#MeToo: How the Pain and Shame of Sexual Abuse Can Lead to Substance Use
Countless young women who have experienced sexual abuse cope by using drugs and alcohol. It’s important to address trauma and substance use simultaneously.
As a young girl, two of the more traumatic things I went through were growing up with an alcoholic parent and my parents’ divorce. I tried to stuff the void I experienced with drugs and alcohol. I never even considered the idea that I might become an alcoholic or drug addict, and I swore to myself that I would never end up like my father. However, as I would later find out, the cards were stacked against me. My family’s long history of drug and alcohol addictions played a huge role in where I ultimately ended up. The lifestyle itself was so familiar to me that it didn’t even register that I wouldn’t be able to stand up to the pressure to succumb to it.
I was starved for attention as a kid, and I didn’t have the coping skills I needed to go through the kinds of things the adults around me were putting me through. I became a great actress, with the ability to mold myself into what others wanted me to be, a trait that came in handy once I started using full time. The fact that I gave into peer pressure—big time—is no big surprise. Other people’s solutions to what I was going through—no matter how much bad judgment was there—was an easy way to let myself off the hook for my own behavior.
I wanted to fit in and feel better about myself. Because I didn’t feel like I could turn to my parents for advice and guidance, I turned to my peers. As a teenager who was already full of apprehension and anxiety, getting caught up and swept away by peer pressure was just another high. Stealing alcohol from the local grocery store seems like a good idea until the cops show up and you’re busted. As a teen I had a hard time grasping that my own judgment was impaired. I kept making bad decisions because I desperately wanted to belong and be accepted.
At first drugs and alcohol gave me confidence, self-esteem, and filled that void I’d carried around with me for so many years. I found I could carry on a conversation without first dissecting every word that came out of my mouth. It made me feel like I was a part of something instead of an outsider looking in. But eventually all the drugs, alcohol, and bad judgment turned on me and I found myself alone again—this time in the prison of my own addiction. The very thing that seemed to hold the key to solving all my problems ended up making them worse. No amount of alcohol and drugs was ever going to be able to numb my pain.
Here are the top reasons teens use drugs and alcohol:
Peer pressure is something all teens live with. Teenagers spend most of their waking hours with their peers— not their family members. When I was using, I tried to stay out as late as I could because I was involved in things I couldn’t do at home. I surrounded myself with people who would enable my addiction. Once I was in it, it was a very difficult situation to get out of.
It was only when I finally got checked into a treatment center that worked with adolescent substance abuse that I found myself a whole new set of peers who were working towards the same goals as I was. It was easier to stay sober when I surrounded myself with other sober teens. The chances of staying sober were slim to none had I gone back to my old friends and hangouts. The pressure and feelings of “missing out” would have been too much for me to handle. I discovered new ways to have fun and bond without alcohol and drugs. I finally found ways to experience real, raw emotion and friendship once I could connect with friends who were really there for me and liked me not because we could party together, but because we had things in common and shared dreams.
While doing the research for Addicted Like Me, I saw tons of literature that recommended parents set clear expectations for behavior and establish rules about communicating where and with whom their teenagers are spending their time. Getting to know your child’s friends will undoubtedly give you insight into your teen’s life. If you suspect your teen’s friends are involved in risky behaviors, invite them to your home where they can be supervised. And it is always a good idea to encourage hobbies, sports, and after-school clubs, where your teen will have opportunities to interact with other kids who share similar interests and values.