A while ago, I was talking to an emergency services personnel about a domestic assault situation that had occurred the night before. Our services weren’t called and if I recall correctly, no one’s services were. Yet, the team of people who responded had individuals who were very supportive of victim based services, utilized our services frequently and were actively involved in many things we do. So I ask why and the response was, “she was a drunk so no way was I calling you. She didn’t deserve your services”. Unfortunately, this person’s perspective is common throughout many emergency and community services.
Yes, she may be an alcoholic or an addict and yes, she may present as distrusting and combative but that typically doesn’t happen in isolation of other significant life events. In other words, there are many times that there are reasons why the person is the way they are.
It’s no secret to people who work in addictions services or shelters that there is a strong connection between trauma, abuse and addictions. Because addiction services were often isolated from mental health and community based resources for many years, it’s taken a while to start to see a professional acceptance and overlap of the two issues. Research suggests that 2 out of 3 women who have addictions issues also have a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and so on. 2 out of 3 is pretty high. Traditional approaches to addictions and mental health has been to send the client off to get ‘fixed’ with their addictions issues and then maybe they could deal with the mental health issues because being an addict can get in the way of following through with appointments and whatnot. In fact, most addicts are not able to stay in domestic violence shelters due to the rules around behaviour and substance use. They aren’t bad rules and they exist for a reason (safety primarily) but they do make it difficult for a domestic violence victim to access some services.
2 out of 3 women with substance abuse problems report having been victims of abuse (physical and / or sexual abuse) either as a child or as an adult or both.
I read a research report recently that said that virtually ALL women with both addictions and mental health issues at the same time have a history of trauma. I’ve heard that before from people who work in addictions and in fact, have been hearing that for years now. That doesn’t mean if you’re a trauma victim you’re going to become an addict but there is obviously a portion of folks who utilize some form of substances to cope with their experiences or their lives and that substance use becomes a problem in of itself. chicken <—> egg.
The push right now is to make the connections between trauma, abuse and addictions so that individuals can get the help they may need. In order to achieve this, we need to start looking at addictions – and in particular, female addicts – in a different light. Yes it’s easy to blame them because they continue to use whatever substance (if they would just quit… ) but it’s not always that easy and it doesn’t always feel like a choice. As a provincial colleague said to me recently, “people are the way they are for a reason, you have to accept that and treat them with respect.”