A Flinders University pilot survey of 58 clients at the Victim Support Service last year found almost half – 26 victims – had increased self-medication.
This included drugs prescribed by a psychiatrist or medical professional, as well as alcohol, illicit drugs and medication obtained without a prescription.
Researchers now want funding to expand the study to see whether the behaviour is widespread, but suspect victims will under-report substance use.
Flinders University criminology Professor Willem de Lint – who conducted the survey – also wants to investigate how re-victimisation after a traumatic historic event or weak support systems could trigger increased substance use.
“There’s pretty strong research that suggests that there are certain people who – depending on available support systems – will self-medicate,” he said.
“At this point we need to have a larger survey.
“The problem there is we’re looking to the Government for some funding to do an ongoing survey so we can get an idea about what the extent of this problem is.”
Victims’ Rights Commissioner Michael O’Connell said despite the survey’s limitations due to its small number of participants, the findings were a “stark reminder” that some victims were self-harming to try to cope, which could lead to their own “self-destruction”.
Mr O’Connell said we needed to know more about victims’ behaviour, especially whether increased alcohol, medication or drug use was prolonged.
“I suspect many victims resort to alcohol to suppress the memories but excessively consuming alcohol is harmful,” he said.
“Although taking illicit drugs might make some victims feel better in the short-term, illicit drug taking can distort thoughts and memories, which makes it difficult to identify and treat the effects of crime.
“In dealing with the psychological effects of crime, medication should not be used as a routine first-line treatment in preference to other trauma-focused therapy. However, medication can be useful if the victim receiving treatment is not benefiting sufficiently from the therapy alone.”
For advise and support contact Victims of Crime on 1800 000 055 or email firstname.lastname@example.org