Have you ever had a partner who seemed a bit preoccupied with sex? We may have all gone through phases during which we were highly sexually active, but when is this behavior called addiction?
Sex addiction (also called hypersexuality) is not classified as a medically recognized mental disorder—yet. But it is becoming more widely accepted as a legitimate mental disorder that needs proper assessment and treatment.
Sex addiction can be and often is accompanied by other mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. It can also occur along with substance abuse. When two disorders occur at the same time, it’s called a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders, and the disorders tend to affect each other.
What Is Sex Addiction?
Sex addiction is defined as having a preoccupation with sexual fantasy, due mainly to intimacy dysfunction. It has been called an intimacy disorder. This preoccupation is characterized by compulsive thoughts and behaviors, usually involving:
- Compulsive masturbation
- Romantic intensity
- Objectifying a partner
- Obsession with the pursuit of sex, especially casual or non-intimate
To be classified as addiction, this behavior has to have lasted for six months or more. As with any addiction, people with this problem may be aware of their behavior, but may be powerless to stop.
For example, someone with this problem tries to fix the behavior, but fails. People who struggle with sex addiction may hide some of these compulsive activities from a partner due to shame, guilt, or remorse. Further, they may have made countless promises to change, but were simply unable to. That’s why many people with this problem have trouble with relationships, as reported by Medical News Today.
What Causes Sex Addiction?
Sex addiction is a process addiction. In simple terms, that means it is similar to gambling addiction or compulsive spending; “sexual addicts typically spend a much greater amount of time engaged in the pursuit of sex and romance (the process) than in the sexual act itself,” Psych Central states.
The direct cause isn’t known, partly due to lack of research. But of the studies that exist, some show that the brains of those addicted to sex respond to sex in the same way as someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. That is, someone addicted to sex gets a euphoric feeling when they experience it.
Psych Central explains, “People addicted to sex get a sense of euphoria from it that seems to go beyond that reported by most people. The sexual experience is not about intimacy….any reward gained from the experience soon gives way to guilt, remorse and promises to change.”
Sex addiction causes the person affected to use sex to deal with life stressors, cope with pressure at work or school, and in general for thrill-seeking and to feel better. People seek drugs or alcohol for similar reasons.
Other causes may be more indirect. For example, one study found that more than 80 percent of people addicted to sex suffered sexual abuse as children. Research in general, though limited, reveals that many people with sex addiction experienced some kind of abuse during childhood.
In addition to sex addiction, many people also have co-occurring disorders, such as substance abuse and mental illnesses. Addiction symptoms can worsen the symptoms of mental illness.
How Is Sex Addiction Affected By Mental Illness?
Sex addiction is a complex disorder because it works like an addiction in the brain, but is characterized by emotional and mental symptoms much like mental illness. Therefore, sex addiction can be greatly affected by other mental illnesses. Why?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states, “people with mental health disorders are more likely than people without mental health disorders to experience an alcohol or substance use disorder.” In other words, having a mental condition greatly increases your chances of substance abuse.
Diagnosing co-occurring disorders can be difficult though, especially because symptoms of each disorder can vary in levels of severity. Left untreated, co-occurring disorders can lead to a number of consequences, including:
- Developing further disorders
- In some cases, death
How Many People Experience Dual Diagnosis?
You may not be surprised that millions of people suffer each year from mental illnesses and substance abuse alike, but did you know that millions also struggle with a dual diagnosis? In 2014, 7.9 million people in the United States reported a dual diagnosis, SAMHSA states. That number only includes adults.
Men are more affected by co-occurring disorders than are women. People who are at elevated risk tend to be: lower socioeconomic status, military veterans, or people with other medical illnesses.
What Are The Signs Of A Dual Diagnosis?
If you are struggling with sex addiction and other mental illness, it may be helpful to recognize the signs so you can seek the help you need. Signs of sex addiction are mentioned above, but mental illness signs depend on the mental illness itself, as symptoms greatly vary among disorders.
In general, here are some possible signs of a dual diagnosis:
- Behavioral changes
- Drawing back from friends or family
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Loss of control: over behavior, substance abuse, emotions, etc.
- Using or seeking substances in dangerous situations
- Feeling like you need the drug (in this case, sex) to be able to function or feel normal
- Tolerance: this occurs usually when people no longer feel the effects of a drug; with sex addiction, it can occur when sex no longer makes a person feel euphoric.
- Withdrawal: extreme urges or cravings—typically for drugs or alcohol, in this case for sex— and even physical symptoms that keep you seeking sex again and again
How To Treat Sex Addiction And Mental Illness
Treatment for a dual diagnosis is most effective when using an integrated approach. This allows people to receive assessment and care for both disorders, working on healing from each at the same time.
Many of the treatment methods found most effective for sex addiction can be found at an inpatient rehab center. The same is true for mental illness. Healing at a rehab center presents a number of advantages.
Professional, quality medical care makes a difference in your chance of treatment success. For example, some mental illnesses or addiction disorders require medication that has to be given by a licensed medical professional. Rehab centers provide knowledgeable, trained staff to help you through a difficult time.
More than that, rehab centers have experience in treating your illness. Staff and experts have helped others before you overcome their disorders. In rehab centers, you will also be lifted up by other people who are there for similar reasons—to heal and to have a chance to start over.
Some of the most effective treatment methods are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- 12-step support groups
- Medication assisted therapy
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Gender-specific treatment
- Alternative therapy
Get Help With Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Sex addiction is a disorder many people may not even know they have. Like many addictions, it can lead to dire consequences in your life, relationships, and finances. Paired with mental illness, sex addiction symptoms can escalate.
For More Information Related to “Dual Diagnosis: Sex Addiction And Mental Illness” Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From DrugRehab.org:
- Double Danger: Mental Illness, Addiction Often Linked
- The Most Common Behavioral Addictions
- Dual Diagnosis: PTSD And Substance Abuse
- The Benefits of Faith-Based Recovery Programs
- How Do I Get My Loved One Into Rehab?
Medical News Today—Sex Addiction Is A Legitimate Mental Disorder
National Alliance On Mental Illness—Dual Diagnosis
National Institute On Drug Abuse—DrugFacts: Comorbidity:Addiction And Other Mental Disorders
Sex Addicts Anonymous—Are You A Sex Addict?