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The Connection Between Sexual Assault and Substance Abuse

Each year there are approximately 293,000 victims of sexual assault. The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Unfortunately, nearly 70 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. While the majority of offenders will not spend time in jail, victims can feel imprisoned by the magnitude of this trauma, unsure how to break free.

Victims of sexual abuse are three times more likely than the average person to suffer from depression, and six times more likely to suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder2. Some sexual assault victims try to cope with traumatic memories and unwanted anxiety or depression through substance use. In fact, some studies report that sexual abuse victims are 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs than those who have not been sexually abused2. Substances may be used by victims for the following reasons:

  • As a way to cope or escape from the trauma of sexual abuse2
  • As a form of self-medication2
  • To help deal with low self-esteem or feelings of loneliness2
  • As a manifestation of self-harm or self-destructive behavior2

Because of this comorbidity between substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders (i.e. depression, generalized anxiety, and PTSD), and sexual trauma, victims often require a specific kind of treatment. “Trauma informed care is an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. It emphasizes physical, psychological and emotional safety for both consumers and providers, and helps survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment3.”

If you or someone you love has experienced sexual assault and is having a difficult time coping, or is coping in unhealthy ways, help is available. Trauma informed care can help you or your loved one rebuild your feelings of safety, control and self-worth. Talk to your primary care physician to find specialists in your area.



Statistics | RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from
Substance Abuse as a Consequence of Sexual Abuse – Alcohol Rehab. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from
Trauma Informed Care. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from