Common Themes in Addictions

It doesn’t matter whether the addiction is to substances, gambling, alcohol, shopping or sex. All those with an addiction share common things:

1. Strong Feelings – Everyone has a wide range of feelings that can be positive or negative. People who lead with their feelings, however, often end up living in the ditch! I have found, over the years that many of my clients who suffer from an addiction state that their anxiety motivates them to turn to unhealthy coping strategies. Their unmanageable feels often play a key role in their addiction pattern.

2. Lack of skills – Those who don’t know how to deal with their feelings in a healthy way, look for alternate methods. For example, someone who has problems with relationships and doesn’t have a good self-image, might be a likely candidate to become a workaholic. They might become very valuable in the workplace and learn specific work skills but doesn’t solve their other personal problems.

3. Enablers – Most people with addictions can name the person who first introduced them to the substance or activity that led to an addiction. They also usually have people in their lives who have contributed to or allowed the addiction to continue with their inappropriate behaviours.

4. Fantasy and Cravings – When a person is thinking about the addiction in an obsessive manner and has cravings to use their focus is not available for their responsibilities.

5. Detachment – Sometimes it may seem like the addict has two people living inside. There is the public person who presents well and the private person who is involved in a secret lifestyle. In many cases, the person has been able to detach one from the other and sometimes even doesn’t remember doing specific things because they have become so good at separating the two. This is common with a number of problem areas such as eating disorders and sexual addictions.

6. Tolerance – Over time, the amount or strength of a substance or activity that is needed to produce a high will need to be increased in order to get the same effect. Those who begin by looking at pornography, for example, may increasingly require more frequent or more powerful images. Some may advance into chat lines and affairs, begin hiring prostitutes or add violence to their sexual experiences.

7. Withdrawal – Distress can occur when the addiction is not fed. A person may become frustrated, angry or unable to function when they are abstaining. Withdrawal can be physiological and/or psychological in nature.

8. Consequences – Those with addictions often also experience relationship problems, financial and employment issues, legal encounters, deteriorating health, shame and self-loathing. Over time, their lives can become unmanageable.

9. Defense Mechanisms – Denial, projection, blaming, repression, rationalization, intellectualization, minimization, deflection and manipulation are some of the ways that the person avoids facing reality and getting treatment.

10. Temptations – A person who is addicted has formed a life that promotes the addiction. Their friends, activities, schedule and habits all revolve around the addiction. S/he are able to get a shot-term “fix” easily as that has been their pattern. Recovery therefore involves facing one day at a time, knowing that commitment to change long-term will be difficult.

11. Opportunities to change – It doesn’t matter where one goes in the world, there are supports and resources to help the person who is addicted. But that person has to be ready and willing to change. Alcoholics Anonymous, group therapy, public agencies and private therapists are only a phone call away. Employers offer Employee Assistant programs and insurance companies usually recognize addiction as a medical issue that qualifies for disability benefits.

12. People who love them – If you are worried about someone who is involved with an addiction, you need help. You cannot change another person but you can work on yourself. The best thing you can do today is book an appointment with a psychologist who specializes in addictions so you can begin working on your healthy future.

10 Common Questions Men Have About Sex Addiction

1. Question: Am I a sex addict?

Answer: There are a number of red flags that can signal an addiction to sex. A person who uses sexual activity be it intercourse, viewing pornography, phone sex, chat rooms, prostitution or masturbation as a numbing agent, something to prevent them from feeling bad, may have a sex addiction. Other indicators the sexual behavior is causing the addict problems include their spouse becoming upset over their behavior or they’ve gone into debt over payment for phone sex lines or Internet pornography sites. Spending an excessive amount of time viewing pornography Over 10 hours a week is another red flag, since this sexual behavior is interfering with time spent with friends, family or at work.

Another key factor is the addict has tried to stop engaging in sexual behavior but failed. When all these things come together, it’s time to ask a professional about getting help.

2. Question: Can I be cured?

Answer: Many sex addicts have reported being able to bring their sexual behavior under control, through any one of a variety of treatment methods. Some attend intensive rehabilitation facilities; others go to therapy sessions, attend 12 step meetings or use medication and a host of other techniques to control their sexual behavior. This can include finding a trusted person to act as an “accountability partner.” Or for pornography addicts, it can mean the use of pornography blocking computer programs.

