A new study published in the May issue of the journal Addiction concluded that girls who are sexually abused at an early age far more likely to start drinking or doing drugs during their preteen years. While many studies have linked childhood sexual abuse with substance related problems later in life, this is the first to find that child sexual abuse has an early impact on girls’ use of alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.
This study reaffirms for me how vital it is to get help for kids who have been sexually abused as early as possible.
Researchers found that girls who were raped or sexually molested were four times more likely than girls who were not abused to use alcohol and more than twice as likely to begin smoking cigarettes before the age of 10. There was also a three and a half times greater probability they would begin using marijuana before age 14. The average age girls in the U.S. first start drinking or smoking is 13 and the average age for trying marijuana is 17.
Researchers said this study proves that sexual abuse not only has a profound impact on girls’ physical health, but the effects can also permanently affect brain development. Alcohol use at such at an early age can have a tremendously negative effect on memory, learning capabilities, decision-making, and reasoning skills.
These findings reflect so much of the suffering I have seen from my clients who were abused as young girls. Chemical dependency and risky behaviors are just some of the issues my clients deal with every day when they do not get the help they need early on in life.
We, as parents, must be vigilant about keeping the lines of communication open when it comes to our children. When we are unable to prevent the nightmare of sexual abuse, it is important to get kids the help they need to heal while they are still young, rather than burying our heads in the sand and waiting until half of their lives are gone, leaving them to salvage what is left. There is no guidebook to help parents and victims deal with the deep wounds left by sexual abuse. But with the right support system of therapists, advocates, and sometimes even attorneys, healing is possible.