The Interrelations among Sexual Victimization, Attachment Style, Interpersonal Relationship Satisfaction, and Substance Use in Women

Date

2014-06-23

Authors

Mirotchnick, Carolyn

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Abstract

This study examined the interrelations among sexual victimization, attachment style, interpersonal relationship satisfaction, and substance use. Sexual victimization (i.e., child sexual abuse and adult sexual assault; CSA and ASA) is a major social concern for which further research is needed. While it is difficult to determine which difficulties are direct outcomes of sexual victimization, both CSA and ASA have been found to be associated with a variety of mental health problems, along with numerous other adverse outcomes across the lifespan (e.g., depression, risk of suicide, attachment insecurity, interpersonal relationship problems, substance abuse). By further exploring these relations and identifying potential mediating variables, specific therapy techniques may be tailored in order to address these variables in treatment. Factors such as attachment and interpersonal relationships are particularly important to consider when examining sexual victimization, due to the intimate nature of this type of victimization. It was expected that sexual victimization in women (controlling for other forms of childhood maltreatment) would predict insecure adult attachment, greater levels of harmful substance use (i.e., drug and alcohol abuse), and lower reported relationship satisfaction. Results indicated that women who experienced more severe CSA and anxious attachment engaged in greater levels of drug abuse (i.e., anxious attachment moderated the relation between CSA and drug abuse). In addition, women who experienced more severe ASA and child psychological abuse reported greater attachment insecurity (both attachment avoidance and anxiety) in their relationships and engaged in greater levels of substance abuse (i.e., both drug and alcohol abuse). Furthermore, women with greater levels of anxious attachment reported lower levels of relationship satisfaction. These findings suggest that clinicians working with women survivors of sexual victimization should be aware of potential attachment-related difficulties, as well as an increased risk of developing substance use problems that may be stemming from victimization experiences.

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Keywords

child sexual abuse, sexual assault, substance abuse

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