Relapse in Sexual Addiction: An Opportunity to Refocus on Recovery

Relapse is a term often applied to substance addiction recovery, but the term also applies to the estimated three to five percent of adults in the U.S. who are living with sexual addiction.

Like a relapse into alcohol or drug use, relapse with the sexual addiction recovery process is difficult, both emotionally and physically – but is also considered a normal element of the process as people work toward long-term recovery. In terms of sexual addiction, however, relapse can mean added struggles because the behavior may be viewed by some as a "bad decision," rather than as the result of a complex set of factors, including brain-level factors that create addictive cravings for sexual behaviors.

Relapse During Sexual Addiction Requires Acknowledgement

When a person recovering from sexual addiction experiences a relapse, or a return to the negative behaviors, experts suggest that they first face up to the relapse without denial and without excuses. This allows for the recovery process to continue, because the person can work with their addiction treatment professional and their family or accountability partner without shame. This can also provide an opportunity for a person to reevaluate what triggers their cravings for the behavior, and look again at the tools they have in place for effectively managing those cravings.

Relapse During Sex Addiction Doesn’t Mean Recovery is Over

A relapse doesn’t mean that recovery for sexual addiction has ended; rather it means a stressful event has occurred or that a personal boundary the person has established has been compromised. By working together with accountability partners, professional counselors and their family and friends, the relapse can become a chance to modify a person’s recovery strategy, especially in terms of working through the feelings that arise during times of high stress. Progress continues when the feelings are faced, acknowledged, and a plan is in place for future triggers. Some people find it helpful to put their thoughts and feelings down on paper when they are working past a relapse in sexual addiction recovery.

Making Recovery a Priority After Sexual Addiction Relapse

With sexual addiction, a person has lost their ability to control unwanted, obsessive thoughts about sexual behaviors or to control their impulses to act on those cravings. Researchers believe the brain’s pleasure centers are involved in sexual addiction, similar to addictions to drugs and alcohol, and that for some people the cravings for the behavior can be as strong as cocaine. When relapse occurs, it is critical that the person in recovery take time to refocus on their healing and make their recovery an absolute priority. With acknowledgement of the relapse and a return to their recovery plan, a relapse during sexual addiction recovery can point toward a stronger future and an addiction-free life.

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