On March 27th, we were incredibly proud to attend the inspiring launch of one of our member agencies report, ‘Numbing The Pain: Survivors Voices of Childhood Sexual Abuse & Addiction.’ The work of One in Four and the courageous survivors holds real promise for change. Here is a little bit about the report:
In the wake of Leaving Neverland, the documentary highlighting the complexities of grooming for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the charity One in Four is calling for greater awareness of childhood sexual abuse as an underlying trauma in substance misuse. It is urging addiction services to make the link between addiction and childhood sexual abuse to ensure survivors have access to appropriate support and more effective treatment.
Evidence from the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) studies show an increased risk for substance misuse as a result of adverse childhood experiences, including childhood sexual abuse. People who experienced four or more types of adverse childhood experiences are 7 times more likely to be addicted to alcohol, 10 times more likely to be at risk of intravenous drug addiction, and 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide.
Anecdotal estimates vary considerably with some saying as many as 80-90% of women and 60% of men in rehab for addiction experienced childhood sexual abuse, although this data is not routinely collected in the UK.
Christiane Sanderson, Senior Lecturer at the University of Roehampton, and childhood sexual abuse consultant commented, “Childhood sexual abuse is increasingly understood as a traumatic event or events. Many survivors self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to numb the emotional pain of this trauma. We are encouraging addiction services to make the link between addiction and the underlying childhood trauma and signpost clients to specialist support, following recovery, so they can achieve post-traumatic growth in their lives.”
The charity’s new report Numbing the Pain: Survivors’ voices of childhood sexual abuse and addiction contains personal accounts of the impact of childhood sexual abuse. Common to all these accounts is the use of substances to feel euphoria or fill the void of emptiness. Substance use can provide a mask to bury the secret of sexual abuse and the corrosive feelings of shame, self-hate associated with it, and to keep negative mental health and suicidal thoughts at bay. Many of the accounts by survivors illustrate the impact on intimate relationships and sexuality. Some revealed:
The charity has developed a film for services dealing with addiction, with funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, to promote awareness of the link between addiction and childhood trauma. The film encourages services to build links to specialist services so that when clients are stable following recovery, their underlying trauma can be addressed. The challenge for many addiction services is the funding available is often not sufficient to establish the history of the trauma. However, unless the trauma of childhood sexual abuse is identified, it is not possible to begin the process of managing the trauma symptoms.
Chip Somers, Addiction specialist and Clinical Advisor to Help Me to Stop commented, “Childhood sexual abuse is dealt with poorly across addiction services. Local authority services have too little resources and residential rehabs are out of the reach of most people. Unless the trauma of sexual abuse is highlighted, it may not be dealt with, leaving people even more vulnerable.
Addiction services need to move beyond the medical model of dealing with addiction and begin to provide support for survivors holistically. They tend to treat the symptoms not the cause. To illustrate the scale of sexual abuse trauma in people with addiction, services should record anonymous adult disclosure. This could be collated via the National Drug Treatment Monitoring Service.”