Sex: Not the Only Tech-Driven Behavioral Addiction


Sometimes sex addicts think they’re the only ones who struggle with an addiction driven by digital technology. Other times, sex addicts think that if they can control their sexual acting out, then they needn’t worry about anything else in terms of their online behaviors. Sadly, neither of these assumptions is true. There are numerous potentially addictive digitally driven behaviors, and sex addicts, when they get sober from sexual addiction, often switch from compulsive sex to one of these other behaviors as a way to fill the void.

Generally speaking, online behavioral addictions are driven by the Internet’s Triple-A Engine of anonymity, affordability and accessibility. For sex addicts, this is especially true, as Internet-enabled devices have significantly increased the average person’s ability to easily and affordably (and relatively anonymously) access all sorts of highly stimulating sexual content and potential sexual partners. And for people at risk for sexual addiction, this proliferation of sexual access can be highly problematic.

This is also true with other pleasurable (and therefore potentially addictive) online activities. The most common digitally driven potential addictions (other than sex/love/porn addiction) include:

  • Compulsive spending. Also called oniomania, compulsive buying disorder, and shopping addiction, compulsive spending occurs when people lose control over their shopping habits, spending obsessively despite the damage this does to their bank accounts. Their shopping has little to do with needing things; instead, it is done for the neurochemical rush that temporarily helps the spender escape the vagaries of life. (This is the same escapist rush that drives alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction, and the other behavioral addictions on this list.) And the Internet’s ever-expanding shopping wonderland aids and abets compulsive spenders, allowing them to conduct their activities in secret (rather than at the local mall, where friends and family might see them and put a stop to their behavior).
  • Video gaming addiction. Typically, video game addicts play for at least two or three hours daily; often they play four or five times that amount. They lose sleep, they neglect personal hygiene, their eating habits can be highly destructive (either they eat nothing but over-processed junk food or they don’t eat at all), and they lose interest in other activities (friends, family, school, work, exercise, hobbies, etc.) As with other addictions, video gaming addiction is not about enjoyment, it’s about escape. And it’s not just kids who get hooked on video games. Military veterans, especially those who’ve seen consistent action and are used to the terror of war, are also at high risk — especially if they’re playing interactive war-oriented games.
  • Compulsive gambling. Also known as gambling addiction and gambling disorder, compulsive gambling occurs when people gamble despite negative consequences and an earnest desire to quit. Typically these individuals prefer fast-paced games where rounds occur quickly, with an instant opportunity to play again. Online gambling sites offer these games in abundance, feeding the addiction. Similar to the other addictions on this list, gambling addiction is not about winning money, it’s about the escapist neurochemical rush brought on by wagering. Many gambling addicts run up tens of thousands of dollars in debt (or more), and still they keep playing. Many lose their homes, their jobs and/or their families thanks to this addiction.
  • Social media obsession. A relative newcomer to the addiction scene, social media obsession is the fanatical quest to have the most friends/followers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like, and to have one’s posts responded to in positive ways by the most people possible. Unlike the other addictions on this list, social media obsession is an entirely digital phenomenon. It did not exist prior the advent of Facebook in 2004. Nevertheless, social media addicts seek to escape from real life (via the obsessive use of social media) just as other addicts seek to escape from real life. Often, the moods of a social media addict depend on whether he or she has gained or lost any online friends that day, and how his or her most recent posts have been responded to (or ignored).

Why This Should Matter to Sex Addicts

Sex addicts should care about and keep an eye on other potential digitally driven addictions because sex addicts are incredibly prone to cross and co-occurring addictions. (Individuals who are cross-addicted switch from one addiction to another, whereas people with co-occurring addictions deal with multiple addictions simultaneously.) One survey of 1,603 self-identified sex addicts found that 69% of heterosexual men, 79% of heterosexual women, and 80% of homosexual men admitted to a cross or co-occurring addiction or some other similarly problematic behavior. Another survey of self-identified sex addicts found that 58% reported either current or past issues with drug addiction, and 31% reported either current or past issues with alcoholism. Compulsive gambling (29%), compulsive video gaming (37%), eating disorders (47%) and compulsive spending (49%) were also common.

In reality, whatever the addiction — sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, video gaming, spending, social media or anything else — the motivation is the same. The addict wants to feel better, which actually means the addict wants to feel less (i.e., to control what he or she is feeling). And addictive substances and behaviors (online or otherwise) all happily oblige by altering brain chemistry in ways that temporarily distract the individual from stress, emotional discomfort and the pain of underlying psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, attachment deficit disorders, unresolved early-life or severe adult trauma and more.

Certainly some sex addicts are purists, sticking with their behavior of choice no matter what. For others, however, their primary addiction (to sexual fantasy and activity) is just one part of a larger pattern. These individuals are sometimes referred to as “garbage can users,” ingesting whatever addictive substance or engaging in whatever addictive behavior is available, as long as it creates the escapist neurochemical rush they seek. For some sexual addicts, this secondary addiction can easily be a digitally driven activity.

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