The Role Sexual Assault Plays in Addiction

Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) acknowledged each April serves as an annual campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities on how to prevent sexual violence (pulled from your first version). Over the past few months, the #MeToo Movement has successfully increased the spotlight on the ever so relevant issue in our society: sexual assault. Actors, politicians, athletes, and entrepreneurs have come forward to voice their support for survivors and increase social awareness using their celebrity-status. The increasing public conversation surrounding sexual assault and harassment is a crucial step towards addressing a prevalent and dangerous issue within our society.

According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is ‘any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient”. Furthermore, sexual assault can be anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual activity, which includes: physical, verbal or visual acts.

The role that alcohol and drugs play in the act and aftermath of sexual assault is alarming. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 3 out of 4 attackers had been drinking alcohol when they sexually assaulted someone. Being under the influence of alcohol or other drugs also increases the likelihood of victimization, as research has found that about half of sexual assault victims had been drinking.

After a traumatic event, it is common for individuals to have feelings of anxiety, stress or fear. Sexual assault can have psychological, emotional and physical effects on a survivor, making it difficult to adjust or cope for some time afterwards. Trauma uniquely presents itself in every survivor; some may withdraw from their close relationships, adopt harmful coping skills such as engaging in high-risk sexual behavior or abusing drugs. As with other survivors of trauma, sexual assault survivors have a heightened risk for alcohol and drug abuse. It has been found that survivors of sexual violence are 13.4 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 26 times more likely to use drugs.

As the presence of trauma and addiction has grown increasingly common experts in the field have developed and identified several evidence-based practices to work specifically with this population including; Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Seeking Safety, Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM), Addiction and Trauma Recovery Integration Model (ATRIUM), and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR).

If you have a friend, family member or loved one who has experienced sexual assault you can help by first listening and offering support. RAINN (2018) has identified specific phrases that are recommended to be used to best support survivors.

  • “I believe you / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this”
  • “It’s not you fault / You didn’t do anything to deserve this”
  • “You are not alone / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can”
  • “I’m sorry this happened”

Let the individual know that there is help available and ask if they would like to go to the hospital, counseling or report the crime to the police. It’s common for individuals to feel fear, shame, guilt or shock after a sexual assault. Each survivor can feel a range of different emotions at different times throughout their recovery process. Although it may be frightening to consider talking about an assault it’s essential to get help.

The organizations below are free and confidential:

National Sexual Assault Hotline 800 656 HOPE (4673)

National Domestic Violence Hotline 800 – 799 – SAFE (7233)

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network – 1.800.656.4673

National Child Abuse Hotline – 1.800.422.4453

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1.800.273.8255

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline – 1.866.331.9474 


Footprints to Recovery offers evidence-based trauma-focused care in our treatment facilities to better serve our patients with trauma histories.


Author: Clariza Saint George, MA, CADC – Clinical Admissions Coordinator

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