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Sexual Abuse and Addiction: Unraveling a Complex Relationship

Aug 19, 2022
Last updated Dec 11, 2023
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People of all ages, genders, and backgrounds can be affected by sexual abuse. As damaging as sexual abuse is for all who survive it, the effects of childhood sex abuse can be even more damaging. Traumatic childhood experiences like sex abuse can lead to long-term side effects like depression, PTSD, and other mental issues. Research has shown a strong correlation between childhood trauma and addiction to alcohol or drugs later in life.

Key Takeaways

  • Childhood trauma, like child sex abuse, often leaves survivors with long-term side effects that may not present until years after the abuse occurred.
  • Research has found that in addition to mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, survivors of sex abuse are at an increased risk of developing substance abuse issues.
  • A sex abuse lawsuit can help survivors get the closure and compensation they need to move forward.

Sexual Abuse and Addiction: Understanding the Relationship

When a child grows up in a physically, mentally, or sexually abusive household, they are at a far greater risk of facing a range of difficulties. These include challenges involving mental health, intrapersonal relationships, concentrating and learning, and regulating emotions.

Multiple studies have focused on the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and substance abuse and have found that children who had experienced sex abuse were more likely to face addiction and mental health issues as they matured. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse often deal with immense trauma that can cause conditions like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. This may cause the individual to attempt to self-medicate using drugs and alcohol.

Why Do Sexual Abuse Survivors Sometimes Turn to Drugs and Alcohol?

While not all survivors of childhood sex abuse will have substance abuse issues, research has shown that enduring childhood trauma increases the risk of drug and alcohol dependence. In one study of patients in an inpatient drug treatment center, researchers found that 72% had experienced some form of sexual abuse. Of that group, 75% were sexually abused as a child.

For some survivors of child sex abuse, turning to drugs and alcohol is a means of self-medicating to cope with the devastating aftereffects of the abuse. Some survivors who use substances to numb their pain may not even realize that their trauma is why they are using drugs and alcohol.

Here are other reasons why there is a strong correlation between childhood trauma and addiction.

1. Method of self-medicating or regulating mood

Sexual abuse often leaves survivors with a range of devastating side effects that may last for years if not decades. Common side effects of childhood sex abuse include various mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and disassociative identity disorder. Childhood sex abuse survivors may use drugs and alcohol as a way to block out these negative feelings and cope with the mental conditions caused by the abuse.

2. A way to engage in a self-harming behavior where the survivor holds full control

In addition to addiction, some survivors of sex abuse may also engage in self-harm as an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with the painful emotions and memories of the abuse. For some survivors, self-harm may be viewed as a form of self-punishment due to deep feelings of shame, responsibility, and guilt. It can also be a way to re-experience trauma while having full control over it.

3. Escape painful emotions and traumatic memories

Survivors may have difficulty coping with the challenges of relationship, job, or family issues on top of their PTSD and may use drugs and alcohol to subdue emotions and escape reality. Others may use substances to dull the pain and sadness caused by the abuse without realizing that they are using drugs or alcohol to cope.

4. Boost to self-esteem and confidence

Those who have been affected by child sex abuse may suffer from feelings of low self-worth and self-confidence. Survivors may turn to drugs and alcohol to temporarily alleviate those negative feelings, leading to a cycle of addiction.

5. A way to ease feelings of loneliness and isolation

Some survivors of childhood sexual abuse may feel like no one understands what they experienced which may make it more difficult to be vulnerable and fully connect with others in their life. As a way to cope with their pain and isolation, many survivors may turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the feeling of loneliness they experience. Common signs of drug addiction and alcoholism that friends and family should be aware of are a tendency to withdraw and isolate.

Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse and Addiction

Survivors of childhood sex abuse often report feeling shame, guilt, disgust, and depression, and sadly, they often blame themselves for the horrific acts an adult subjected them to when they were a child. While drugs and alcohol may provide a brief escape from these feelings, substances will not help the survivor come to terms with these memories. Facing the trauma and pain caused by childhood sexual abuse can be difficult, but addressing these emotions can help survivors overcome them by learning new, healthier coping mechanisms.

