While most people think of substance use disorders when they think of addiction, addiction can also refer to certain behaviors. When a person becomes addicted to a behavior, it is referred to as a “process addiction.” One common process addiction is sex addiction. While they are separate disorders, sex and drug addiction have much in common.
The symptoms of sex addiction and substance use disorder are similar in many ways. One of the defining features of a process addiction is continuing to engage in a behavior despite negative consequences. Similarly, someone with a substance use disorder may continue to use drugs or alcohol despite the adverse effects of their use. Sex and substance addiction are also often both driven by the compulsion to stimulate the reward system of the brain.
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Effects of Drug Abuse on Sex and Intimacy
In many cases, sex addiction and substance abuse may co-occur and cause one or both of the disorders to become more severe. A common factor among people with sex addiction or a substance use disorder is the desire to escape emotional pain and the stresses of daily life. For this reason, some people may begin to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors and substance use around the same time.
The combination of drug abuse and sex can be risky even if a person does not have a sex addiction. Changes in libido and sexual performance may occur under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. Someone with a substance use disorder is also more likely to engage in high-risk sexual activities such as unprotected sex, which may result in unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
Individuals living with sex addiction may turn to substance use after engaging in compulsive sexual behavior to cope with feelings of numbness, guilt or shame. Because this relief is short-lived, the cycle of compulsive sex and substance use often continues.
Stimulants and Sex Addiction
People with sex addictions tend to use stimulants — such as meth — more frequently than other drugs. This prevalence is likely due to the belief that stimulants can enhance libido. Other stimulants that may be used by someone with sex addiction include amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy. Ecstasy is known for increasing the pleasure experienced from physical touch, which makes it popular for use during sex. Paradoxically, this drug is also linked to lowered libido and sexual performance.
Alcohol and Sex Addiction
Sex and alcohol use disorder co-occur more frequently than many co-occurring addictions. This phenomenon can be partially attributed to the availability of alcohol in places where people seek sexual partners. For example, someone with a sex addiction may frequently visit bars to meet new sexual partners. A person may also use alcohol before engaging in compulsive sexual behaviors to reduce inhibitions.
Marijuana and Sex Addiction
The relationship between marijuana and sex addiction is complicated. Reports differ significantly regarding the effects of marijuana on libido. While some suggest that marijuana is sex-inhibiting, others find it to be sex-enhancing. Someone who finds marijuana to be sex-enhancing may report increased desire and responsiveness to touch and use it to enhance sexual encounters. Other individuals experience a neutral response to marijuana on their libido. In these cases, marijuana may be used to reduce feelings of discomfort, anxiety or guilt during or after sexual encounters.
Statistics on Sex Addiction and Substance Abuse
Sex addiction frequently co-occurs with other mental health concerns, including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Mood disorders, such as depression
- Substance use disorders
- Personality disorders
- Impulse control disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
Anxiety and sex addiction co-occur the most frequently, with 96 percent of people with sex addiction also having an anxiety disorder. Mood disorders, such as depression, co-occur with sex addiction at a rate of 71 percent. In up to 71 percent of diagnosed sex addiction cases, a substance use disorder is also present.
While personality disorders may be common among individuals with sex addiction, the compulsive sexual behaviors may be accounted for by a personality disorder in some cases. For example, sex addiction and borderline personality disorder appear to co-occur frequently. Often, compulsive sexual behavior can be linked to impulsive behavior characteristic of borderline personality disorder.
Treating Sex Addiction and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders
With so many disorders co-occurring with sex addiction, it is likely that treatment will originally be sought for another condition. However, throughout the course of professional care, sex addiction is revealed and then able to be treated. A person who identifies as having a sex addiction should disclose this at the beginning of treatment to allow comprehensive services as early as possible.
Comprehensive sex and drug addiction treatment must address both disorders to be effective, because treating only one disorder may cause the other to worsen in severity. Depending on the severity of substance use, it may initially be the primary focus of treatment to ensure that a person is medically stable. The root causes of addiction should be identified and addressed in therapy. When creating a relapse prevention plan, triggers, high-risk situations, supports and coping skills should be considered and outlined for both substance use and compulsive sex.
While outpatient treatment is best for some individuals, others may benefit more from inpatient treatment. Levels of care are determined based on the individual’s specific symptoms. In addition to treatment, support groups may assist in maintaining progress. Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous are two of the most common sex addiction support groups. These groups are modeled after 12-step programs initially designed for use by people with substance use disorders.
If you or a loved one needs help for a substance use disorder with a co-occurring disorder such as sex addiction, reach out to a representative at The Recovery Village today. Our facilities across the country offer comprehensive treatment for substance use and co-occurring disorders. Contact us at 352.771.2700 for more information about our care options.
Black, D. W., Kehrberg, L. L., Flumerfelt, D. L., & Schlosser, S. S. “Characteristics of 36 subjects reporting compulsive sexual behavior.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published February 1997. Accessed February 8, 2019. Derbyshire, K. L., & Grant, J. E. “Compulsive Sexual Behavior: A Review of the Literature.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published May 27, 2015. Accessed February 8, 2019. Fong, T. W. “Understanding and Managing Compulsive Sexual Behaviors.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published November 2006. Accessed February 8, 2019. Levine, S. B. “What is sexual addiction?” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published 2010. Accessed February 8, 2019. Mental Health America. “Risky Business: Sex.” Accessed February 8, 2019. Starcevic, V., & Khazaal, Y. “Relationships between Behavioral Addictions and Psychiatric Disorders: What is Known and What is Yet to be Learned?” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published April 7, 2017. Accessed February 8, 2019.
Black, D. W., Kehrberg, L. L., Flumerfelt, D. L., & Schlosser, S. S. “Characteristics of 36 subjects reporting compulsive sexual behavior.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published February 1997. Accessed February 8, 2019.
Derbyshire, K. L., & Grant, J. E. “Compulsive Sexual Behavior: A Review of the Literature.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published May 27, 2015. Accessed February 8, 2019.
Fong, T. W. “Understanding and Managing Compulsive Sexual Behaviors.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published November 2006. Accessed February 8, 2019.
Levine, S. B. “What is sexual addiction?” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published 2010. Accessed February 8, 2019.
Mental Health America. “Risky Business: Sex.” Accessed February 8, 2019.
Starcevic, V., & Khazaal, Y. “Relationships between Behavioral Addictions and Psychiatric Disorders: What is Known and What is Yet to be Learned?” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published April 7, 2017. Accessed February 8, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.