved issues that may be fueling the addiction to continue. You are not alone and have the right to feel happy and whole again, let us help you by calling Silver Lining Recovery today at (866) 729-8577.