The link between substance abuse and sex addiction supports the idea that addiction itself is not about a moral failing. Instead, compulsions to activate the brain’s reward system by engaging in impulsive, destructive behavior.
Like drug addicts, sex addicts become dependent on the feelings they experience when specific changes occur in the brain. To intensify those changes, they may also resort to substance abuse either to elevate their high even further or to dull emotions related to the guilt and shame they experience after they engage in sexually addictive behavior.
Perhaps the hardest thing to accept about sex addiction is that it is not evidence of a person’s character weakness or how much he or she cares for loved ones. Many sex addicts report that they do not really enjoy sex, at least not in any passionate, fulfilling sense. Rather, it is the brain’s chemical release that drives them to engage in risky sexual behaviors, such as having anonymous partners and unprotected sex.
After the high has subsided, however, they are left with negative feelings such as guilt and remorse. This emotional fallout can be highly unpleasant, and substances can be used as a means to self-medicate.
Identifying sex addiction may not be easy, but there are warning signs that may determine if you or a loved one is struggling with sex addiction. For example, if a person’s sexual behavior is interfering with his or her life, this is a definite sign of problematic sexual behavior. If the person has also attempted to stop engaging in such behaviors and has failed to do so, this is a hallmark sign of sex addiction.
Sexual thoughts can overtake a sex addict, and this can endanger a person’s employment and relationships. While there is a broad spectrum of healthy sexual behavior, when a person is taking risks or frequently engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior, this may be an indication that there is a problem.
Sexually addictive behavior may include any the following:
- Sex with multiple or anonymous sexual partners
- Frequent one night stands
- Spontaneous sex with strangers in inappropriate places, such as park bathrooms
- Self-gratification in inappropriate places, such as during work or school
- Having multiple affairs, infidelity
- Having unprotected, unsafe sex
- Excessive use of pornography
- Phone or cybersex
- Using the Internet to find random partners
- Engaging in prostitution as either the prostitute or the “John”
It is important to realize that sex addiction is often associated with childhood sexual abuse or assault. Sex addicts sometimes use sex as a means to escape negative feelings of self-worth, depression, and isolation. In fact, many of the same factors that compel someone to abuse drugs or alcohol can result in sex addiction.
Substance Abuse and Sex Addiction
Sex addiction and substance abuse can co-occur and feed off of each other, and the effects of both can be compounded. Those who are abusing drugs or drinking alcohol may engage in promiscuous behavior when they are intoxicated. This outcome serves to promote an association of being drunk or high with sex. And it also produces a more intense high overall since the same neural pathways are being affected by both behaviors.
Also, certain drugs, such as ecstasy, are known to enhance sexual experiences. Therefore, people with sex addiction may turn to specific drugs to boost endurance, heighten sensations, and prolong a sexual encounter.
The link between substance abuse and sex addiction is further strengthened when a person wishes to escape the emotional outcome of their behavior. Remember, sex and drug addicts are not usually particularly bad people. Their actions are being driven a biochemical process, and when they are sober, they must think about the possible consequences of their risky behavior and are often devastated and disgusted by this realization. To mitigate or hide from these feelings, they will either abuse substances or engage in more sexually-driven conduct.
The origins of addiction often stem back to childhood trauma or some sort of emotional burden. When a person does not have the tools to deal with these circumstances healthily, substances and sex can seem like reasonable options. Of course, no form of compulsive behavior will ever solve such problems, and they can quickly progress into a full-blown addiction. As they are overwhelmed by emotional turbulence, these people will continue their addictive behavior until they agree to get help.
Substance Abuse and Sex Addiction Therapy
You may be comforted to know that, if you or a loved one is suffering from sex addiction and substance abuse, change is entirely possible. Moreover, if it were just a question of a person’s character and moral fortitude, there would be little hope that they could ever become a better person.
Addiction is considered to be a chronic disease, and like other long-lasting health conditions, treatment can lead to recovery. And we must never forget that all forms of addiction are a sign of emotional distress. When people are in pain, they need help, not to be guilted and shamed. With the support of health professionals and loved ones, people can escape the grips of addiction and begin to foster a happier, healthier life.
Similarly, therapeutic approaches used to treat impulse control disorders and substance abuse are often utilized for the treatment of sex addiction. These approaches often include psychotherapy, medication, support groups, counseling, trauma therapy, and other evidence-based services.
Group therapy can lessen a client’s feelings of shame and isolation by associating them with people who are seeking to recover from the same or similar disorders. These groups can be specifically for people addicted to drugs, alcohol, or sex. They give people a chance to share their stories and garner advice from others in an environment that is conducive to healing, compassion, and accountability.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially effective at helping clients confront their self-destructive, delusional thoughts that are associated with sex addiction. In CBT, clients are shown how to identify triggers that instigate unhealthy behaviors and to develop better-coping strategies for managing such situations or emotions in healthier ways.
In rehab, medications can be prescribed to help control sexual urges, manage symptoms of depression or anxiety, and also reduce cravings for substances. For example, drugs in the SSRI class, such as Celexa and Zoloft, are commonly prescribed to help people with addiction, and compulsive behaviors get relief from associated adverse effects.
Depending on a person’s needs and the severity of their condition(s), treatment can take the form of residential, partial hospitalization, or outpatient programs. Because these disorders are closely associated with profound emotional pain and trauma, the overseeing specialists must be particularly sensitive to the potential for suddenly increasing depression or even suicidal ideation.
Finding Freedom from Addiction
An effective addiction treatment program must include a comprehensive assortment of recovery resources that address all aspects of addiction and mental health. It must consist of therapies that consider the many dimensions of these disorders, including past trauma, substance abuse, and mental illness.
The objectives of both substance abuse treatment and sex addiction therapy are to help clients identify the causes of their compulsive behaviors. Once these causes are identified, counselors work with clients to help them develop healthier approaches for coping with triggers and strengthen their sense of self-worth.
Through the use of an integrated treatment program, such as those offered by Midwood Addiction Treatment, issues involving both sex addiction and substance abuse can be effectively addressed.
If you are suffering from an addiction to sex and engaging in substance abuse, contact us today! Discover how we help people recover and begin to enjoy the healthy, satisfying lives they deserve!