Survivors of sexual trauma often self-medicate the effects of their attack through drug and alcohol abuse. These individuals frequently suffer from a form of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and often avoid professional help due to a fear of being stigmatized or doubted. Millions of people have been victimized by traumatic sexual abuse and have yet to find adequate treatment.
A number of sexual experiences can cause PTSD, including the following examples:
- Under-aged sexual activity
- Exposure to sexually explicit materials at a young age
- Physical violence during consensual sex
- Forced prostitution
- Date rape
Because sexual experiences are so closely connected to a person’s private thoughts, many survivors do not seek help.
PTSD is a complicated psychological and physiological phenomenon that can affect a person for years, even a lifetime. When the brain experiences something traumatic, it tends to shutdown partially as a defense mechanism against total breakdown. While this response may allow a person to survive the trauma, he will ultimately need to process the corresponding emotions to find recovery. Unless this type of breakthrough occurs, survivors will experience any of the following symptoms:
- Panic attacks
- Emotional outbursts
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Many people unconsciously self-medicate their symptoms through drug and alcohol abuse. Getting drunk or high will relieve problems for a short time, but survivors often develop addiction as a result.
Treating Sexual PTSD and Addiction
Treating addiction and sexual PTSD involves a personalized combination of counseling and medical care. Patients need a detailed diagnosis of any co-occurring psychological disorders to craft a personalized treatment plan that addresses trauma, chemical dependency and any other corresponding issues. This will often involve a combination of the following therapies:
- Individual and group counseling sessions
- 12-step programs
- Medically supervised detox
- Education about the effects of trauma
- Emotional processing exercises
- Coping skill and mindfulness exercises
- Spiritual care
Once the underlying trauma is addressed, patients can often overcome substance abuse for good. There is no reason for a survivor of sexual assault to suffer for an ongoing basis for the rest of life.