People who have suffered serious violent or sexual crimes – especially during childhood – sometimes turn to drugs, prescription medication, alcohol or other addictive behaviours (such as food, sex, gaming, spending or gambling) as a way of coping with their feelings or to feel better. What can start as a coping strategy or a way to sleep or block painful thoughts can become learnt behaviours or addiction. There is more information about the links on this webpage from Psychology Today.
This can be incredibly distressing for 3rd party victims of crime and often they will question what they could have done to prevent this and what if anything can be done to stop their loved ones destructive behaviour. The reality is probably nothing – assuming you didn’t put the substances in their hands or encourage the behaviour!
Victims of crime, whilst damaged and vulnerable are free-thinking individuals who still have the ability (and the right!) to make choices – even bad or risky ones. For 3rd party victims of crime who may have spent years protecting their loved one and providing support, this can be very hard to deal with. Perhaps you have been doing ‘everything’ to support them, making decisions, advocating and defending them, fighting for their rights and have become very used to that role.
Eventually, either as they become adults or recover enough to begin to make choices or strive for more independence, the carer has less control. If at the point of letting go, the primary victim of crime makes negative or risky choices, this can be devastating for the 3rd party victim of crime.
What to do
Reduce the likelihood of developing substance misuse problems or addictive behaviours
- Building resilience, getting good psychological support, encouraging empowerment and raising self-esteem may reduce the chances of someone being at risk of addiction or substance misuse.
- If the person you support is young – be upfront and talk to them about the additional risks they face as a survivor of violent or sexual crime.
- If the addiction gene runs in your family, then awareness and discussion about this additional risk might be worthwhile.
- Maintain strong family attachments, wider family friends and positive friendships with meaningful activities.
- Model good habits – if you regularly drink, smoke, gamble or overeat then everything you say will mean almost nothing, in comparison to the things that you do.
If you believe that your loved one is in the early stages of misuse problems
- Remove temptation, risk or inadvertent encouragement from your home if they live with you
- Start a conversation with ‘I’ve noticed that…’ and ask what they think about it
- Offer alternative healthy coping strategies (for example, yoga or mindfulness for people drinking late at night to sleep)
- Contact any specialist support they have in place (ie mental health services, CAMHS) with their consent
- Be aware that people looking for comfort, release or coping strategies may misuse more than one substance or develop multiple addictive behaviours. Stopping one may simply mean they move onto another if the underlying issue isn’t addressed.
If your loved one is living with addiction or regular substance misuse
- Seek specialist advice or guidance, for example from Turning Point and contact any specialist support they are receiving for mental health, for example.
- Take proper precautions to protect your property, cash and medication – lock it in your car, take it to someone else’s house, change banking passcodes, password protect your phone.
- Set boundaries and house rules
- Try as hard as you can to keep the person within the family and repeat that they are loved, wanted and valued – it’s the behaviour or addiction you dislike – not the person
- Look for support for yourself.
I wish someone had told us right at the start that problems with drink and drugs went with surviving sexual abuse. I think we would have managed things very differently…