The link between drug addiction and sexual addiction makes it clear that sexual addiction is not about morality or sex, but is driven by the same compulsion to stimulate the brain’s reward system by engaging in reckless, destructive behavior. Like drug addicts, sex addicts become addicted to the feelings they experience when certain chemical changes occur in the brain. To compound those changes, they may also turn to substance abuse either to heighten their high or to cope with the emotions they feel after engaging in sexually addictive behavior. It is a vicious cycle of addiction, but it can be stopped.
The most difficult thing to accept about sexual addiction, especially when infidelity is involved, is that it is not an indication of someone’s character or how much an individual cares for the people closest to them. Most sex addicts do not even enjoy sex. It is the brain’s chemical release that compels them to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, such as anonymous partners, unprotected sex, and excessive masturbation. After the high has worn off, however, they are left with feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse. This emotional aftermath can feel unbearable, and substance abuse is a way to avoid inner turmoil.
Identifying sexual addiction can be tricky, but there are definite signs to determine if you or a loved one is struggling with sexual addiction. First and foremost, if your sexual behavior is interfering with your life, and you are unable to change your sexual habits even in the face of negative consequences, you have an addiction. Sex and thoughts of sex consume a sex addict, which can jeopardize a person’s jobs and relationships. While there is a wide and varied spectrum of healthy sexual behavior, if you are taking enormous risks or frequently engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior, you have a problem. Sexually addictive behavior can include:
- Sex with multiple or anonymous sexual partners
- Habitual one night stands
- Unplanned sex with strangers in inappropriate places, such as shopping mall bathrooms, parking lots, or airports
- Masturbation in inappropriate places or at inappropriate times, such as while at work or shopping
- Multiple affairs
- Unsafe sex
- Excessive use of pornography
- Phone sex or cybersex
- Prostitution, either as the prostitute or the customer
Sexual addiction can also progress to predatory criminal behavior such as sexual harassment, stalking, molestation, sexual assault, or rape. This is a frightening prospect for everyone. It is important to remember that sexually addictive behavior is often a result of sexual abuse or assault. Similarly, sex addicts sometimes use sex to escape negative feelings of self-worth, disconnection, and depression. The same factors that can drive someone to abuse drugs or alcohol can lead to sexual addiction.
Sexual addiction and substance abuse feed off each other, and it is not uncommon for one to lead to the other. Those who are abusing drugs or alcohol may engage in promiscuous behavior when they are high. That not only creates an association of being high with sex, but also a more intense high since neural pathways are being affected by both behaviors. Certain drugs, such as ecstasy, are known for their effect on sex. When someone wants to enhance their sexual experience they may turn to certain drugs to increase endurance, intensify sensations, and prolong the encounter.
The link between drug addiction and sexual addiction is further reinforced when people want to escape the emotional consequences of their actions. Remember, sex addicts and drug addicts are not usually bad people. Their behavior is being compelled by a bio-chemical process, and once they view their action in a sober light, they are often devastated and repulsed by their own behavior. In order to mitigate or avoid those feelings, they will either engage in substance abuse or more sexually inappropriate behavior. The roots of addiction frequently lead back to trauma or a severe psychological burden. When someone does not have the tools to cope with those situations in a healthy way, drugs, alcohol, and sex can seem like the best solutions. Of course, they do not solve anything and can quickly develop into addiction. Further entrenched in emotional turmoil, these individuals continue their addictive behavior until they receive help.
It may be small comfort, but if you or a loved one is suffering from sexual addiction, change is possible. If it was just a question of someone’s true character or moral center, there would be little hope of someone becoming a better person. Addiction, on the other hand, is a disease, and treatment can lead to recovery. Most importantly, we must never forget that all addiction, whether it be drugs, sex, alcohol, or something else, is a sign of emotional distress. When people are in distress, they need help, not condemnation. With the support of loved ones and professionals, we can escape the trappings of addiction and begin a happier, healthier life.