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Sexual assault doesn't cause binge drinking

Journal of Adolescent Health,
July 2011

Sexual assault doesn't cause binge drinking

Teenage girls who develop post-traumatic stress disorder after being sexually assaulted aren't at increased risk for binge drinking.

Many studies have documented associations among sexual victimization, symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcohol use; but only a few have examined these associations longitudinally among adolescents. Binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion) contributes to sexual vulnerability among adolescent girls in two ways: through incapacitation, whereby girls are taken advantage of sexually, and by occurring in illicit settings, such as sneaking out to a party, where girls don't seek help because they are afraid of getting in trouble. While binge drinking is a risk factor for sexual victimization, the researchers wanted to know whether the reverse is true: that sexual victimization can lead to binge drinking.

Researchers analysed data collected from 1,808 American girls, aged 12 to 17 years, who took part in a national telephone survey and were interviewed up to three times between 2005 and 2009. During that time, 270 of the girls (15 percent) reported sexual victimisation. These girls reported more post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms than other girls, but did not have more incidences of binge drinking. But, it was found that binge drinking may increase the risk of sexual victimisation among certain teenage girls.

Emotion dysregulation underlies the development and maintenance of PTSD symptoms; therefore, adolescents who are better able to regulate emotions and process traumatic events may experience acute elevations in PTSD symptoms that resolve over time.

People intuitively believe that trauma victims will turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, but in reality, not everyone uses alcohol to cope. Currently, there is no way to determine who will develop a drinking problem after a traumatic event such as a sexual assault. However, there is strong evidence that binge drinking increases the risk of being a victim of sexual assault.

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