Sexual Addiction and Street Drug Use

Contributor: written by Wilmington Treatment Center clinical content team member Hugh C. McBride

Lakeview clients-talkingIn the late 1970s, when former First Lady Betty Ford publicly disclosed her addiction to alcohol and prescription pain medications, many people still regarded these issues as evidence of personal shortcomings or “dirty little secrets” that should not be spoken of in polite society.

Today, Mrs. Ford’s willingness to honestly discuss her struggles is credited with enlightening millions of Americans and changing the way that alcoholism, addiction, and related issues are understood and discussed.

As a nation, we have come a long way in terms of our understanding of the disease of addiction and our appreciation for the challenges faced by individuals who have become dependent upon alcohol and other drugs.

Unfortunately, this enhanced sensitivity does not apply in equal measure to all mental health issues in all situations. This is especially true when the conversation turns to certain compulsive behaviors. Too often, people who are dealing with issues such as binge-eating disorder, compulsive gambling, and sex addiction are ridiculed, demeaned, or dismissed as merely trying to make excuses for their poor self-discipline.

This mindset is perhaps most evident in regards to sex addiction. Also commonly referred to as sex/love addiction, compulsive sexual behavior, or hypersexual behavior disorder, sex addiction usually enters the public consciousness in one of two ways: as a salacious hook for a news segment or TV show, or in reports of a high-profile individual whose sexual history has recently become a matter of public record. Regardless of the way that the topic arises, it is usually greeted with a combination of disbelief, criticism, and laughter.

No Laughing Matter

We should all know by now that this is no laughing matter.

One issue that has precluded greater understanding of sex addiction involves debate over official recognition of the disorder. Unlike binge-eating disorder and compulsive gambling, sex addiction is not included in the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

family on pierHowever, many treatment professionals believe that the pain, trauma, hopelessness, and fear that are experienced by individuals with out-of-control sexual behaviors should be viewed and treated as a legitimate psychiatric disorder.

This opinion is bolstered by considerable research, including a brain activity study that showed similarities between the ways that the brains of people with sex addiction respond to pornography and the ways that the brains of people with substance use disorders react when they ingest their drugs of choice.

Also clouding the issue is the fact that what may look like hypersexuality or sexual addiction may actually be an effect of another behavior or disorder. For example, when a person has been abusing street drugs or club drugs, such as ketamine, MDMA/ecstasy, methamphetamine, or cocaine, he or she may experience decreased inhibition, heightened impulsivity, increased engagement in reckless or risky behaviors, and impaired judgment.

Depending upon the specific type of street drug that a person takes and the environment in which he or she takes that drug, the effects listed in the previous sentence may lead to a significant increase in sexual behaviors. As the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) at the University of California, San Francisco has noted, the use of club drugs encourages sexual risk-taking and puts the users of these substances at an increased risk for contracting HIV.

Reckless & Risky

man at red light districtReckless, risky, and otherwise dangerous sexual behaviors may be evidence that a person is struggling with sex addiction. These activities may also be the result of the abuse of certain street drugs. It is also possible that an individual may be experiencing both an addiction to sex and a substance use disorder involving methamphetamine, cocaine, or another street drug. In none of these cases should these behaviors be dismissed as nothing more than personal weakness or a lack of character.

Abusing street drugs and engaging in high-risk sexual activities are self-defeating behaviors that are indicative of individuals in crisis, and that merit thorough assessment by qualified professionals. As was the case when Betty Ford first revealed her struggles with addiction, we should not allow a lack of public understanding to prevent us from acknowledging the dignity and humanity of these individuals. We should also make a concerted effort to ensure that an absence of consensus does not prevent us from recognizing the pain that they are in and responding not with scorn or derision, but instead with empathy and compassion.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have your or your loved one struggled with sexual addiction and street drug abuse? What interventions were made and who was the strongest supporter?


Bio: “Sexual Addiction and Street Drug Use” was written by Wilmington Treatment Center clinical content team member Hugh C. McBride. Hugh has several years of experience researching and writing on a wide range of topics related to behavioral healthcare. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Grove City College.

Wilmington Treatment Center is a residential treatment program that provides a full continuum of care to adult men and women who have been struggling with substance abuse, chemical dependency, and certain co-occurring disorders. Located in Wilmington, N.C., the center features evidence-based treatment, state of the art detoxification protocols, and a locally developed multidisciplinary approach that is tailored to allow the staff to meet each patient wherever he or she is on the pathway of recovery. Since the day the program accepted its first patient in 1984, Wilmington Treatment Center has been dedicated to providing personalized care that incorporates the 12-step philosophy and principles, relapse prevention education, and a strong family component.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.