Sexual Assault and Addiction

Category : Sex Addiction Information

Sexual Assault and AddictionTrauma from sexual assault often leaves permanent scars. Every survivor reacts to the violence in her own unique way and can respond to the event with a wide range of emotional, psychological, and physical reactions. Unhealed wounds created by the experience typically make victims more vulnerable to forming addictions later in life. It is important to understand the connection between substance abuse and sexual assault

The Impact of Sexual Assault

Sexual violence occurs whenever a person is forced, coerced, or manipulated into unwanted sexual activity, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Whether the act was completed or attempted, and regardless of whether it happened recently or years ago, it can trigger a wide range of reactions. Common emotional reactions include the following:

  • Guilt, shame, and self blame
  • Fear and distrust
  • Sadness
  • Vulnerability
  • Isolation
  • Lack of control
  • Anger
  • Numbness
  • Confusion
  • Denial

Typical psychological reactions include the following:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Phobias
  • Low self-esteem

Substance abuse is another common reaction to the impact of sexual assault, according to findings observed in a number of research studies reported on in a document prepared by the Mental Health Association of New York State. Statistics illustrating the connection between sexual abuse and addiction include the following:

  • Rape victims are 13.4 times more likely to develop two or more alcohol related problems
  • Rape victims are 26 times more likely to have two or more serious drug abuse-related problems
  • In a study of male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, over 80% had a history of substance abuse
  • 75% of women in treatment programs for drug and alcohol abuse report having been sexually abused
  • Teenagers with alcohol and drug problems are 18 to 21 times more likely to have been sexually abused than those without alcohol and drug problems

The connection between sexual violence and addiction can create a toxic cycle. Abusing drugs and/or alcohol increases the chances of being sexually re-victimized, just as sexual assault heightens vulnerability to Xanax addiction

Coping and Xanax: Why Survivors Use

A desire to numb emotional pain is one motivation that drives people into addictive behavior and substance abuse. Drugs such as Xanax, a widely prescribed tranquilizer, boost levels of “feel good” neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, in the brain. When levels are high, people do not feel physical and emotional pain. Uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety, grief, and stress disappear temporarily. Once the drug’s high wears off, however, serotonin and dopamine levels fall, sometimes to lower levels than before. Feelings such as anxiety and sadness return.

Learning to manage feelings – rather than anesthetizing them – is an important part of recovery for many individuals. Healing from sexual trauma is sometimes an ongoing process that takes place for years and can be painful and difficult. Even after periods of prolonged abstinence, the elevated stress caused by reliving memories of the trauma can raise risk of substance abuse, warn experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). That is why most treatment centers emphasize the importance of developing healthy stress management strategies. Several include the following:

  • Reaching out. Talking about feelings decreases stress, anxiety, and grief. Call a supportive friend or professional to regain perspective on a situation.
  • Mixing up your routine. Identify times during the day and week when you are most likely to use. Schedule a different activity like going to the gym instead.
  • Journaling. Putting feelings on paper can bring relief.
  • Getting support. Attending a support group meeting breaks the isolation created by drug use.

A study supported by the American Psychological Association shows that people with a variety of coping strategies stay abstinent longer than other individuals with addictions. One benefit of seeking expert help from a recovery center is receiving coordinated, specialized care that draws on many different approaches that have been shown to be particularly effective with victims of sexual assault. Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT), a therapeutic intervention designed specifically for addicted individuals experiencing negative life events, is one such method. Treatment goals of RPT include the following:

  • Boosting self-control
  • Strengthening problem-solving skills
  • Building community support
  • RPT also aims to prevent relapse in ways that include the following:
  • Encouraging mindfulness through exploring positive and negative consequences of continued use
  • Teaching individuals to self-monitor by identifying high-risk situations
  • Developing strategies for coping with and avoiding cravings
  • Identifying ways to avoid and overcome triggers

Other stress-management skills and techniques frequently taught in recovery programs include the following:

  • Avoiding hunger, anger, loneliness, and fatigue
  • Engaging in community service
  • Journaling thoughts and feelings
  • Practicing positive thinking

Experts at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health also advise active self-monitoring of mood changes by keeping a list of personal warning signs. Additionally, they suggest identifying enjoyable activities that generate positive feelings and could serve as a way to neutralize a craving or negative mood. The key is to pay attention to changes. Sleep disturbances, hopeless thoughts, and appetite fluctuations are sometimes warning signs of impending relapse.