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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines addiction as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.” Substance use disorder (SUD), also known as addiction, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic brain disorder. While the cause of addiction remains unknown, several risk factors (e.g., environmental risk factors, genetic risk factors, psychological risk factors, socioeconomic risk factors, etc.) have been reported to increase one’s susceptibility to substance use disorder. Data from 2022 presented by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, indicate that addiction affects over 20 million Americans aged 12 and older.

What Is Sexual Abuse?

The America 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.” Sexually abusive behaviors could include the following examples, provided by Science Direct:

  • Forcing someone to have sex.
  • Forcing someone to perform sexual acts.
  • Refusing to use condoms.
  • Engaging in sexual acts with someone who is unconscious.
  • Rape.
  • Unwanted kissing.
  • Unwanted touching.
  • Unwanted rough or violent sex.

Although sexual abuse often does have a physical component, it is not considered physical abuse, as it is sexual in nature. Sexual abuse occurs when a person is pressured into participating in sexual acts or behaviors that he or she does not want to take part in. In the United States, a sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds, and each year there are approximately 293,000 victims of sexual assault.

The Connection

There is a substantial amount of evidence exposing a close link between interpersonal violence, such as sexual abuse, and substance abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlight the multifaceted correlation between substance abuse and sexual abuse through empirical evidence, some of which includes:

  • Co-occurring mental health conditions: Survivors of sexual abuse often experience a higher incidence of co-occurring mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and more. These conditions can increase one’s vulnerability to substance abuse and addiction as individuals may turn to substances in efforts to self-soothe, alleviate distressing symptoms, and/ or regain a sense of control.
  • Trauma response: Sexual abuse can cause significant trauma and extremely high levels of stress. One study found that it initiated physiological stress responses that, as observed in neurological scans, led to structural disruptions directly linked to increased vulnerability to addiction.
  • Self-medication: Research indicates that it is not uncommon for survivors of sexual abuse to turn to drugs and/ or alcohol as a form of self-medication to manage the emotional pain and distress caused by the abuse.

Experts explain that the nature of the association between addiction and sexual abuse appears to be complex, in that a history of interpersonal trauma increases the risk for substance abuse, and substance abuse increases the risk for interpersonal trauma.

For Information and Support

If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding substance abuse and/ or addiction, we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. If left untreated, substance abuse can result in long lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. Keep in mind: you are not alone! There is an entire network of professionals that are available to help and support you and your loved one throughout the recovery process. The earlier you seek support, the sooner your loved one can return to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions regarding our specific program at Haven House Addiction Treatment and/ or general substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment related information. Our highly trained staff is readily available to discuss how we might best be able to help you and your loved one. We can be reached by phone at 424-258-6792. You are also welcomed to contact anytime us via email at admissions@hhtxc.com.