A person dealing with sex addiction may be addicted to a broad range of sexual activity.
This may include sexual intercourse generally, particular forms of sexual activity or pornography. Regardless of the specific nature of the addiction, the activity will affect the brain through a similar process. There are a number of possible signs and symptoms of sex addiction which are important to note if you are concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with the condition.
We previously published a comprehensive blog covering sex addiction and sex addiction treatment in detail. This blog focuses on the signs and symptoms of sex addiction. There is sometimes skepticism around the issue of sex addiction. Some consider it to be an excuse for sexual behaviour or a lack of impulse control. However, experts recognize that the way in which sex addiction affects the brain is very similar to the process of more recognised forms of addiction, such as drug addiction.
The form of sexual behaviour that a person is addicted to elicits dopamine surges in their brain that condition them to seek out this behaviour compulsively. This process gradually alters the structure of the brain, leading it to crave and expect continued dopamine surges and reducing its response to ordinary stimuli. This means that the addicted person will become dependent on this process and will lack control over their sexual behaviour. In some cases, excessive hormones may also be a cause of sex addiction. This is further evidence of the condition’s legitimacy and should also be addressed in treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction
If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with sex addiction, there are some common signs you should consider. If some of these signs are present, it may be necessary to seek professional support. A familiarity with these signs will also help you to engage with someone you are concerned about and to discuss their problems with compassion and understanding.
Control of Sexual Behaviour
A person dealing with sex addiction will feel as though they are unable to control or alter their sexual behaviour. Rather than simply struggling to resist impulses, sex addicts feel as though they are controlled by them and cannot change their behaviour. This means that they must engage, usually with professional help, with the underlying causes and consequences of their addictions before they can truly change their behaviour. With the right support and a real commitment to change, a sex addict can regain control of their behaviour and restore balance in their life.
Feelings of Guilt or Shame
Someone dealing with sex addiction may develop feelings of shame, guilt or embarrassment over their sexual behaviour. As sex addiction is often misunderstood by those who have not been affected by it, many people dealing with the condition internalise a negative or dismissive attitude to it. They may also develop feelings of sexual inadequacy or immorality. Feelings such as guilt and shame can severely impact a person’s mental health and may in fact make their addiction problems more severe. They may also make them less likely to seek help. If you identify feelings like this in yourself or someone else, this is a strong sign of sex addiction.
Failure to Change
People struggling with sex addiction will often resolve to change their behaviour. However, they may continually fail to follow through on these resolutions. This is because overcoming addiction is not simply a matter of desiring change, although this is a crucial first step. The addicted person must also have the necessary support and methods for dealing with dependence. Continual failed attempts to achieve change is a strong sign of addiction.
Impact At Home or Work
Sex addiction will usually have severe consequences for people in their home and professional lives. While someone may be able to disguise their problems and behaviours for a time, the addictive pattern will usually become too damaging to hide at some point. Sex addiction will usually cause great strain in a romantic relationship as the addict’s partner may feel betrayed or suspicious- even if they understand their partner’s problems. It may also complicate other relationships in a person’s life. People dealing with addiction often encounter problems of trust and communication in their relationships with family, friends and colleagues. Addiction will often negatively impact a person’s working life, as they may become unreliable, uncommunicative, exhausted or frequently absent. If they have or develop co-occurring mental health problems, this will also affect them at work and at home.
Mental and Physical Exhaustion
As mentioned above, sex addiction can cause trouble for people at home and at work as addictive patterns are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting for the person experiencing them. A person spending their nights online or meeting partners will be exhausted at work and at home. This will impact their functionality, reliability and mood. They may also be distracted by constantly thinking about past sexual activity, anticipating future activity or dealing with feelings such as guilt and shame. Someone with an addiction to a specific form of sex or pornography may also struggle to function sexually within relationships. Co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression can also leave people emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted.
