April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Substance Use and Sexual Assault

Courtesy of Xavier Sotomayor.

Vulnerability. It’s the common thread between addicts and sexual assault victims, two of the most vulnerable groups within our society.

Yet struggling with substance abuse and being a victim of sexual violence are not mutually exclusive. Those who have been sexually assaulted are much more likely to abuse drugs than those who have not. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the United States, sexual assault victims are 3.4 times more likely to use marijuana, 6 times more likely to use cocaine, and 10 times more likely to use other major drugs.[1] And according to a study of over 1,400 twins by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), childhood sexual abuse and trauma is highly associated with substance abuse in adulthood, even more than it is with psychiatric disorders.[2]

This is indicative of a tragic cycle wherein sexual assault victims turn to drug use to cope with the trauma of being sexually violated, which in turn places them into even more vulnerable positions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being under the influence of drugs and alcohol increases the risk of sexual violence.[3]

Furthermore, being a member of an already-disadvantaged community increases one’s likelihood for victimization and decreases the likelihood that victims will be taken seriously if they decide to come forward. Women, transgender individuals, Native Americans, prisoners, and other vulnerable groups are at greater risk of sexual violence.[4]

Since 2001, Sexual Assault Awareness Month has been observed each April to shed light on the appalling statistics surrounding sexual violence, whose victims often go unheard. In the United States, sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds.[5]

“Research[6] shows that therapy significantly helps to reduce symptoms that impact daily living as a result of sexual trauma,” according to CLARE Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Katheryn Whittaker, LMFT, LPCC.

If you or someone you know is dealing with trauma or sexual violence, CLARE’s Behavioral Health Program offers community psychotherapy at affordable, sliding-scale rates. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.


[1] RAINN: Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics

[2] NIDA: Childhood Sex Abuse Increases Risk for Drug Dependence in Adult Women

[3] PCAR: Substance Use and Sexual Violence

[4] RAINN: Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics

[5] RAINN: Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics

[6] Randomized Trial of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Adult Female Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 73(5), pp. 515-524.

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