Trauma + substance use


Welcome to today’s edition of The V Word.


You can listen to today’s episode  here 

Have you used drugs or alcohol to cope with sexual assault or domestic violence? Recently, I taught a class on substance abuse education. A question came up about using alcohol and other drugs to cope with violence. The relationship between sexual violence and domestic abuse and addiction is complex and reciprocal. Many addictions may form in response to being a victim of violence.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape in consultation with the CARON Treatment Centers has published a great resource on Substance Use and Sexual Violence.

The statistics in this resource state that:
A high percentage of adult victims were intoxicated at the time of sexual assault and are unable to give consent. This is often misunderstood as the cause of the assault, but drugs or alcohol do not assault you, perpetrators use drugs and alcohol to assault you.

According to studies by Kiplatrick, Edmunds, & Seymour, rape victims are 3.4 times more like to use marijuana, 5.3 times more likely to use prescriptions drugs, 6.4 times more like to use cocaine, and 10 times more likely to use hard drugs other than cocaine.

This tells us that victims of sexual assault, including childhood abuse, may use alcohol or drugs to cope, to numb themselves, to escape from painful memories or PTSD symptoms.

It was an interesting discussion in the class as to how many people, 90%, had used drugs as the result of  trauma  from:abuse, assault, threats, including emotional abuse as well.

How does this become reciprocal? Perpetrators often target individuals who have addictions or use alcohol or drugs even socially. They know  it puts the person at a disadvantage because there remains much prejudice in our society against people who use or abuse drugs. Perpetrators know that people are less likely to report assault if they have been using drugs or alcohol because in our society they are less likely to be believed.

Substance abuse and rape both carry a great deal of social stigma in and of themselves, and when a victim holds both, stigma can be difficult to overcome. Reporting, prosecuting, and healing are challenged and the person can have increased feelings of shame, self-blame, and then isolates.
Treatment for a survivor of rape/abuse, who also has a substance abuse disorder, needs to be treated for  both the disease of addiction and the trauma from assault. While not all rape crisis centers are equipped to deal with addiction, they can collaborate with area community services boards or behavioral health centers that do treat addiction and work with their addiction counselor to create a combined treatment plan.

Do you need help or information? Here are some options…
If you have been assaulted, call 911.
The Richmond area has a new regional hotline specific to the needs of sexual and domestic violence survivors: 804-612-6126
The Richmond Behavioral Health Authority has a hotline to help people who are having suicidal thoughts and they have a substance abuse program.
To get a forensic exam to collect evidence and receive medical care, the local hospitals in the Richmond area with Forensic Nurse Examiners are at Medical College of Virginia and St. Mary’s Hospital.
For help with counseling and advocacy, local rape crisis centers, child advocacy centers and domestic violence shelters can provide services. To find a center closest to you… you can call the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238. That is the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238.
Are you a family member or a bystander and want know how you can help?
For information on how to report an assault in the Richmond, Virginia, USA are, you can call the non-emergency line at 804-646-5100 or go by a local police station office. The main Richmond office is located at 200 East Grace Street.
Get involved with your local domestic violence shelter to join a group or service that is available. Donate to funds services that help women recovery and restart their lives.
Want to share a story or ask a question? Email me at or tweet me at my twitter account: @preventviolence. You can read the transcript for this show and past shows on my blog at
The V Word is recorded in the studios of WRIR-LP 97.3 and streamed at, read and produced by Carol Olson. Production support is provided by Jennifer Gallienne and Bryan Connolly. Music was created by The Etching Tin