As with most form of addictions, sex addiction can cause withdrawal symptoms in people who have not engaged in the addictive behaviour for a time. These symptoms may be psychological, such as feelings of intense craving, agitation, anxiety, irritation or depression. A person may also experience intense guilt and shame over their addictive behaviour while in withdrawal. For people dealing with concurrent mental health disorders (discussed below) symptoms may exacerbate these conditions. An addicted person may also experience withdrawal symptoms, such as intense restlessness or physical tension.
As with most forms of addiction, sex addiction can cause or exacerbate concurrent mental health disorders. For this reason, we offer evidence-based, holistic treatment for sex addiction. We identify and address the underlying causes and consequences of a person’s addiction.
Sex addiction may cause a person to develop mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. The condition may also exacerbate symptoms of pre-existing mental health conditions. Sex addiction can be extremely isolating, which can have a very negative effect on mental health. People may also feel deep guilt or shame as a result of their addictions. Some people dealing with sex addiction also face feelings of sexual inadequacy. These feelings can seriously affect self-esteem and mental health.
Connection With Other Forms of Addiction
There is a strong correlation between sex addiction and other forms of addiction. Many people dealing with sex addiction also have substance abuse problems. Again, this means that treatment that focuses on all of a person’s addiction problems and their underlying causes is essential. Many people with addiction problems have to learn to manage their emotions and impulses in a progressive way. Appropriate addiction treatment program can help them to achieve this. For some people, the elements of risk and danger are part of what drives their addictions. Treatment must also address this in order to identify the reasons behind it and deal with them.
In some cases, sex addiction is rooted in experiences such as abuse. In these instances, it is essential for treatment to address this trauma in a compassionate and progressive way. The influence of traumatic experiences can be extremely severe and must be dealt with through evidence-based, expert treatment. This will help a person to find methods for identifying the ways in which their experiences influence their behaviour. This will help them to confront this influence in a progressive manner.
Risks and Effects of Sex Addiction
We associate many risks with sexually addicted behaviours. They can naturally cause severe problems in romantic relationships. Someone addicted to sexual activity outside of a relationship may also struggle with sexual dysfunction within it. Addicted behaviour can also lead to strain in other relationships. An addicted person may behave in an unreliable, irresponsible or dishonest way due to their addiction. This can lead to social isolation or strained relations with family, friends and colleagues.
People dealing with sex addiction may also struggle to maintain romantic relationships or remain in unhealthy relationships because of their addiction. They may also become overly emotionally invested in casual relationships. These kinds of boundary issues are common symptoms of addiction.
Health Risks & Unplanned Pregnancy
Sex addiction may also cause a person to engage in sexual activity that increases the risk of sexually transmitted disease or unplanned pregnancy. While this is certainly not the case for everyone struggling with sex addiction, the condition may lead to less careful sexual practices.
As mentioned previously, addiction can often have damaging effects on a person’s professional performance. While many addicted people can compartmentalize their problems and function normally in other aspects of their lives, this is not always the case. Someone struggling with sex addiction may be exhausted while at work, be frequently absent, or fail to communicate in an effective or honest manner.
Treatment for Sex Addiction
There are several methods that have proven effective in treating sex addiction. Cognitive behavioural therapy, individual therapy and group counselling can all help people to identify the underlying causes and consequences of their addictions and to develop methods for dealing with them. Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres uses these methods in providing clients with evidence-based, client-centred treatment which gives them the strongest possible foundation for recovery. We offer both residential addiction treatment and comprehensive addiction counselling programs. While addiction can feel impossible to overcome, a real commitment to change from the client and dedicated professional support make lasting recovery an achievable goal.
As recovery is a lifelong process, addiction treatment should also incorporate comprehensive discharge planning and ongoing aftercare support. Trafalgar provides all clients with a comprehensive discharge plan and exceptional aftercare support through our aftercare, continUcare and Continuation of Care counselling programs. For further information on any aspect of Trafalgar’s treatment, contact us today.