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What Are the Treatments for Sex Addiction?

Sex addiction is one of several possible terms used to describe patterns of sexual conduct, sexual thought and/or sexual fantasy that seriously impair a person’s ability to maintain a sense of well-being or to follow a stable daily routine. In the U.S., there is no standard definition for this form of behavioral addiction, and the medical community has not formulated a consistent treatment regime for affected individuals. In a study review published in 2014 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, researchers from three U.S. institutions examined the options for sex addiction treatment.

Sex Addiction and Behavioral Addiction

Behavioral addiction (addictive disorder, process addiction) is an officially recognized form of addiction that centers on excessive, dysfunctional participation in pleasurable activities not directly associated with the consumption of alcohol, drugs or medications. Despite the lack of damaging substance use, a person dealing with this form of addiction develops some of the core chemical and physical brain changes associated with substance addiction. He or she also develops related patterns of harmful, addiction-supporting behavior that largely mimic the behaviors of people affected by substance addiction. In the U.S., the American Psychiatric Association (APA) plays a lead role in setting the accepted terms for diagnosing behavioral addictions and alcohol-, drug- and medication-related addictions. As of late 2014, the APA has only defined the diagnostic terms for a single form of behavioral addiction: gambling disorder. In the U.S., there is no single set of criteria used to identify the symptoms of sex addiction. This is true, in part, because doctors and researchers seeking to identify affected individuals must be careful not to include highly sexually active people who don’t suffer a decline in well-being or experience a diminished ability to maintain generally functional lifestyles. Nevertheless, current evidence clearly indicates that some people experience significant amounts of daily dysfunction stemming from their preoccupation with sexual activity and/or thoughts and fantasies related to such activity.

Behavioral Addiction Treatment

People affected by a behavioral addiction commonly benefit from participation in psychotherapy that’s designed to produce real-world changes in day-to-day thought and action. One form of therapy commonly used for this purpose is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Participants in CBT learn to understand the underlying causes of their addictive behavior, learn how to recognize the emotional responses that help maintain such behavior, learn how to identify these responses when they occur and learn how to develop new responses that don’t support addictive behavior. While there is no medication proven to consistently help individuals dealing with behavioral addiction, potential future options receiving scrutiny from doctors and researchers include two medications – naltrexone and topiramate – commonly used in the treatment of alcoholism.

Possible Sex Addiction Treatments

In the study review published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College, Argosy University and Pine Grove Behavioral Health explored the range of treatments useful for people with sex addiction (also known as hypersexuality, hypersexual disorder and compulsive sexual behavior). This exploration was conducted as part of a larger examination of various issues reflecting the current state of knowledge on this form of behavioral addiction. The researchers preliminarily concluded that, generally speaking, research on sex addiction treatment lacks a wide variety of well-designed, large-scale studies that meet the highest standards of scientific excellence. Nonetheless, numerous relatively well-designed studies have been conducted over the course of the last 30-plus years. The researchers found that many sex addiction treatment programs use techniques that closely mirror the techniques used in programs geared toward the treatment of substance problems. In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapeutic approaches that fall under this heading include motivational interviewing, dialectical behavior therapy, individual counseling and group counseling. In addition, many sex addiction programs utilize a 12-step mutual help approach similar to the basic tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous and other substance addiction-oriented 12-step programs. The researchers note that people dealing with sex addiction often have significant problems with physical/mental sexual dysfunction. This means that affected individuals often have a need for sex therapy focused on issues such as erectile dysfunction, an inability to orgasm and premature ejaculation. The researchers also note that, perhaps surprisingly, treatment of sex addiction can potentially substantially damage any given person’s intimate relationships. This means that affected individuals may also need some form of relationship counseling or marriage counseling.

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