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Sexual Assault

Sexual violence affects hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Its survivors can be of any age, sexual orientation, gender, race, and background. And no matter who experiences it, sexual assault can have a lasting traumatic impact.

After trauma, survivors of sexual violence may experience emotionally or physically painful effects that can make it difficult to feel normal, even after returning to their daily lives. Some may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with physical or emotional pain. The chances of misusing these substances can increase if a survivor has no other means to deal with the lasting effects of the trauma.

No matter what you may be going through, know that support is available to help you recover from the effects of sexual assault, including problems with drugs or alcohol.

It may not be obvious when drinking or drug use has become an issue, and it can be even more challenging to recognize these patterns in yourself. Knowing and recognizing the warning signs can help reduce the likelihood of developing an addiction. Learn about the warning signs here: drugs | alcohol.

Hear stories that you can relate to. 


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Substance use as a coping mechanism

It is not uncommon for sexual assault survivors to turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with or manage feelings of confusion or to “numb” their pain — or because they are finding it difficult to open up about their trauma to friends or family. The relief from using these substances doesn’t last long, and when drug or alcohol use becomes a habit, it can cause further harm to a person's physical and mental health.

Potential effects of trauma on mental health

Sexual assault can take a toll on mental health; in fact, depression, flashbacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common among survivors. With the right support, these survivors can begin to heal and move forward. Find out more about these symptoms: 

  • Depression This is a mood disorder that occurs when feelings of sadness and hopelessness continue for long periods of time and interrupt regular thought patterns.
  • Flashbacks When memories of a trauma feel as if they are taking place in the present, it’s possible to feel as if the experience of sexual violence is happening all over again.
  • PTSD This disorder causes extreme feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, and a sense of being constantly in danger, making it difficult to function in everyday life.

Support for recovery

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, it is important to take care of both your physical and emotional health. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery, so it’s important to understand all your options and consider what will work best for you.

  • Self-care after trauma can help survivors cope with lingering effects. Managing your emotions through daily exercises such as meditation, mindfulness, breath work, and yoga can help relieve stress and reinforce feelings of self-worth. 
  • Opening up to a trusted family member or friend can help survivors process the experience. Having a confidant also makes it easier to begin the healing process.
  • Therapy can provide ways to work through fear and stress following sexual assault and also to gain tools for handling the other reactions to trauma, including substance use.

The trauma and potential substance use problems that sexual assault survivors may experience can get better, and help is available. Reaching out for support is a sign of strength and the first step in the recovery process. 



RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, offers free, confidential support through the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online to speak with someone right away, or reach out to a local sexual assault service provider in your area. RAINN also provides detailed information on therapy options and how they can help.


The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides leadership in preventing and responding to sexual violence. It has strong partnerships with state, territorial, and tribal anti-sexual assault coalitions and national allied organizations. This online directory highlights those organizations and projects working to eliminate sexual violence.

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