3. Question: Does being cured mean I give up sex?

Answer: No. Unlike chemical dependencies related to alcohol or drugs, sex is recognized as a healthy aspect of life. Treatment for sex addiction, while it does involve a period of abstinence, seeks to bring harmful and unwanted troublesome sexual activity under control to where it is no longer causing harm. It may lead to stopping viewing pornography, discontinuing solicitation of prostitutes and other “bottom line” behaviors or even illegal activities. The goal is stopping harmful behavior, but certainly not giving up sex.

4. Question: Is sex addiction even real, or just something people use to excuse their behavior?

Answer: Truth be told, there are some experts who don’t feel sex addiction is real and say it’s more a product of conflicting social norms and mores. Other say sex addiction exists but do not feel it meets the definition of an addiction in the same way addiction to alcohol or drugs does. For a sex addict seeking treatment, it may be a moot point. To get treatment, first one has to recognize they have a problem and stop trying to use their own willpower alone to control it. Many people have sought treatment for sex addiction and reported results. Much of the criticism about its validity has been aimed at celebrities embroiled in public sex scandals and is hardly analogous to the average person not living in the public eye. Sex addiction is real and one struggling with unwanted sexual behaviors certainly can attest to that fact.

5. Question: What caused this? How did I get to be this way?

Answer: There is no definitive cause for sex addiction, and for each person it will be different. Many sex addicts report being sexually abused at a young age and growing up with a distorted view of sex and what a healthy sex life should be. For others, it is simply the rush of chemicals in their brain after discovering a parent’s pornography stash or coming across it in some other fashion. Still others indicate the accessibility of Internet pornography had them fall into a cycle, while there are those who turned to using sex as a numbing agent during a difficult period in their lives and began relying on it as a coping mechanism. For some growing up with abuse, neglect, abandonment and enmeshment have cause the to seek out other ways to feel good about life and themselves.

While knowing the cause of sex addiction is important, those on the path to recovery should not seek to dwell on the unchangeable past; instead, they need to focus on their present actions.

6. Question: Does viewing pornography and sexual interaction over the Internet count as cheating on my spouse?

Answer: Not to be glib, but it can depend on the spouse. Certainly many women do feel that their spouses having cybersex or phone sex with another woman qualifies as infidelity. They may not react in the exact same way as if it had been physical sex with another woman, but the impact on a relationship can be dire. First, the wife will feel betrayed. She won’t trust her husband if he’s been hiding his behavior. She may can feel bad about herself, perhaps thinking some failing on her part led the husband to seek these sexual outlets.

Even pornography viewing can be a sore spot for women. Society places a lot of pressure on women to be physically attractive and sexually desirable and they may feel they are in competition with actresses in pornographic videos. This can affect their self-esteem, even if they do not confront their husband about the behavior.

7. Question: Can medication lower my sex drive so I don’t have this problem.

Answer: Yes and no. There are medications out there that can lower a person’s sex drive, and they are often used to treat sex addiction. However, they are limited in their power to erase the problem completely. Some form of therapy, be it a 12 step program or other process, is required.

8. Question: Will I ever be cured or is this a lifelong problem?

Answer: Many people report being able to bring their sexual behaviors under control, sometimes after a period of months or years, and are living lives relatively free of problems related to sex addiction. These people have addressed the factors in their life they had once sought to control by using sex; they have now embedded into their lives multiple tools to avoid falling back into destructive addiction cycles. For some, there is always the fear they will relapse, and some do struggle with sex addiction for long periods of time. There is no quick fix for the problem.

9. Question: I’m also addicted to alcohol. Is my sex addiction just a sign that I’m susceptible to addictive behaviors in general?

Answer: In some ways, yes. Many sex addicts report being addicted to alcohol, drugs, or behaviors such as gambling. They also claim family members with various addictions. It’s certainly been theorized that a person can have a genetic predisposition to addictive behaviors. As to treating multiple addictions, it should be noted that many sex addiction treatment programs are modeled after alcohol treatment techniques developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. 12 step programs such as Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous model their programs after and borrow their literature from that organization.

10. Question: Am I really a sex addict or is my sex drive just naturally high?

Answer: The difference between a sex addict and a person who enjoys a lot of sex has to do with why the behavior is being sought and the inability to stop an unwanted behavior as well as the obsession and compulsion. A person with a high sex drive is aroused and in most cases can control acting on that arousal. A sex addict is engaging in sex as a coping mechanism, isolating themselves from others even if they have a real life partner for the sex, and engaging in the sex act compulsively. They may feel shame after they complete the act, or some general feelings of depression. Actual arousal is not the primary motivator.