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By Tim L | 15 May, 2019 Published in Guides
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Where you aware that sexual abuse occurs every 98 seconds in the UK? Sexual abuse can affect literally anyone.  It does not discriminate when it comes to its victims. Sexual abuse affects both men and women of any age.

It does not discriminate based on nationality, sexual orientation or any other factor of this nature.

Below, we outline forms of sexual abuse, although it’s worth noting sexual abuse is not limited to the below:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Intimate partner sexual violence
  • Harmful use of digital technology
  • Molestation
  • Sexual exploitation by a professional
  • Sexual assault
  • Incest
  • Rape

The relationship between PTSD and sexual abuse

There is absolutely no doubt that sexual abuse constitutes a traumatic experience for anyone who falls victim to it. Sexual abuse gives rise to painful memories. These memories may persist for decades and even a lifetime.

When traumatic memories caused by sexual abuse are not sufficiently treated, an illness known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is likely to arise. When PTSD arises, sufferers are likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with the deliberating symptoms of PTSD.

Woman are particularly vulnerable to developing PTSD following sexual abuse. In fact, around 95% of female survivors of sexual abuse will develop PTSD.

The symptoms of PTSD caused by sexual abuse

Below, we list some of the symptoms of PTSD for survivors of sexual abuse:

  • Isolating yourself from people, things, and places that remind you of the sexual abuse
  • Forgetting events relating to the traumatic experience
  • Re-Experiencing the traumatic events
  • Distorted view of the world
  • Nightmares and night terrors
  • Feeling tense and on edge
  • Avoidance behaviour
  • Negative self-image
  • Anger and explosive outbursts
  • Feelings of blame, guilt and shame
  • Flashbacks
  • Reactivity and Arousal
  • Losing interest in your hobbies and activities you previously enjoyed
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Sleeping trouble
  • Being easily startled
  • Avoiding feelings or thoughts related to the traumatic event

PTSD and Addiction

Those experiencing the above symptoms because of PTSD are known to abuse substances as a way of coping with these symptoms.  If you find yourself abusing drugs, alcohol or even prescription drugs in this manner, then it’s likely you will become dependent on these substances.

Below, we list some of the facts illustrating the link between sexual-abuse-fuelled-PTSD and addiction:

  • 75% of females starting addiction treatment state they have experienced sexual abuse.
  • Sexual abuse victims with PTSD are13 times more likely to develop alcoholism.
  • Sexual abuse victims with PTSD are 26 times more likely to abuse substances.

Using drugs and alcohol helps survivors of sexual abuse an opportunity to numb the pain caused by memories of the abuse. Simply put, the pain caused by the PTSD is greater than the pain that’s caused by substance abuse.

In this way, substance abuse is a psychological addiction. However, many substances are also physically addictive. This means those addicted to physically addictive substances will experience painful physical withdrawal symptoms when substance use is abruptly ceased. Examples of physically addictive substances include alcohol, opiates and many prescription drugs. 

Substance abuse causes many problems of its own. These problems will continue to compound up to the point where the addict’s life is at risk. The pain of continuing to use drugs and alcohol will begin to grow too great to bear. This is when the person ‘hits rock bottom’.

However, if the underlying PTSD symptoms are not treated, these symptoms will rebound and become too great to bear if the addict attempts to stop using drugs and alcohol. Effective addiction treatments will aim to treat the underlying symptoms of PTSD to ensure the recipients of treatment are able to effectively cope without relapsing shortly following the completion of the treatment programme.

If you are utilising drugs and alcohol to cope with the symptoms of PTSD, please know that much more effective treatment solutions exist. If you continue to abuse substances, please know you are actually making things worse. Substance abuse may offer short-term relief from the symptoms of PTSD, but this release comes at a much greater price that must be paid later down the road.

The drawbacks of using substances to cope with PTSD

The disadvantages of using drugs and alcohol to cope with PTSD include:

  • Expose yourself to further traumatic experiences, including sexual assault
  • Damage your organs, such as the liver when alcohol is abused
  • Risk of death by overdose
  • Substance abuse is linked with both suicide and self-harm

Before your addiction treatment begins, you will undergo an initial assessment. Here, the treatment providers will attempt to diagnose PTSD.

When PTSD and addiction exist simultaneously, this is known as dual-diagnosis. If this is the case, a tailored treatment programme must be compiled to ensure both illnesses are effectively treated.

Effective treatments for both addiction and PTSD

If you are addicted to physically addictive drugs, you will undergo a medically assisted detox. You will then be taught a range of relapse prevention techniques to assist you in your recovery. You will also be taught healthier coping strategies to help you manage the symptoms of PTSD without relying on substances.

  • EMDR
  • Individual Counseling
  • Trauma/Grief Processing
  • Medicated detox
  • Group therapy
  • Holistic Therapies – meditation, yoga, art therapy etc

Getting help now

Rehab 4 Addiction is a free drug and alcohol helpline.  Based in London, we assist our callers in selecting effective and well-matched drug and alcohol rehab treatment throughout the UK and internationally. Many of the clinics we work with offer tailored treatment for people suffering from PTSD because of a previous sexual assault.

To begin learning about how we can assist you or a loved one in selecting an effective addiction treatment programme, contact us today on 0800 140 4690.

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