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Hollywood Scandals Remind Us of Addiction’s Roots

Hollywood Scandals Remind us of Addiction’s Roots

by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.

image of projector to symbolize abuse and substance use in Hollywood

The recent wave of sexual abuse revelations in Hollywood is simultaneously tragic and inspiring.  The courage, resilience, and fortitude demonstrated by victims publicly disclosing some of the most disturbing and traumatic details of their lives in the hope of catalyzing positive change reveal the best of human nature.  The details the courageous victims continue to share expose the darkest underbelly of humanity’s depravity.  The attention generated by the Hollywood sexual abuse scandals is finally pushing the issue of sexual abuse into the forefront of our consciousness, which will hopefully manifest change across many levels of society.

Sexual Abuse and Substance Misuse

At times it is disheartening how many people who seek help for substance use problems have a history of sexual abuse.  Research offers staggering numbers, usually ranging between 20-30% of people reporting a history of sexual abuse.  However, research also suggests that many victims of sexual abuse never report their experiences, which means that 20-30% of all people being victims of sexual abuse is probably a gross underestimation.

Victims of sexual abuse rarely experience it one time, and research shows that with each such experience the likelihood of initiating substance use increases 2 to 4 fold.  For every traumatic experience in a person’s history, the rate of number of prescription drugs used increases by 62%.  A single traumatic experience increases the risk of suicide 2 to 5 fold, and people with six or more traumatic experiences are 24 times more likely to attempt suicide.

It is safe to say that at least a quarter of humanity has been sexually abused.  People who experience sexual abuse are significantly more at risk to develop substance use problems.  Then, if help for a substance use problem is sought, that help is often a combination of shaming and confrontation tactics aimed to break a person down to build them back up.  Telling victims of sexual abuse that they are powerless is abuse.  Furthermore, blame for the life problems someone struggling with substance use is experiencing is generally placed squarely on their own shoulders, and there is frequently a pregnant absence of empathy for the adverse experiences that generally led to the decision to use a substance in the first place.

Ethical and effective treatment of substance use problems requires skill and training to treat underlying issues.  If overcoming substance use problems was as simple as identifying triggers, avoiding old friends, replacing coping skills, and just saying no then the mainstream treatment available today would actually work.   Sophisticated trauma treatments need further development.

Progressive Treatment for Trauma and Substance Abuse

The best there is today (e.g. Cognitive Processing Therapy, Prolonged Exposure, EMDR) are not good enough.  Cutting edge studies into effective methods for treating PTSD like MDMA, Cannabis, and Ketamine are generating results that often double the success rates of mainstream trauma treatments.  Infusing psychopharmacological interventions like MDMA in trauma processing sessions with EMDR or Cognitive Processing Therapy will likely revolutionize treatment in the next decade.  It will be critical that treatment of substance use disorders grow with and incorporate the innovations in trauma treatment to address the very reasons that most people turn to substances in the first place – to cope with worst experiences life has to offer.