If you are suffering from addiction due to the effects of child sex abuse, you can begin your journey towards healing by reaching out to someone you trust, whether that is a counselor, a primary care physician, or an addiction specialist. A doctor or addiction specialist will be able to explain different treatment options ranging from inpatient treatment to group therapy. Through the help of mental health professionals, survivors will be able to work through their trauma and learn new coping skills to deal with negative emotions that arise.

Once you are ready, holding your attacker accountable for the damage they caused to you can help you find closure. By filing a civil sexual abuse lawsuit against the offender and any other parties that may have played a part in the abuse, you can potentially receive financial compensation that can help you move forward.

Fighting Back: How a NY Sex Abuse Lawyer Can Help

If you are considering seeking justice by filing a sex abuse lawsuit, you should consult with an attorney who has experience in both civil tort cases and sex abuse cases. A qualified sexual abuse lawyer can help determine who may be liable for the crimes committed against you, build a strong case to prove liability, and fight relentlessly for the justice you deserve. The sex abuse attorneys of Edwards Henderson are nationally recognized for their success in advocating for survivors of sex abuse and played a large part in the fight for compensation for the survivors of Jeffrey Epstein’s sex crimes.

While money cannot take back the damage that sexual abuse causes, filing a civil lawsuit may help you access the help and resources you need to heal from sex abuse while also giving you the peace of mind that your attacker will be brought to justice for the unspeakable crimes they committed.

Since it may take adult survivors of sex abuse years to be able to come forward about what happened to them, states like New York and California have passed legislation extending the statute of limitations to report sex abuse. California’s Assembly Bill 218, also called the California Child Victims Act, gives adult survivors of child sex abuse in California until December 31, 2022 to file a lawsuit against their abuser regardless of how long ago the abuse happened.

Sexual Abuse and Addiction: FAQs

1. What is the definition of sexual abuse?

According to the American Psychology Association, sexual abuse is defined as any unwanted sexual activity. Sexual abusers use force, threats, or take advantage of those who cannot consent due to age, intoxication, or disability.

2. Does childhood trauma increase the likelihood of substance use?

While childhood trauma is not a prerequisite to substance use or addiction, research has found there is a strong correlation between childhood trauma, like sexual abuse, and the risk of substance abuse.

3. How does sexual abuse affect a person?

Sexual abuse leaves the survivor with an immense level of trauma and an increased risk of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Because of this, it is common for sex abuse survivors to seek alcohol or drugs in an attempt to dull the pain associated with abuse and use it as a coping mechanism.

4. Who are the most common perpetrators of child sex abuse?

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the survivor. In cases of child sex abuse, 93% of survivors knew their abuser.

5. What causes drug abuse and addiction?

According to the Mayo Clinic, factors that may influence the likelihood of substance abuse include a family history of addiction, lack of family involvement, peer pressure, and mental health disorders like depression and PTSD. The Mayo Clinic notes that individuals who suffer from these issues may use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with painful feelings which can make the underlying problem worse.

Contact a Child Sex Abuse Lawyer

Healing from sexual abuse can be a long road as it often leaves survivors with deep mental and physical scars that may last a lifetime without intervention. These scars can be compounded with drug and alcohol abuse.

While compensation cannot eliminate these scars, it can help sex abuse survivors access the resources they need to begin a new chapter in life. A civil sex abuse lawsuit can bring the survivor justice and financial compensation for the years of harm they suffered.

The New York child sex abuse lawyers of Edwards Henderson are passionate about advocating for victims’ rights and holding abusers accountable for their despicable crimes. If you or a loved one experienced the trauma of child sexual abuse, contact a child sex abuse lawyer at Edwards Henderson today for a free legal consultation to learn what options for justice may be available to you.

Article Sources

  1. The relationship between sexual and physical abuse and substance abuse consequences
  2. APA: Sexual assault and harassment
  3. Perpetrators of Sexual Violence: Statistics
  4. Drug addiction (substance use disorder)

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