Recovering From Sexual Assault and Drug & Alcohol Addiction

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Sexual assault is an intense form of trauma which often drives addiction. A trauma-informed philosophy is key to recovering from trauma.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 50% of women and 33% of men will experience sexual violence involving physical contact in their lifetimes.

Rape, molestation, incest, and other forms of sexual violence are traumatic events that can impact the victim’s mental health.

Many survivors of sexual assault do not seek help after they experience sexual violence. For both men and women, the choice to not report can be done due to an overwhelming sense of guilt, shame, and fear of not being believed or having their abuser retaliate.

Sexual Assault and Addiction

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for survivors of sexual assault to self-medicate with substances. Self-medicating is done to distract someone from a devastatingly traumatic event and numb their pain. A vast body of research has found that people who have experienced sexual violence are at high risk for developing mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosis, and substance abuse disorders (SUDs).

Often, sexual assault survivors who develop SUD also have an underlying mental health condition, resulting in a dual diagnosis. For an individual with a dual diagnosis to overcome their substance abuse and mental health disorder, it is vital that both conditions are treated simultaneously.

Trauma-Informed Care

For many survivors of sexual assault, many of their underlying mental health concerns stem from harmful coping mechanisms they developed to handle their trauma. Their addiction recovery treatment team must not only address their addiction; they must also be sure to provide trauma-informed care (TIC).

TIC is rooted in the belief that all people have gone through trauma, and it is necessary to understand these traumas to resolve any mental health concerns a patient may have. A trauma-informed philosophy goes beyond prescribing medications and participating in talk therapy. It challenges providers to connect strongly with their patients to identify the root causes of their SUD and help them find healing and strength.

Preventing Re-Traumatization

Re-traumatization occurs when someone is triggered by environmental factors and psychologically relieves a horrendous event that took place in their life. Preventing re-traumatization is key while mental health conditions are being treated, especially for a sexual assault survivor struggling with SUD. 

Patients can be taught proper coping mechanisms to deal with addiction and any underlying mental health concerns, but until the root cause of these conditions is identified, they will likely continue to be re-traumatized throughout their lifetimes. Each re-traumatization increases the chance of relapse.

TIC encourages providers to limit exposure to triggers while a patient is in their care. Unfortunately, triggers are not going to be removed from day-to-day life. As a patient learns to resolve their trauma, TIC providers will help them develop coping mechanisms that allow sexual assault survivors to overcome triggers as they happen to them. 

Trust and Control

Sexual assault survivors have experienced an event entirely out of their control. Survivors were violated in very intimate ways, and it is normal for them to feel as if they do not have control over their lives. This feeling of a lack of control can lead to a downward spiral in which survivors do not advocate for themselves in their daily lives, further hampering their ability to recover from their assault. 

Furthermore, the violation of their body, mind, and soul often damages their ability to trust those around them. A lack of trust hinders recovery, as it is nearly impossible to help someone recover from a traumatic event if they do not feel comfortable being their authentic selves around others. This discomfort with openness and vulnerability can lead to dishonesty in a clinical setting and in their relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners.

Such a dynamic will make it much harder for the survivor to admit when they are struggling and can increase the chance of relapse.

TIC is founded on patience. It provides a comfortable and understanding environment that gradually allows sexual assault survivors to build a trusting relationship with their treatment team. TIC providers focus on clear and honest communication with their patients. They ensure the patient has the autonomy to speak up during their session and actively participate in their treatment plan to help them regain a sense of control in life.

Finding the Right Treatment Center

When it comes to treatment for a sexual assault survivor, treating the underlying trauma must come first. If the underlying trauma is not treated, it will prevent the survivor from developing the support systems that will help them make a full recovery.

For this reason, sexual assault survivors should look for treatment at a facility with a trauma-informed approach. Treatment facilities with TIC training staff can limit triggers and develop lasting bonds with their patients that allow for emotional, mental, and spiritual growth.

The Forge Recovery Center Heals with a Trauma-Informed Approach

You are more than your addiction. All too often, people develop addictions to drugs and alcohol as a response to traumatic life events. This is especially true for sexual assault survivors who are often silenced due to blame, shame, and misconceptions from society.

At The Forge Recovery Center, you will not be treated as a victim.

You are a whole person, worthy of love, happiness, and peace. Seeking treatment can help you re-establish a healthy sense of control over your life. Our staff is trained in trauma-informed approaches. They will be there with you every step of the way to help you overcome your addiction or dual diagnosis while limiting exposure to triggers.

If you are curious about available treatment options, contact The Forge Recovery Center today.

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Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

August 5, 2022