Drink and Drugs News DDN May 2019 - Page 10

Sexual abuSe SYSTEM FAILURE Huge numbers of people accessing drug or alcohol treatment have experienced childhood sexual abuse, yet most services remain ill equipped to offer them the support they need. DDN reports ‘I credit alcohol as the coping mechanism that saved my life,’ says Claire, one of the people quoted in the One in Four charity’s stark new report Numbing the pain: survivors’ voices of childhood sexual abuse and addiction (DDN, April, page 5). ‘The feelings of shame, self-disgust, dirtiness, worthlessness lead to a deep pain that only medication with alcohol can pacify,’ says Elizabeth. Although disturbingly common, the link between childhood sexual abuse as an underlying trauma and adult substance misuse remains poorly understood, says the report. The ongoing adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study, which began 20 years ago, has identified that people who experienced four or more types of ACE – which includes sexual abuse as well as emotional and physical neglect and exposure to domestic violence – are ten times more likely to be involved in injecting drug use, seven times more likely to be alcohol-dependent and 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide. Anecdotal 10 | drinkanddrugsnews | May 2019 estimates by One in Four put the proportion of people in substance treatment who have experienced childhood sexual abuse at anything up to 70 per cent. One significant problem, however, is that this data is not routinely collected in the UK, and the document calls for all treatment services to record anonymous adult disclosure of abuse, which could then be collated via the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS). Services also need to make sure that workers are trained to respond to disclosure, and that appropriate processes to support survivors are in place. While some organisations have taken measures to equip their staff with the necessary skills to respond appropriately (DDN, 19 October 2009, page 6), they remain far from the norm. But what services really need to do be doing, the report stresses, is properly ‘making the link’ between the underlying trauma of childhood sexual abuse and adult substance issues. The report is not the first to highlight the need for better understanding and cooperation – just over two years ago, a Christiane Sanderson is project consultant for the One in Four report and senior lecturer at the University of Roehampton. Chip Somers is addiction consultant to the study. www.drinkanddrugsnews.com