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How are Sexual Abuse, PTSD and Addiction Related?

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Around 18 percent of all women in the United States have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which also points out that 81 percent of rape victims report significant short-term and long-term impacts after an assault.

According to the National Institute of Health, between 55 and 99 percent of all women who seek treatment for substance abuse or addiction have been sexually abused, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that women who experienced any type of sexual abuse as a child are around three times more likely than unabused women to become dependent on drugs or alcohol as adults.

If someone you love has experienced sexual abuse, witnessing the aftermath can be devastating, especially if it involves uncharacteristic behaviors like turning to drugs or alcohol. But help is available. A comprehensive treatment program that addresses both sexual abuse and substance addiction – as well as any mental health issues related or unrelated to the abuse – can lead to successful long-term recovery.

The Effects of Sexual Abuse: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Whether a woman’s experience with sexual abuse occurred in childhood or adulthood, and regardless of whether the act was violent or perpetrated by someone she knows, the effects of any type of sexual assault can be catastrophic.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, often results from sexual violence. Women who suffer from PTSD will re-experience the trauma of the rape through nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive memories of the event. They may become emotionally unstable, and many will exhibit avoidance behaviors concerning people, places, and activities that serve as a reminder of the event. Insomnia, irritability, and anger are also commonly associated with PTSD.

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The National Institutes of Health notes that sexual abuse is the most common cause of PTSD in women, with one recent study finding that 94 percent of women experienced symptoms of PTSD within the first two weeks of a sexual assault. However, symptoms may also appear months or even years later.

Sexual Abuse, PTSD, and Substance Abuse

Women with PTSD stemming from sexual abuse often turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the emotional pain of the experience, dissociate the event from their consciousness, or alleviate sexual difficulties following the assault, according to the National Institutes of Health. They may also use drugs or alcohol to help combat insomnia, prevent nightmares, or to ease social anxiety that may set in after a sexual assault.

Women with a history of sexual abuse also encounter more difficulties recovering from an addiction. The National Institutes of Health (2009) cites a number of reasons why this is so, including the complicated relationship between trauma and substance abuse, the role drugs or alcohol may play in managing symptoms of PTSD, and the presence of other psychological disorders resulting from the abuse, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

There is Hope: Healing the Mind, Body, and Spirit in Treatment

According to Harvard Medical School, women with a history of sexual abuse are more likely to recover in women’s-only treatment programs that address the highly complex and interrelated issues surrounding the abuse and the addiction. Gender-specific treatment enables women to focus on recovery in a supportive and safe environment while addressing sensitive issues with other women who likely have similar experiences.

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There is hope for your loved one. A holistic approach to recovery that utilizes various traditional and alternative treatment therapies can lead to long-term recovery and restoration of your loved one’s sense of worth, purpose, and well-being.

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