Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S
With Ozzy Osbourne’s recent revelation that he’s seeking treatment for sexual addiction, my first reaction, as an addiction treatment specialist, was to think, “I’ve seen this progression before, where a person who’s gotten sober from alcohol and/or drugs must later get sober from sex addiction, too.” Sometimes these men and women were sex addicts all along, but their sexual compulsivity was obscured by the more obvious signs and symptoms of substance abuse. Other times, their sexual addiction only takes root when their primary addiction is no longer available.
Either way, 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 way of 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 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 like Ozzy Osbourne 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. Ozzy Osbourne rehab visits can reveal the replacement addictions that can arise during recovery.
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 like Ozzy Osbourne must address all of his 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.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health, creating and overseeing addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen treatment facilities, including Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, The Ranch in Tennessee, and The Right Step in Texas. He is the author of several highly regarded books, including “Sex Addiction 101,” “Sex Addiction 101, The Workbook,” and “Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men.”