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Sex Addiction’s Similarities With Other Addictions

Like people who abuse drugs and alcohol, sex addicts can experience a “high” through compulsive sexual behaviors, develop a dependence on this feeling, and suffer withdrawal symptoms without sex. Sexual addiction is like most other compulsive behaviors: a potentially destructive twist on a normal life-enhancing activity. Similar to drugs and alcohol, sexual activities produce chemical changes in the brain. When a sexual behavior is engaged in compulsively over time, the brain adapts to the flood of neurotransmitters and craves more intense or more frequent stimuli to feel the initial rush.

Like other addictions, sex addiction is characterized by repetitive compulsive seeking or use of an activity despite adverse social, psychological, and/or physical consequences. Addiction is often accompanied by physical dependence, withdrawal and tolerance. Physical dependence is defined as a physiologic state of adaptation to a substance or chemical change in the brain, the absence of which produces symptoms of withdrawal.

Sex Addiction Dependence/ Withdrawal

Withdrawal syndrome consists of a predictable group of symptoms resulting from abrupt removal of, or a rapid decrease in, the regular dosage of a psychoactive substance or activity; the syndrome is often characterized by overactivity of the physiologic functions that were suppressed by the drug and/or depression of the functions that were stimulated by the object of addiction.

Tolerance is a state in which a drug or activity produces a diminishing biologic or behavioral response; in other words, higher doses — or in the case of sex addicts, riskier or more intense behavior — is needed to produce the same initial effect.

A common misconception is that someone with a strong libido or who has a number of sexual partners must have a sexual addiction. In reality, most sex addicts crave the pursuit of sex and may gain little pleasure from a sexual act itself. Whereas most people stop engaging in a behavior that harms their health, relationships, finances or careers, sex addicts are unable to stop seeking out sexual experiences despite these consequences. They achieve a “high” when engaging in compulsive sexual behaviors, and as the brain chemistry changes, they must engage in more and more sexual acts to prevent a “crash” or withdrawal. Sex addiction withdrawal can include symptoms such as depression, anxiety, emotional instability, anger, fatigue, agitation, hypersensitivity and physical discomfort.

Types of Sex Addiction

A wide range of behaviors can be symptoms of sex addiction, including:

  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Multiple affairs
  • Anonymous sex
  • Obsessive dating
  • Compulsive use of pornography
  • Risky or unsafe sex
  • Cybersex
  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • Prostitution or use of prostitutes