Sex Addiction and Substance Abuse
Newsweek reported that there are 9 million sex addicts in the United States and at least 40 million Americans log onto 4.2 million pornographic websites daily. The growing speed of sex addiction may be attributed to the easy access to all things explicit found on the internet. The internet is accessible in many different forms and sex and/or porn addicts can access their drugs of choice from various sources of technology throughout the day.
Sex Changes Brain Chemistry
Much like a drug addict, a sex addict is also dependent on chemical changes in the brain which produce a euphoric feeling. Having an orgasm produces a neurochemical change in the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system is responsible for emotions, drives, impulses, desires, decision making, happiness and survival. Dopamine is the primary neurochemical that activates your reward circuitry. It can be released through various activities which include but are not exclusive to sex, eating, taking risks and even drinking water. Once the reward activity is ceased, dopamine activates cravings for it. For example, dopamine will create a motivation for eating chocolate cake because consuming chocolate cake activates natural opiods found in the brain which produce “feel good” sensations. Dopamine is never satisfied and continues to crave opiods. Regarding sex, dopamine drives the desire for an orgasm; however, it is opioids that are responsible for the production of the orgasm.
Addictive activities and substances strongly increase dopamine levels unnaturally. Deregulation of dopamine levels happens through various activities such as:
- Cocaine use
- Encountering extremely attractive casino hostesses
- Clicking through porn
- Eating junk food filled with fat and sugar
The correlation between activities that elicit dopamine and the feelings that they produce can cause an addict to continually engage in self-defeating activities. Tolerance builds as a result of repetitive behavior and the addict needs to increase the rate of behavior to achieve the desired euphoric effect. The cycle of addiction is perpetuated by the physical and psychological cravings produced by the addiction.
Having sex is not addictive but the chemical changes that take place in the brain during sex are highly addictive. The desire for this change in brain chemistry is what drives an addict to do things that would be considered out of character.
Such at risk behaviors include:
- Unsafe sex
- Consistent use of pornography
- Use of prostitutes and/or escorts
- Use of dating ads for sexual hookups
- Sexualizing all conversations
- Crossing sexual boundaries with coworkers, friends and acquaintances
One indicator that an underlying sexual addiction may be present is when someone is willing to continue engaging in risky behaviors that have negative consequences. For example, a husband will lie to his wife in order to get a free hour to meet an escort for sex. After the act, he feels tremendous shame, guilt and remorse about his behavior. Over time, the negative feelings decrease and he acts out again not because he wants to sleep with other women, but to satisfy the dopamine cravings for excitement, risk and satisfaction of sexual urges. The husband is not looking to have affairs, he is seeking sex. Sex addicts are not looking to have a relationship with the individual they are acting out with.
Sex addicts often make impulsive decisions based on insatiable urges that are very similar to drug or alcohol cravings. Consequences of impulsive decisions related to sex addiction may include:
- Loss of job
- Loss of relationships
- Contraction of sexually transmitted diseases
- Sexual dysfunction.
Oftentimes, sex addicts will also use drugs and/or alcohol to escape from uncomfortable feelings and the reality of dealing with the consequences of their addiction.
Sex Addiction and Substance Abuse
Sex addiction and substance abuse are closely related. Both influence chemical changes in the brain, behavior, and manifested consequences of unhealthy patterns.
Warning signs of sex and drug/alcohol addiction are:
- Use of drugs, alcohol and/or sex increases over time
- Behavior is self-destructive
- Excessive use of drugs, alcohol and/or sex affects the person’s physical health
- Addiction negatively effects relationships
- Behavior causes harm to others
- Drugs, alcohol and/or sex are used to alter moods
- An individual is unable to be satisfied by the behavior
- Attempts to stop or end the behavior are made but are not successful
Coexisting sex addiction and drug or alcohol addiction have an antagonistic impact on each other. For example, a sex addict will act out and use drugs and alcohol to cope with underlying uncomfortable feelings related to his or her behaviors. On the other hand, an alcoholic or drug addict that is trying to quit using may turn to sex and/or masturbation as a way to elicit euphoric feelings without the use of addictive substances.
When seeking help for alcohol and/or drugs with sex addiction, the addict should find a drug rehab center that will be able to address both needs. Treating sex addiction is just as important as treating drug and alcohol addiction in a drug rehab center. Although similar to drug and alcohol addiction, sex addiction presents its own distinct set of cravings, triggers and thought processes.