Thursday, 16 February 2017

Co-occurring and cross-addictions that accompany sex addiction

by Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S (See all authors)

Based on both clinical experience and research, I can tell you that sexual addiction is rarely a standalone issue. One large-scale survey of self-identified sex addicts found that 69% of heterosexual men, 79% of heterosexual women, and 80% of homosexual men also had a secondary addiction of some sort. Another survey of self-identified sex addicts found that 58% of sex addicts have secondary issues with drug addiction, 31% with alcoholism. Compulsive spending (49%), eating disorders (47%), addictive video gaming (37%), and compulsive gambling (29%) are also common.

Sometimes sex addicts have a co-occurring addiction, where a second addiction (usually to a substance like cocaine, meth, or alcohol) is used in conjunction with sexual compulsivity as a way of disinhibiting the addict and/or enhancing the sexual high. Other sex addicts have a cross-addiction, where they switch from one addiction to the other. Often they engage in compulsive sexuality until they feel so guilty and ashamed that they stop, and then they turn to alcohol, drugs, or some other addiction as a way to “numb out” and disconnect (to not feel so much shame about their sexual compulsivity).

Of course, sex addicts aren’t the only addicts prone to cross and co-occurring addictions. This is because the motivation for any addiction, regardless of the nature of the addiction, is an emotional escape. In other words, addictions are a way to not feel stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, shame, self-loathing, and other forms of emotional discomfort. This means that addicts don’t engage in their addictions to feel good, they do it to feel less. They don’t like what they are feeling, so they drink, get high, gamble, spend, act out sexually, or whatever as a way to self-soothe and distract.

Interestingly, all potentially addictive substances and behaviors create the same emotionally distracting neurochemical rush. And that “escapist rush” is what the addict seeks, regardless of how that effect is achieved. As a result, we see individuals turning to compulsive sex when alcohol and drugs are no longer in the mix – and eventually experiencing the same types and degrees of negative life consequences as before.

Sure, there are a few addicts out there who are purists – men and women who stick with their drug or behavior of choice no matter what. For instance, a long-time alcoholic may have no interest whatsoever in illicit substances or emotionally distracting behaviors (sex, spending, gaming, gambling, and the like). However, in today’s world, where an overflowing panoply of addictive substances and behaviors is readily available 24/7/365, that type of addict is the exception rather than the rule. Much more often, one addiction is part of a larger addictive pattern, with multiple issues either intertwining or alternating. Many addicts are what we refer to as “garbage can users,” happily turning to any addictive substance or behavior that comes their way.

At the end of the day, regardless of the nature of the addiction, the results are always the same:

  • Preoccupation to the point of obsession with the substance and/or the behavior
  • An inability to stop using the substance and/or the behavior (typically evidenced by failed attempts to quit or cut back)
  • A negative impact on health, self-esteem, family, relationships, finances, career, etc.

For those who deal with multiple addictions, all of the addictive issues must eventually be addressed. If not, the addict cannot truly be sober, and he or she will always be at risk of relapse in all of the addictions. For instance, people who are both drug and sex addicted often get sober from drugs but fail to acknowledge or address their sexual compulsivity. Then, while sober from substances, they seek the intensity and escape that addictive sex provides. And that pushes them back toward the people, places, and things that drive their substance abuse.

Thus we see that a multiply addicted substance/sex addict must address all of his or her addictions (and the underlying trauma issues that drive those addictions). Otherwise, that individual might never get fully sober, and his or her life will continue to be riddled with addiction-related problems.