Substance Abuse

An increase in risk of abusing alcohol and illicit drugs has been found in those with a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). More specifically, it has been estimated that survivors of CSA are four to five times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and are two times more likely to smoke cigarettes.1 Since CSA and substance abuse are often nondisclosed events, these estimates may be much lower than what the true increase in risk is. For this reason, if you or a loved one has experienced CSA, it is important to practice and encourage healthy behaviors when it comes to substance use, as well as recognize signs and symptoms of a problem.

Substance abuse can be due to a wide variety of factors

Not all survivors of CSA will abuse substances. Substance abuse can be due to a wide variety of factors including genetics, environmental triggers, and personal characteristics including genetics. Abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs can cause serious health issues, some of which may be life threatening. Recognizing the signs of substance abuse and encouraging healthy behaviors can be critical.

Signs of abuse or addiction

Common signs of alcohol abuse include, but are not limited to:2

  • Unpleasant physical symptoms when an individual stops drinking, including anxiety, trouble sleeping, headache, or nausea
  • Regular arguments with friends and family
  • Depression, mood swings, or irritability
  • Regular use of alcohol to complete daily activities, as well as to sleep, relax, or feel positive
  • Memory loss or blackouts
  • Drinking in secret, alone, or at inappropriate times (such as first thing in the morning)
  • Husky or scratchy voice, broken capillaries on face, flushed skin, bloody or tarry stools, vomiting blood, trembling hands, regular diarrhea
  • Demonstrating risky behaviors, especially to obtain a drug
  • Secrecy in actions and behaviors
  • Major appearance changes, including changes in hygiene or lack of self-care
  • Lack of control, especially when trying to avoid a substance or situation
  • Neglecting other responsibilities, hobbies, activities, or not spending time with family or friends
  • Trouble maintaining relationships or acting out against those closest
  • Increased tolerance when using a substance, medication, or alcohol
  • Signs of withdrawal, including shakiness, sweating, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, trouble sleeping, fatigue, mood issues (such as depression and irritability), headaches, and changes in appetite
  • Continuation of negative behaviors that have previously caused problems or reprimand
  • Having a family history of substance abuse

Substance abuse is treatable

Although it may be a lifelong journey, substance abuse is treatable. Depending on what an individual is struggling with, there may be medications or physical medical interventions that can help an individual stop using a substance. Additionally, counseling, rehabilitation centers, and therapy (both individual and group), may also help a struggling individual. If you or a loved one are showing signs of substance abuse, there is a 24/7 hotline for immediate assistance. This hotline is run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357).

  1. Simpson, T. L., & Miller, W. R. (2002). Concomitance between childhood sexual and physical abuse and substance use problems: A review. Clinical psychology review22(1), 27-77.
  2. Signs and Symptoms. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. .Published December 19, 2016. Accessed December 15, 2017.

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