Adults from Alcoholic Homes May Have Higher Tendency for Sexual Addiction Problems

Though the causes for sexual compulsivity are many and multi-faceted, some research suggests that people with sexual addictions and dysfunctional behaviors toward sex grew up in households where a parent abused alcohol. The connection, say experts, lies in the difficulty in forming intimate connections with people. Children who grow up in alcoholic households and then later have problems with sexually compulsive behaviors may not know what a normal, healthy relationship is like.   Information about how living with alcoholic parents can contribute to sexually dysfunctional behavior later in life was gathered by questionnaires sent to people attending 12-step based programs like Sex Addicts Anonymous. Questions were designed to learn more about the group participants’ past – specifically, if their childhood homes had an alcoholic parent at home or not.   Of the 158 persons attending sexual addiction support groups, almost half (45 percent) said that at least one of their parents abused alcohol or were addicted to it. In comparison to the population at large, the number of people with sexually dysfunctional behaviors and who also have a parent or caregiver who is an alcoholic is much higher than the general percentage of adults in the U.S. population who are addicted to alcohol.   Because people with addictions to alcohol are often out of touch with emotions or unable to healthily express their feelings or understand others’ emotions, children who live in these homes may learn to function without recognizing or validating their own emotions. Consequently, these children may choose dysfunctional or compulsive sexual behaviors later in life as a way to cope with emotional isolation or to experience a sense of worth or approval, even if it isn’t genuine.   Just as an alcoholic uses drinking for relief from negative emotions like frustration and fear, people with sexual addictions use sexual behaviors to soothe feelings of loneliness and to cope with fear of intimacy. In many cases, the person with sexual addiction actually uses sex in place of emotional intimacy.   Author Patrick Carnes says in his book “Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction” that like other addictions, the body reacts to sexual behaviors with adrenaline-like responses, including an escalated heart rate and the desire for more intense experiences as the addiction progresses. Strong feelings of shame and low self-esteem also surround the behavior, and although the sexually compulsive and dysfunctional acts do not bring a satisfying level of intimacy, the addict feels compelled to repeat the behavior cycle.   Sexual addiction is continuing to emerge into the media spotlight, due in part to celebrity confessions of the disorder and rising numbers of treatment centers. Several 12-step groups have become available nationwide for helping people reach recovery from sexual compulsivity, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous. Many groups have as a core belief that the person involved in sexual addiction has lost the ability to control their behaviors, despite the life-shattering consequences.   Sexual compulsivity and sexual addiction are multi-dimensional and can have many layers that contribute to the problem. Studies comparing rates of sexual addiction with a person’s family history related to substance abuse may help experts identify some of the foundations of sexual addiction before the problem escalates further.    

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