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A Connection Between Sexual Addiction and Substance Abuse

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There is some debate among professionals, according to an article in the Huffington Post, about whether an individual’s sexual practices can be considered an addiction. In fact, in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a guidebook designed by the American Psychiatric Association to determine the criteria used to diagnose various mental health issues, does not include sexual addiction as a problem worthy of diagnosis.

Does this mean that there is no such thing as sexual addiction?  For many individuals who have experienced the harmful repercussions of their own sexual behavior or the behavior of someone they love, the answer can prove very important.

An addiction, regardless of whether it is an addiction to a substance or to a behavior, can damage many of the important aspects of our lives. Family relationships can be destroyed. Friendships can be abandoned. An individual might lose his or her job, home or even their life. So what’s the connection between sexual addiction and substance abuse?  Does one cause the other?  More importantly, can either one be treated successfully?

Does Sexual Addiction Lead to Substance Abuse?

According to an article published by PsychCentral, 80 percent of individuals who have suffered from sexual addiction have stated that there was some type of addiction in their family history. It is also believed that individuals who suffer from sexual addiction are more likely to also abuse drugs. The question of whether sexual addiction leads directly to a substance abuse is more difficult to answer.

Some research has shown that sexual addiction is the result of a chemical abnormality in the brain. There has been some success in the use of medications, such as antidepressants, for the treatment of sexual addiction that reinforces this theory. Other studies have shown that compulsive sexual activity can have the same impact on the brain as food or recreational drugs, in that the activity triggers the same reward system that is also linked to the part of our brain that affects our judgment.

Not every person who suffers from sexual addiction also suffers from drug addiction. Each person is unique and has their own life history – experiences that affect how they deal with the world around them – which may contribute to whether or not they develop an addiction to drugs, sexual activity, or both.

Does Substance Abuse Lead to Sexual Addiction?

Teenagers who drink are two times more likely to have sex than their peers who do not. Teenagers over the age of 14 who drink are seven times more likely to have sex. Teenagers who abuse drugs are four to five times more likely to have sex. Each of these groups is more likely to have multiple sex partners. These statistics, the results of a study conducted by researchers at Columbia University as reported by CNN, are rather disconcerting. It is also interesting to note that 38 percent of girls and 45 percent of boys report having sex by the age of 15. According to the latest information from the Monitoring the Future survey, a study conducted each year by the University of Michigan, nearly 50 percent of all high school seniors have stated that they have used an illicit drug at some point during the course of their lives. On the other hand, sex addiction is estimated to affect between 3 and 6 percent of adults in the United States.

Promiscuity is not the same as sexual addiction. When individuals engage in substance abuse activities, there is often a reduction in inhibitions. For instance, a person may go to a karaoke nightclub and while they would never dream of singing in front of a live audience at any other time, after they have had several drinks, they can’t wait to take the stage. While this seems harmless enough, the same reduction in inhibitions can result in an individual taking part in sexual activity with complete strangers or friends with whom they would not ordinarily become intimate.

Treatment Can Help Overcome Sexual Addiction and Substance Abuse

According to the experts, drug addiction is a chronic disease. There is no cure – no magic procedure that will eliminate it from our lives. Individuals who decide to get help for their addiction can lead productive, normal lives full of joys and pitfalls. They may have to work through relapses where their treatment plan should be adjusted for changing circumstances or influences, certainly, but they can return to work and return to their own level of successful living. In order to accomplish this, they must receive effective, evidence-based treatment.

Treatment for sexual addiction is much the same as treatment for substance abuse and addiction because many of the factors surrounding sexual addiction are the same. According to an article in Psychology Today, an individual who uses sex as their “drug” of choice experiences a short-term effect on the dopamine receptors in their brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has much to do with pleasure. Pleasure, as it relates to the release of dopamine, can come from any source, from chocolate cake to beating the light at an intersection. Dopamine is involved in the use of any illicit drug, which can then lead to addiction. When sexual activity has ended, the brain’s level of dopamine drops, sometimes leaving an emotional void. Just like a drug addict who wants to repeat the high they experienced by taking more drugs, a person who is addicted to sex will feel that only more sex can ease the craving in his or her brain.

As with any addiction, the most effective treatment plan will be one that addresses the specific needs of the individual person seeking treatment. One person may have serious sexual abuse and trauma in their past which they have not overcome in a cohesive and deliberate manner. In order for a treatment program to be effective for this person, attention should be paid to the past trauma, particularly if they are using sex as a way to escape from that pain. Another individual may have no abuse in their past, but they may have experienced abandonment. If they are using sex as a way to hide that hurt or to keep themselves from developing meaningful relationships to prevent future hurt, they must come to terms with that issue.

There are a variety of ways to address these issues based on helping an individual change their behaviors as well as their thought processes that lead to destructive behaviors.

A few examples include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Motivational enhancement therapy
  • 12-step programs
  • Family and group therapy
  • Recreational and trust-building therapies

The Importance of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

When someone you love suffers from drug addiction or substance abuse at the same time as another mental illness, it is crucial to address both issues simultaneously. This includes conditions such as sexual addiction which are not necessarily included in the diagnostic materials. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has been researching the most effective treatments for decades, and they have determined that treating substance abuse alone, without addressing the other issues, is less effective than dealing with both issues at once because of the likelihood of relapse. If an individual is suffering from sexual addiction, for instance, but they are only treated for their substance abuse issues, they are still engaging their brain in addictive behavior.

To find out more about receiving Dual Diagnosis treatment for sexual addiction and substance abuse, please contact us here at Michael’s House at 760.548.4032. Our dedicated staff members are here to help you and your family recover from substance abuse and addiction in a way that addresses all your needs with the care and compassion you deserve.