Sex addiction, also known as sexual addiction, is a disorder characterized by a compulsive and uncontrollable participation in sexual behaviors (such as intercourse, seeking and watching pornography or masturbation), despite negative personal consequences. Because of differing opinions on the classification and diagnosis of sex addiction, it does not exist as a clinical entity in the DSM-V (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). However, the DSM-IV places sex addiction under the category ‘Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified’, and described the disorder as involving ‘compulsive searching for multiple partners, compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner, compulsive masturbation, compulsive love relationships and compulsive sexuality in a relationship’. In the reward-reinforcement model of addiction, sexual addictions are both identifiable and well-characterized. This model uses neuropsychological concepts to characterize addictions – both behavioral and chemical. Both addictive drugs and addictive behaviors activate neural pathways associated with reward perception. Current research confirms that sex addiction develops through the same biomolecular mechanisms that cause drug addiction and alcoholism.
Sex addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder, characterized by a combination of compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. Just like all other addictive disorders, the negative impact that sex addiction has on the sufferer and his or her loved ones will only increase as the symptoms worsen (which they inevitably will if left untreated). This specific disorder is also characterized by increased tolerance – over time, the addict will typically intensify the addictive behavior in order to achieve the same results. The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity has defined sex addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others”. A sex addict will continue engaging in detrimental and self-destructive behavior despite threats to his or her health, interpersonal relationships, and financial security. Some individuals with sex addiction may even find themselves facing serious legal problems.
With the advancement in technology over the last 15 years, we have more access to the internet than ever. This has lead to marked increase in the production and consumption of online pornographic materials. We are able to access the internet at anytime and at any place via smart phones and tablets. This cultural shift has changed the way we interact both sexually and interpersonally, leading to what some professionals consider an epidemic of sexuality related issues directly resulting from the misuse and eventual progression of addiction. The landscape of sex addiction has changed, and with that we are seeing more indirect relational and health related consequences of sexual addiction than ever. The internet has been coined as the “crack cocaine of sex addiction” due to the the sudden and explosive consequences. Children as young as 7 and 8 are viewing graphic pornographic materials, and the age of men affected by sex addiction has dropped dramatically. Consequences such as loss of relationships, Pornography Induced Erectile Dysfunction, and viewing high risk images that can result in legal problems are a common occurrence when sexual addiction is left untreated. Due to the progressive nature of addiction, some men struggling with pornogrphy addiction will end up acting out physically by seeking sexual experiences.
For some sex addicts, behaviors do not escalate beyond compulsive masturbation, pornography viewing, or the use of online adult chatrooms. For others, sex addiction may involve illegal activities, such as voyeurism or exhibitionism. In most other addictive disorders, such as alcoholism or gambling addiction, a person in recovery commits to total abstinence in order to begin healing on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level. This is possible because these behaviors are not necessary for survival. We can live completely normal and fulfilled lives without drinking or betting on horse races. However, sexual activity is a different story – just like eating, engaging in sexual intimacy is a necessary part of the human experience. Some may choose celibacy for religious, cultural, or personal reasons, but most individuals have a strong and healthy desire for sex. In fact, a lack of interest in or consistent avoidance of sex may indicate another type of intimacy disorder – sexual anorexia.
Sex addiction recovery programs use similar methods that have proven successful in treating substance dependency disorders. Yet unlike drug or alcohol treatment, the goal of sexual addiction treatment is not long-term abstinence. Rather, the goal is a successful and lasting termination of unhealthy and compulsive sexual behaviors. Most programs will suggest a period of self-imposed abstinence. This time allows the client who is seeking treatment for sex addiction to determine the difference between healthy and unhealthy sexual behaviors. Treatment will typically focus on uncovering underlying causes of addiction while simultaneously addressing the feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and self-loathing associated with acting out. Because many sex addicts struggle with co-occurring disorders, long-term therapeutic care is often necessary.
We at Next Chapter have extensive experience treating men who struggle with sex addiction. We employ therapeutic and holistic methods of healing in an inpatient, residential setting where our team of professionals can monitor and manage symptoms.
Love addiction is a proposed model of pathological and compulsive passion-related behavior, often directly related to a persistent pursuit of the feeling of ‘being in love’. The desire to love and be loved is very human and very normal – however, most individuals recognize that the initial magic of falling in love (the butterflies, the excitement, what some people call ‘the honeymoon phase’) is only temporary, and will eventually give way to a more mature, stable, and fulfilling love. However, the intoxicating feeling of falling in love can prove addictive to some individuals. For those prone to love addiction, the loss of the initial euphoria is similar to the crash drug addicts feel when their high wears off. They crave the feeling, and begin searching for another fix as soon as their current connection begins to fizzle out. This is why some one experiencing love addiction typically hops from relationship to relationship, seemingly unable to settle down for any extended period of time.
Love addiction has been studied as an intimacy disorder for decades, and relationship experts have long since been aware of the negative impact that this detrimental behavioral pattern has in the lives of the afflicted. In the 1988 book ‘Love and Addiction’, written by Archie Brodsky and Stanton Peele, the disorder is defined as “an unstable state of being, marked by a compulsion to deny all that you are or have been in favor of some new and ecstatic experience”. As is the case with all other addictive disorders, a love addicted person comes to rely on the pursuit of romance in order to function normally. It becomes difficult for someone active in their addiction to make it through the day without it. When the object of their addiction becomes unavailable, or their pursuit is hindered for any reason, they experience the psychological symptoms of withdrawal. These feelings, unfortunately, lead to a vicious cycle of dependence that often result in serious personal consequences.
Addiction specialists have noticed several common patterns in love addicted individuals:
- The addict becomes preoccupied or obsessed with the object of his or her ‘affection’.
- The addict will go to great lengths in order to satisfy his or her craving.
- The addict feels out of control and unable to act rationally when it comes to the pursuit of the object.
- The addict will continue to pursue the object despite steadily accumulating negative consequences.
Love addiction has very little to do with real love. In fact, most love addicts are afraid of intimacy and vulnerability – both major components of authentic romantic relationships. Most love addicts are motivated by a combination of low self-esteem, deep-seated and unsatisfied emotional needs, and a fear of abandonment that stems back to childhood. They look to each new romantic pursuit as a source of security, worthiness, and purpose. They mistakenly believe that their new romantic partner will take away their pain, make them feel happy and whole, and give their life a sense of meaning. In reality, the relationships that love addicts form will center around codependency rather than love. Of course, in order for one to maintain a healthy and loving relationship, he or she must be capable of both giving and receiving love. The reality is that love addicts are truly not capable of doing either.
When the object pulls away, the person with love addiction may feel overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, or insecurity – which may lead to his or her acting out in different ways. Many love addicts simultaneously struggle with co-occurring disorders, such as substance dependency or mental illness. In order for love addicted individuals to adequately heal, they must develop a strong sense of self identity while recovering from underlying issues. Many of the love addicted men that we at Next Chapter treat have undergone traumatic experiences early on life, which have remained unaddressed and unresolved. Recovering from love addiction is typically a multifaceted process, involving psychotherapy, trauma recovery, 12-step involvement, and time spent in a therapeutic and residential facility. Because many love addicts simultaneously suffer from related disorders, inpatient treatment is often recommended.