It’s difficult to understand how someone can become addicted to an activity or behavior such as shopping, eating, gambling or sex. We can understand chemical addictions because it is so straight forward–put the chemical into your body and get a measurable physical reaction. There are levels of the chemical in the bloodstream, visible signs of impairment and serious reactions if the drug is withdrawn. But, in the case of non-chemical addictions the signs are subtle or non existent. Addictions to behavioral processes are called “process addictions.” The process of engaging in these behaviors leads to typical addiction symptoms (withdrawal, tolerance, heightened excitement or euphoria).
So, how does a Sex Addict get high? When a Sex Addict is in the ‘trance’ or mood altered state he undergoes some of the same physical changes that a chemical addict experiences when high. They lose any objectivity they may have, their emotions are numbed, they make poor decisions and take outrageous risks in order to maintain the mood.
Sex Addicts can enter this altered mental state in several ways. Usually they purposely engage in certain rituals, such as cruising areas where they can pick up sex partners, by entering a particular website, putting on certain clothing or fantasizing about certain actions that will give them a boost of dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical that will start the cycle. This trance state can last just a few hours or a few days. During this time the Sex Addict continues to function normally, but they are not giving anything of themselves to their everyday lives. Work, relationships, social functions–they just go through the motions while their minds are somewhere else. This trance state can also be induced spontaneously or ‘triggered’ by certain events such as an argument, embarrassment, rejection or just seeing the object of their fantasy. Once the trance state begins to take over the Sex Addict will most likely act out on their impulses–it is like a point of no return.
The problem that occurs with Sex Addicts is exactly the same problem that all chemical addicts experience–the problem of tolerance. Tolerance means that the body gets used to the chemical, or, in the case of the Sex Addict, the flood of brain chemicals during the trance state, and it takes more and more to produce the same feelings. Sex Addicts live for the feeling of intensity. Their actions and behaviors have nothing to do with love or caring or intimacy. It’s that rush of intense brain chemistry that enhances the sexual act. And that intense sexual experience is what is so addictive. Without the trance, without the intensity, the drama and the rush of chemicals to their brains sex is boring. Sex with spouses and partners becomes less frequent as the Sex Addict seeks that intense high with escalating and risky behaviors. Eventually the Sex Addict withdraws, preferring intensity to intimacy. And, as with the chemical addict, this is the point where they are spiraling downward toward rock bottom.
Recovery from Sex Addiction is just as difficult as recovery from chemical addiction. Many Sex Addicts experience physical withdrawal symptoms and most will suffer from relapses. Treatment is much the same; counseling, psychotherapy, behavior modification, self actualization, healing self esteem issues and having that necessary paradigm shift that says, I will never do that again.
We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. ~ Albert Einstein