Addiction Among Victims of Trauma & Domestic Abuse
Trauma and Violence in Childhood
PTSD is often associated with exposure to military combat, war, and terrorism. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) prove that PTSD is far more common among veterans than in the population as a whole. The lifetime prevalence of this disorder among Vietnam veterans is nearly 31 percent for men and nearly 27 percent for women, for example, while the prevalence of PTSD among Gulf War veterans is over 10 percent. By comparison, the VA estimates that 6.8 percent of American adults have experienced PTSD at some point in their lives.
The experiences of war and combat can have a devastating effect on an individual’s psyche. However, the exposure to child abuse, spousal abuse, and personal loss or trauma can be equally devastating. Yet many of the survivors of abuse are reluctant to seek help, either because they fear reprisal from their abuser or because their self-esteem has been so badly damaged that they do not believe they deserve support.
Unfortunately, exposure to abuse and violence are far from uncommon. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence indicates that most children experience violence — either directly or indirectly — in their daily lives.
The repercussions of violence experienced in childhood linger through adulthood, carrying over into the personal lives of men and women. As adults, survivors of childhood trauma are more likely to become the victims of domestic abuse from a spouse or partner. They may suffer from flashbacks and memories that intrude on their daily lives, interfering with their jobs, relationships, and social activities. Without adequate treatment, they are likely to experience severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse.
According to the survey, 60 percent of American children are exposed to violence in one or more of the following ways:
- By being physically or sexually abused
- By witnessing domestic abuse
- By learning about a violent act against a friend or family member
- By being threatened or bullied personally
- By having their family or school threatened
Effects of Childhood Trauma and Abuse
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Violence in the Home
It is troubling to note that only around a third of individuals who are abused at home seek medical attention for their injuries. These injuries may be psychological as well as physical, causing long-term damage to the victim’s self-esteem and sense of personal security. According to a report from Bureau of Justice Statistics, just over half (56 percent) of incidents of violence between partners or immediate family members were reported to the police. This reluctance to seek treatment and report violent crimes suggests that many victims are afraid that their attacker will seek revenge. Some may be afraid that their attacker will be legally punished or harmed, or that the household will lose the financial support of a provider.
Perhaps most disturbingly, many domestic violence victims feel ashamed to seek help, feeling that the attack was their fault. They may believe that they provoked the attacker’s anger or that they somehow caused the argument that resulted in abuse and injury. A literature review published in PLOS Medicine revealed that adults, especially women, who are the victims of violence by intimate partners have higher rates of depression and suicidal behavior than the general population. Conversely, the study found that women with depression and other forms of mental illness are more likely to be the victims of domestic violence, a finding that underlines the importance of preventive mental health treatment.
PTSD and Substance Abuse in Trauma Survivors
For the loved ones of a trauma survivor, it is important to realize that PTSD is not a “normal” response to abuse or violence. PTSD is a form of mental illness that occurs as a result of unresolved emotions related to a traumatic experience. Individuals who have PTSD usually experienced feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, or weakness at the time the incident occurred.
Treating PTSD and substance abuse requires an approach to therapy that integrates substance abuse services with mental healthcare. Unless a rehab program incorporates intensive therapy for PTSD and trauma resolution with its recovery services, the client is likely to drop out of treatment or relapse into substance abuse or mental illness after completing the program.
Challenges in Recovery
For many survivors of trauma and abuse, one of the greatest barriers to rehab is the belief that they don’t deserve help. The depression caused by abuse can result in a lack of motivation to seek help, low energy levels, and feelings of low self-worth, all of which can block access to treatment. An intervention by loved ones may be required to persuade the trauma survivor that he or she not only needs professional help but also deserves to receive that treatment. During the recovery process, abuse survivors may need additional motivation and encouragement from their treatment team.
Another challenge to recovery is the lack of specialized mental health and trauma recovery services in many mainstream rehab programs. Unless a substance abuse treatment program addresses the psychological and emotional ramifications of trauma, it is unlikely that these underlying issues will be fully resolved. Family members and partners must be actively engaged in the treatment process through education, counseling, and therapy, so they can be part of the individual’s support system and contribute to the recovery process.
Therapeutic Treatments for Trauma and Abuse
Resolving the symptoms of PTSD and substance abuse can take time and patience, both on the part of clients and their loved ones. However, the work of rehab can produce life-changing benefits, especially if individuals can rely on support from friends and family.
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