Drugs and Sexual Addiction

Article Contributed by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC and Founder of Addiction Hope and Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Addiction Hope

heartsickness-428103_640Hypersexual disorder, or sexual addiction, is characterized by the ongoing involvement in sexual behaviors compulsively, even in the face of negative consequences.

Although compulsive sexual behavior is not listed as an official diagnosis of mental health-disorders in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V), it has similar patterns that resemble substance abuse, or a drug addiction.

Studying the Link between Drug Addiction and Sexual Addiction

A more recent study has revealed an interesting link between drug addiction and sexual addiction, pinpointing biological similarities between these two disorders [1]. In this study completed by a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, brain activity was monitored via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to understand how brains regions respond to both sexual and nonsexual cues.

Participants were divided into two groups:

  • Those who had reported struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors
  • Those who did not experience these compulsions

All participants viewed sexually explicit videos while researchers viewed brain activity under MRI imaging.

Results from the Study

Results from this study revealed that the participants who had admitted to struggling with compulsive sexual behavior had increased activity in three regions of the brain:

  • The amygdale
  • The ventral striatum
  • The dorsal anterior

Interestingly, these regions of the brain have also been linked to drug addiction, drug cravings, and the processing of emotions [1].

These neurobiological findings suggest implications about the similar behaviors between drug addiction and compulsive sexual behavior; for example, how individuals persist in their destructive patterns, even when the behavior becomes problematic.

Though a drug addict or sex addict may suffer severe consequences as a result of their behaviors, they will often continue to act impulsively.

Applying These Results to Treatment

couple-342729_640In regards to the findings from this study, co-author and psychiatrist, Dr. Marc Potenza noted:

“Studies like [this one] may be seen as another step towards our understanding [of] the similarities between excessive engagement in sex and excessive engagement in drug abuse.”

While many experts continue to debate whether sexual addiction is an actual mental disorder or not, understanding the biological components of hypersexuality is an important step towards improved treatment methods.

Studies such as this one are also helpful in understanding similarities between co-occurring disorders, such as sexual addiction and drug addiction. The parallel brain response observed among drug and sex addicts may help explain the addictive nature of these disorders.

Whether the addict’s brain is being stimulated by hypersexuality or drugs, the substance of choice is triggering activity in the brain in a similar fashion. This may help explain why individuals that suffer with substance abuse may also develop other addictive behaviors, such as compulsive sexual behavior.

Breaking the Stigma through Better Research

While more research is needed in this area to solidify findings, these results lead to a better understanding of the nature of sexual addiction. Findings such as these may also be helpful in breaking the stigma that often surrounds compulsive sexual behavior.

Individuals who suffer with this disorder may be hesitant to reach out for help for fear of rejection, shame, or guilt. Understanding the biological component of sexual addiction demonstrates the complexity of this disorder and the need for professional care to work through the many factors involved.

Seeking Out Professional Help for Co-Occurring Disorders

meditation-225404_640If you or a loved one has been suffering with co-occurring disorders, such as addiction and hypersexuality, it is crucial to seek out professional help to find complete healing and freedom. Delaying treatment can only cause further destruction in one’s life and in the lives of those around you.

Even while sexual addiction is not an official mental health diagnosis, there are many treatment methods that have been proven effective for the recovery from hypersexuality. Continued research efforts in this area will help improve treatments and outcomes for the countless individuals who may be suffering.

Breaking Out of the Isolation

Reaching out for help, alone, can be a powerful aid in breaking the isolation and shame that may keep you locked in a silent, lonely battle with sexual addiction. We encourage you to reach out today to a trusted loved one, friend or therapist who can offer you support and help you find treatment.

The recovery process from sexual addiction may seem uncertain but research has made promising findings. By studying and analyzing the similar biological responses that are induced in the regions of the brain, scientists have discovered a link between sexual and drug addiction.

Understanding the biological component that is involved in addiction establishes the severity of these disorders and reinforces the need for professional treatment for recovery.

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  1. Live Science. “Sex addiction and drug addiction linked in the brain.” Retrieved 20 Oct 2014. http://www.livescience.com/46762-sex-addiction-and-drug-addiction-linked-in-the-brain.html