Addicts of all types have ongoing issues with healthy emotional and sexual intimacy. This is hardly surprising when one understands that addicts engage in their addictive behaviors not to have a good time (even if that’s how their use began), but to self-soothe and avoid the pain of life. In other words, addicts drink, use, and act out not because they want to feel better, but because they want to feel less. Their ultimate goal is not to party, but to escape and dissociate from life stressors, emotional discomfort, and the pain of unresolved childhood or severe adult trauma.
For the most part, people who are dealing with psychological issues caused by early-life trauma (neglect, inconsistent parenting, emotional and psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, etc.) typically begin the process of self-medicating their emotional discomfort relatively early in life, most often during adolescence. Usually they rely on addictive substances, but escapist behaviors like masturbation, binging and purging, and other potentially compulsive activities are also common.
The Intersection of Drugs and Sex Addiction
Unfortunately, the link between substance abuse and sexually acting out is drastically under-researched. Nevertheless, it is clear that many addicts fuse their substance abuse with an intimacy disorder such as sexual addiction, with each behavior reinforcing the other, creating over time a surefire “paired trigger” for relapse. Very often, for people with this dual disorder, the substance of choice is a stimulant like meth or cocaine, primarily because these drugs both lower inhibitions and enable marathon sex. Men will add Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and other erection-enhancing drugs to the mix, for obvious reasons. And both genders may abuse benzodiazepines, cold remedies, and other depressants as a way to “come down” when the party finally (albeit temporarily) ends.
Often these addicts have extensive histories of substance abuse relapse, nearly always tied to their non-intimate sexual behaviors (porn, casual sex, anonymous sex, prostitutes, and the like). In the past, these individuals have gone into substance abuse treatment centers, but the facilities have not addressed the ways in which sex plays into their drug use. Then, post-treatment, uneducated about the full nature of their addiction, they look for the same type of sexual encounters they’re used to, and before they know it they’ve relapsed with drugs. This is because, for them, drugs and non-intimate sexuality are intricately linked. For these men and women, drugs and sex are not separate issues. Instead, they are a single, fused addiction. If they’re doing one, they’re almost certainly doing the other.
Treating Addiction and Related Intimacy Disorders
The Hader Clinic employs highly skilled Clinical Psychologists with vast expertise in helping patients deal with sexual intimacy and codependent disorders. Drug addiction rarely presents as a single issue and without complete and holistic care addressing all behavioral and psychological issues recovery will only be precarious at best.
Recognizing that substance abuse and intimacy issues can be linked, and that treating one without treating the other rarely leads to any sort of lasting sobriety. The main difference between Dual Diagnosis programs and what you’ll find at most rehab facilities is a conscious recognition of the ways in which substance abuse issues and intimacy disorders are often interrelated.
Elsewhere, patients with this dual addiction issue typically have their sexual behavior minimized or written off as something to be dealt with in their fourth and ninth steps (in a 12-step recovery program). So these individuals, despite their extensive histories of linking drug use with non-intimate sexuality, leave treatment having dealt with only half their problem. Their shame and secrets regarding past and present sexual behaviors are unaddressed, as is education about how they might be able to handle sex in sobriety without relapsing. The Dual Diagnosis programs take a more holistic view, recognizing and fully treating the drugs/sex connection, giving these addicts the best possible chance at lasting sobriety and a happier, healthier life.