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Sex and Addiction: What is The Connection?

When we consider addiction, many of us tend to focus on substance abuse, particularly alcohol and street drugs. But there’s actually a wide range of addictions, including behavioral addictions like sex addiction.

With so many people experiencing both sex addiction and substance-based addictions, there have been many to question whether there’s a relationship between sex addiction and drug addiction. In particular, does one form of addiction cause or contribute to the other? What are the similarities and differences between these two types of addiction? And can both sex addiction and substance use disorder be treated effectively?

The term “addiction” is rather loaded with lots of assumptions, misconceptions, and misunderstandings. If you ask most people to define the disease of addiction, most would make mention of alcohol or a street drug like heroin or cocaine. In fact, many of these individuals are unaware that a person can actually be addicted to certain types of behavior. Further, many aren’t aware that these addictive behaviors often have similar effects on the brain as substances like alcohol and drugs.

Sex addiction is one of many forms of behavioral addiction that, as mentioned above, incite neurological processes and effects that are quite similar to how alcohol and drugs affect the brain. When a person participates in some type of sexual activity, the brain experiences a flood of certain neurochemicals and hormones. These neurochemical substances are implicated in feelings of pleasure and happiness. Of course, these feelings of pleasure and happiness are enjoyable. But when a person continues to participate in sexual activities with increasing frequency over a period of time, he or she is at risk of becoming physiologically dependent on the surge of chemicals that occurs during those sexual activities. In other words, the person becomes physiologically dependent on the pleasure and happiness induced by participating in sexual activities. At a point, the brain becomes accustomed to elevated neurochemicals, making the person feel depressed, unmotivated, and sad after even a brief period without some type of sexual activity. This is when sex addiction has occurred.

As explained above, sex addiction is the result of a person becoming physiologically and emotionally dependent on the surge of neurochemicals that’s triggered by participation in sexual activities. In itself, sexual activity is a natural, expected part of life; the vast majority of adults participate in sexual activities with some level of frequency. However, it’s possible that a person can become “addicted” to those feelings of happiness and pleasure. So as the frequency of sexual activity (and those pleasurable feelings) increases, the person becomes more aware of the absence of those feelings when he or she isn’t actively participating in some type of sexual activity. Much as the brain becomes dependent on feelings of pleasure induced by substance abuse, a person suffering from sex addiction feels compelled to seek sexual activity so that he or she can feel happy and pleasurable.

Sex addiction — also commonly referred to as “hypersexuality” — can be difficult to detect in others as most people view sexual behavior as a form of behavior that’s private. In other words, sex addiction can be hard to detect because people are usually private about their sexual proclivities and habits. However, there are a number of potential signs and symptoms that could possibly be indicative of hypersexuality and sex addiction.

From the individual’s perspective, sex addiction is possible if he or she is experiencing frequent or recurring sexual fantasies and accompanying urges. Thought most people experience sexual fantasies and urges from time to time, a person suffering from sex addiction will likely find that these urges and fantasies interfere with his or her daily life and can make it quite difficult to concentrate.

Similarly, another common sign of sex addiction is when time spent engaging or participating in sexual activities interferes in day-to-day life, making it increasingly difficult to fulfill professional or familial responsibilities. For example, a person who is suffering from sex addiction might find his or her absences from work increasing significantly due to having to deal with uncontrollable impulses to engage in sexual behavior.

It’s also quite common among those who suffer from sex addiction for sexual activity and lack thereof to be directly tied to mood. For example, just as the experience of having engaged in sexual activity causes pronounced feelings of happiness and pleasure, the lack of sexual activity results in feelings of pronounced depression, sadness, or possible even aggression.

Those who suffer from sex addiction commonly exhibit a tendency to disregard the consequences of their sexual activities. As mentioned above, some will find that they’ve been absent from work more frequently than they ever have been. However, people who suffer from sex addiction will also common disregard the physical and emotional consequences, including risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases and emotionally harming others in pursuit of sexual engagement.

As was mentioned previously, there are some inherent similarities between sex addiction and substance abuse. Specifically, the brain exhibits many of the same patterns throughout the course of active sex addiction as someone who’s battling an addiction to alcohol or drugs. However, researchers have also found that there’s a growing number of people who are suffering from both sex addiction and a substance use disorder, which might imply some sort of relationship or correlation.

According to research, one form of addiction shouldn’t be directly attributed to another. For example, if a person who suffers from alcoholism develops an addiction to sex, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that the sex addiction was a product of the alcoholism; however, it’s not inaccurate to say that that the fact that the person showed a tendency toward addictive behaviors made him or her more likely to develop other addictions, including sex addiction.

Rather than concluding that sex addiction causes a substance abuse problem or vice versa, the reality is that, since both forms of addiction involve similar neurological processes and many of the same areas of the brain, it’s more accurate to conclude that a person who develops one type of addiction could feasibly also develop the other.

For those who suffer from sex addiction and/or substance use disorder, it’s important to realize that both types of addiction can be safely, effectively treated. At Just Believe Recovery in Port Saint Lucie, FL, our goal is to be your destination for recovery. Whether you’re seeking treatment options for yourself or for a loved one, you can learn more about how we treat sex addiction and substance use disorder by calling Just Believe Recovery today at 877-978-1208

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