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Better Health: How Sexual Abuse Can Lead to a Life of Substance Abuse 

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Sexual abuse is one of the worst experiences a human being can endure. Let’s be clear, this in itself is a form of torture, and its victims often go on to live lives full of debilitating mental health issues. 

Along the same line, substance abuse is a horrific form of addiction, and unfortunately, many victims of sexual abuse go on to form substance addictions that only serve to drag an abuse survivor further down, creating even worse mental health conditions.

Abuse of any kind is never easy to cope with, and this is why many psychologists agree that alcohol and illicit substances are an easy go-to coping mechanisms that might alleviate the trauma momentarily. But years of substance abuse often never end up curing the mental health issues associated with sexual abuse. 

Here’s how sexual abuse can lead to a life of using alcohol and controlled substances as a coping mechanism. 

Fear of abandonment  

One of the more common mental health issues that victims of sexual abuse suffer is the fear of abandonment that comes with developing relationships after an incident of sexual abuse. 

In many cases, a victim of sexual abuse will know his or her abuser, and perhaps even have had a healthy relationship at one time with the abuser. This is often the case in sexual abuse by church clergy, or by family members. Once the abuse has occurred, however, this healthy relationship ends, and often victims can feel abandoned. 

In many cases of abandonment, victims turn to use substances to cope with the depression that follows. 

This is just as common with victims of sexual abuse as it is with those whose partners have abruptly broken up with them, ending a long-term relationship. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a recently single man or woman to drink for days on end or to cope by using drugs simply to forget about the pain of a lost relationship. 


Depression is a common mental health issue that finds many people resorting to the use of alcohol or drugs in order to cope. 

Truly, most people who turn to alcohol or illegal drugs when they find themselves depressed simply want to fade into oblivion and numb their minds to the degree that they no longer feel trapped or saddened.

When someone has suffered from sexual abuse, depression is often a common after-effect. Thoughts become difficult to control, and emotions can seem wild and erratic. As such, many victims of sexual abuse turn to alcohol and drugs in hopes of removing themselves, even if only momentarily, from their extreme state of depression.


Posttraumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD, is commonly associated with members of the military who’ve served in combat. However, PTSD can manifest after any traumatic event, and sometimes to a severe degree.

Sufferers of PTSD have been known to turn to drugs and alcohol to alleviate the mental anguish that ensues during disorder episodes, which can range from having flashbacks to extreme shifts in demeanour and behaviour, including violent outbursts. 

Those who have suffered from sexual abuse have indeed suffered traumatic stress, and this is why PTSD is also just as common with survivors of sexual abuse. 

Many victims of sexual abuse who suffer from PTSD also turn to drugs and alcohol, making their conditions even worse over time. And this often begins when survivors of abuse begin having episodes of disorder that are often triggered from sensory perception, from revisiting the place where the abuse occurred, seeing violent sexual imagery, or even coming in contact with certain scents. 

Substance abuse is a debilitating condition, and unless treated, can ultimately result in death from overdose or other medical complications. And though many survivors of abuse look to controlled substances as an easy way out, this will only prove to make mental health conditions worse over time. 

Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.

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