Sexual Trauma and Addiction: Connections, Consequences, and Treatment

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Sadly, there is a deep cyclical nature when it comes to sexual trauma and addiction. Women and men who have experienced sexual trauma during childhood or who experience sexual assault and rape in adulthood stand a substantial likelihood of encountering problems with substance use disorders or addiction. But it is also true that those with a substance use disorder or addiction, particularly women, hold a higher probability of finding themselves at risk for sexual assault, sexual abuse, and rape. To understand this cycle, we must look at the many forms of sexual trauma, the consequences of sexual assault, the connections between trauma and addiction, and finally, how to find hope in treatment.

What Is Sexual Trauma?

Sexual trauma does not discriminate and can happen to both men and women – no matter their gender identity, sexual orientation or age. However, recent World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that one in three women (or 35%) have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or non-partner in their lifetime. WHO also cites that violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights. 

In order to understand this major health problem and the connection between sexual trauma and addiction, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of what sexual trauma is and how it manifests. Sexual trauma is often used as an umbrella term to describe any sexual act that is imposed on another person without their consent. The word “trauma” refers to the shortened version of the full condition Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health disorder characterized by different levels or symptoms of intense flashbacks, panic attacks, anxiety, and nightmares that persist long after a life-threatening or traumatic event has ended. In the case of sex-related PTSD (or trauma), it is an unwanted sexual encounter that is the trigger for these symptoms and many others including depression, self-harm, disassociation, and eating disorders. Sexual violence or assault can result in long-lasting trauma and have major psychological, emotional, and physical effects on a survivor. 

What Are The Different Forms of Sexual Assault?

According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, the term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the victim, some forms include:

  • Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body

It’s important to note that force doesn’t always refer to a physical act. Preditors may use emotional and psychological tactics or force to coerce a victim into non-consensual sex. Examples of sexual trauma can take the form of sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse, stalking, sexual harassment, childhood sexual abuse, incest, sex trafficking, online sexual harassment, and sexual violence in relationships – to name a few. According to RAINN, approximately eight out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, such as in the case of intimate partner sexual violence or acquaintance rape (also known as date rape). 

The Connection Between Sexual Trauma and Addiction

Because of the effects of sexual trauma, it can be incredibly challenging to navigate and manage the emotions, repercussions, and stress associated with the event or series of events. This can often lead victims to seek unhealthy ways of dealing with this form of trauma, including turning to substance use. When a person experiences the trauma typically associated with sexual assault or sexual violence, it’s common for victims to turn to drugs or alcohol to avoid dealing with the trauma they’ve experienced. This is particularly true in those who’ve suffered sexual abuse as a child. These individuals often encounter years of dealing with guilt, shame, problems with physical and emotional intimacy, and self-esteem issues. If these feelings and emotions are not treated professionally, adult survivors of sexual child abuse often turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with the emotional (and physical) scars of the trauma experienced during their childhood. RAINN reports the most common reasons that survivors turn to substances include:

  • Trying to numb or escape the pain
  • Fear that family or friends won’t understand, judgment
  • Wanting to feel better and gain a sense of control
  • To help them sleep and avoid nightmares
  • Confusion or self-consciousness about the experience
  • Lacking an effective support system 

Sexual Trauma, Co-Occurring Disorders, and Treatment

Most people do not seek out the support they need right after a sexual assault due to fear of judgment and not being believed. As a result, countless women and men suffer in silence. Combine this type of trauma and fear with an addiction problem and the results can be devastating. If you or someone you know suffers from sexual trauma and is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they will need professional treatment from a facility specializing in co-occurring disorders. By identifying the root cause of addiction, you can begin your journey to self-healing and finding peace and balance in life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact Silver Lining Recovery today at 1-833-8GROWTH.