Typically, when a person considers addiction, he or she will think about substance abuse, particularly alcohol and street drugs. By most accounts, mind-altering substances are the de facto addictions, and they’re easiest to understand because they’re essentially objects to which people become addicted. By comparison, there are a number of behavioral addictions, but they’re not as well-understood as the various substance-based addictions. In fact, many people don’t realize that behavioral addictions exist, or if they do, they don’t recognize them as being virtually the same disorder as alcoholism and heroin addiction. However, behavioral addictions — including sex addiction — actually have far more in common with alcoholism and heroin addiction than you might’ve previously thought.
Sex addiction is, by definition, an impulse-control disorder, meaning that it’s a type of addiction that centers on an individual being unable to control his or her impulses when it comes to a specific type of behavior. In the case of sex addiction, that behavior equates to sexual intercourse and other situations that are sexual in nature. In fact, a person who suffers from sex addiction will likely get a comparable level of gratification in sexual situations that don’t involve actual sexual intercourse as he or she gets from sexual intercourse.
Sex Addiction & Hyper Sexuality
Most recently, sex addiction was added to a group of behavioral addictions and disorders that are collectively referred to as hypersexuality disorder. Generally, the term “hypersexuality” is used interchangeably with sex addiction although most professionals agree that the latter represents a level of sexual impulse control that’s more severe than merely being hypersexual.
It’s important to note that people vary when it comes to the level of sexuality with which they’re comfortable, the extent to which they’re open with their sexuality and sexual behaviors, and so on. Thus, what one person considers to be “hypersexual” behavior might not seem as exaggerated to someone who’s naturally more open about his or her sexuality, sexual desires, and sexual urges. However, there are some key distinctions to make when it comes to sex addiction.
The consensus among professionals is that a person suffers from sex addiction when the individual’s pursuit of and participation in sexual activities has an adverse effect on other aspects of his or her life. Additionally, someone who suffers from sex addiction will pursue opportunities for sexual realization while disregarding most or even all of the potential consequences of the sexual behavior. A common example of this disregard for consequence is when individuals suffering from sex addiction have such difficulty with their sexual impulse control that they don’t take even the most basic precautions when having a sexual encounter, meaning that they don’t use condoms or other protection and, consequently, risk contracting a sexually-transmitted illness.
Signs of Sex Addiction
Since sexuality is subjective, it’s not always easy to detect sex addiction because there’s already an inherent variation in sexuality from one person to the next; however, there are a number of ways that a person might be able to detect a possible sex addiction in someone else. For one thing, someone suffering from sex addiction will often talk about sex and sexuality frequently, which is the result of sex often being on the person’s mind. As well, a person suffering from sex addiction is likely to be unreliable and often absent from work, school, or homelife as he or she is frequently in pursuit of opportunities to indulge in his or her sexual urges. As mentioned previously, most would consider sex addiction and a substance-based addiction like alcoholism to be quite different; however, by most accounts there are far more similarities between the two than there are differences. Further, research has shown that sex addiction occurs at an elevated rate among individuals who suffer from substance use disorder compared to the rate of sex addiction in the greater population, which might suggest some sort of correlation between the two. So are sex addiction and substance use disorder related? Does one affliction cause the other?
Similarities Between Substance Use Disorder & Sex Addiction
Before we can answer that question, we must take a moment to consider how sex addiction works and, more specifically, what makes sex addiction so similar to substance use disorder.
Sexual intercourse and other sexual activities are enjoyable. Human are biologically programmed to enjoy sexual activities as part of their evolutionary biology; enjoyment of sexual intercourse ensured that we continued to conceive subsequent generations and, therefore, ensured the survival of the human race. From a neurological perspective, participating in a sexual exchange triggers a surge of neurochemicals and hormones associated with happiness and pleasure. But when a person opts to continue participating in sexual activities with increasing frequency in an effort to experience this sensation of happiness and pleasure more frequently, the individual is increasingly likely to become physiologically dependent on sex to feel happiness or pleasure at all. At a certain point, sex addiction develops, leaving an individual to only feel happiness and pleasure during times of sexual exchange, serving as intense incentive to continue pursuing sexual activity.
This is quite similar to how a substance abuse problem develops: Having enjoyed the experience of consuming a mind-altering substance, a person might opt to consume that substance again. And again. And again. As the consumption (and resulting feelings of pleasure) becomes more frequent, the individual finds that he or she is less and less able to feel pleasure without the substance. Thus, the person becomes addicted.
Does One Cause The Other?
Despite being quite similar by involving similar processes and areas of the brain, it’s important to note that sex addiction doesn’t actually cause substance use disorder, and vice versa. In other words, a person who suffers from sex addiction isn’t guaranteed to become addicted to alcohol or drugs; however, it is true that a person who suffers from sex addiction could find it easier to develop an addiction to alcohol or drugs because of a psychological phenomenon known as replacement. To learn more about the dual-diagnosis treatment program we offer those who suffer from sex addiction and comorbid substance use disorder, call Just Believe Recovery in Carbondale, PA, today at 877-871-3356.