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  • The Connection Between Sex Addiction & Substance Abuse

    The notorious “love-hate” connection. How do the two correlate? Is there a real connection? Is sex addiction an addiction? The ones who struggle with substance abuse can often experience sex and intimacy issues which, once unraveled, can and usually do reveal a more profound, underlying problem. In addiction, we can’t afford to dissect or separate the symptoms of one’s apparent dysfunctionality; instead, we observe them as an entity. (It makes perfect sense since most of our defense mechanisms – we can call it self-destruction, but we’re not going to – clearly and directly stem from childhood.) The connection between substance abuse and sex addiction is much more interesting because it is unpredictable. So, let’s learn more. That is all you need to know about sex addiction and substance abuse – and their toxic relationship.

    The common denominator: pain

    Both sex addiction and substance abuse are exquisitely good at one thing: waltzing the pain way. When experiencing perpetual, excruciating pain, we only want it to dissipate, vanish, and go away. Become non-existent. Sex, just like alcohol or drugs, can offer that safe bubble where one can quiet the tyranny of emotional wounds that one carries. No matter the addiction form, there are undeniable similarities. For addictive personality types, negative consequences do not promote cognition or realization; one will continue to engage in this type (self-destructive and destructive) of behavior at all costs. Why? Because it eases the pain. It protects us from further harm. But can it cure it? – We already know the answer.

    The pleasure thread 

    What numbs the pain best? – Pleasure. The more intense the pleasure, the better we feel. Alcohol, MDMA, GHB/GBL, and cocaine are most commonly used for enhancing one’s sexual arousal levels and overall experience. Increased sexual desire and stimulation are the reasons why sex-substance symbiosis is so addictive.

    Compulsive behavior

    Addiction (any kind, really) is driven by compulsion. – When our reward system center wants something, it becomes Machiavellian. It says: “Stimulate me. Make me feel good. More. Keep the good stuff coming.” – and, so, we become slaves to our chemistry. As complex and superior as humans may seem, we are a mere fragment of the universe’s grand intellect and perfection. (and it, too, is utterly chaotic and senseless at times) It is safe to say all humans live by Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” – And that’s why we, as species, have successfully and cleverly invented alcohol and drugs. It was an auto-apology attempt – gone wrong.

    The universal truth still stands: human beings detest pain and discomfort – physical, mental, or emotional – and will go to great lengths to disarm/disable everything or anything that might endanger our existence. What better way to distract and protect ourselves from wounding than to invite perpetual (although unauthentic, induced) pleasure into our life?


    Hence, sex addiction and substance abuse. Often enough, the two co-occur and cause an escalation in disorder severity. Anything to numb the pain, no? For this reason, engaging in high-risk behavior (sexual or drug/alcohol-related) is common in people who struggle with addiction. Substance abuse is known to impede sexual performance and lower libido.

    Sex addiction symptoms

    Although the two addictions share overlapping similarities, sex addiction, and substance abuse display different symptoms. Most of us are familiar with substance abuse symptoms – but what about sex addiction? What makes a person a sex addict? Let’s take a look. This type of behavior usually includes:

    frequent or continuous one-night stands

    having sex with multiple partners (including anonymous ones)

    indulging in multiple affairs at a time

    practicing unprotected sex – risky behavior symptoms

    choosing prostitution as a way to feed the addiction (customer or prostitute role, depending on the individual)

    not being able to refrain from masturbating at inappropriate times or places – work, shopping malls, airports – public bathrooms in general

    indulging in spontaneous sex with strangers in public places (such as parking lots, public bathrooms, etc.)

    practicing exhibitionism and voyeurism

    enjoying frequent virtual sex – sexting, cybersex, phone sex

    excessive use of pornographic material

    Recognizing sex addiction in substance abuse

    Identifying sex addiction can be exceptionally difficult when someone is actively using it. – needless to say, to an untrained eye, substance abuse takes the horror cake, and that’s why compulsive sexual behavior frequently (and cunningly) eludes any diagnosis. Remember, the signs of active sex addiction can differ from substance abuse (and usually they do), but the underlying cause is almost always of the same epicenter. These are the followings signs of a co-occurring sex addiction during active substance addiction:

    risky behavior: engaging and insisting on sexual activities without STD and STI testing and any protection

    hyper-sexuality: indulging in dangerous, impulsive activities such as paying for sex favors with strangers, frequenting sex and strip clubs, excessive pornography usage, engaging in meaningless sex with strangers (that proves to be detrimental to one’s mental and emotional health), losing financial grip

     no boundaries: displaying an acute lack of personal boundaries (own or others’) when engaging in sexual activities; pressuring acquaintances, friends, or partners into having intercourse (or finding oneself on the receiving end of the pressure imposed by their partner)

    relationship neglect – socially withdrawing, avoiding contact due to frequent sexual activities

    If you recognize these signs, be sure to talk to your loved one about going to rehab. Try to have an open conversation and provide the necessary guidance and support.

    Addiction, whatever its shape, is an emotional trauma response. Understanding the underlayers of dysfunctional behavior is paramount. It’s just a way of coping – surviving, that is.

    Final words

    As with any addiction, there is no instant cure. Each addiction is a different animal; each human being is a distinct micro-universe. A successful treatment plan will encompass all individual needs. Sexual abuse, trauma, and abandonment significantly influence addictive personality development. (mechanisms that ease the ongoing pain behind emotional wounding) Now, the good news: sex addiction and substance abuse can be treated successfully. If you or your loved one are struggling, please seek professional help.

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