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Posts Tagged ‘love addicted’

Body image and medicalization: Socially relevant behavioral “addictions” beyond drug use

May 21st, 2011

We know that addiction can go beyond drug use, but are we becoming addicted to making our bodies perfect?

I put “addiction” in parentheses here because I think it’s important to distinguish substance-related addictions from behavioral ones. There’s no doubt that people’s behavior can become compulsive in the same way addicts become compulsive about using, but I’ve seen no evidence that behavioral addictions interfere with brain function in the way that cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates alter actual brain mechanisms.

Still, this recent trend of obsessive plastic surgery is a dual-headed “addiction”, one that is both physical and social.  In many ways, people are now able to change aspects of their being that were once thought unalterable including their own physical appearances. To gain social acceptance, if you have money, you now have new tools!

This may also play a big role for those who are love addicted, at least if they have money… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in:  Education, Opinions, Prescription, Tips
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What does it mean to be love addicted? Sex addiction explained.

November 5th, 2009

What do you think of when you hear the words “sex addict“? Do you imagine someone who has sex dozens of times a day? Someone who owns a lot of sex toys? Someone who spends all their time immersed in pornography?

While all of these scenarios, and others, can identify someone with a sexual addiction, the crucial part of identifying an addict has to do with the consequences of the behavior and the person’s inability to control them. That being said, sex addiction is a relatively recent idea. In fact, it’s sometimes called love addiction instead.

So what is sex addiction?

A sexual addict experiences the same type of uncontrollable compulsions that others feel in different forms of addiction (like substance, alcohol, gambling, shopping, etc). In his book (Out of the Shadow: Understanding Sexual Addiction) Carnes talks about the compulsive sexual behavior as guiding a misperception of the self.

In simple words: Sex addicts’ view of themselves depends on their relationship with sexual behavior. Since they often find themselves unable to control the behavior, they often have trouble with their self-image.

What is sex addiction NOT?

Let us look at some of the NOTS of sexual addiction. Sex addicts are not people who are just hypersexual and get satisfied with their sexual behaviors; rather, they are often not satisfied with the sexual activities that they engage in. Sex addicts are not necessarily Casanovas, but are often normal functioning people who find themselves having to hide their compulsive sexual urges.

While some sex addicts do pay for sex, others are compulsive about watching porn and others simply struggle with monogamy. The point is, the stigma of sex addicts as predatory child molesters needs to be put to rest.

How common is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is a major problem in our society. Some estimate that as many as 15 million people in the U.S. are sexual addicts (roughly 8% of all men and 3% of women). Easy access to porn offered by the internet has most likely increased the prevalence of sexual addiction in the past decade. In fact, for most people getting porn addiction help specifically is the problem.

The costs for those suffering from sex addiction are also numerous: Relationships and families are disrupted and destroyed, the addict’s self-esteem diminishes as they are unable to be productive in other areas of their life; illegal activity (like prostitution) ends up causing arrests, and health is often affected through the contraction of diseases.

Am I a sex addict?

Now, don’t immediately assume that you are a sex addict because you fantasize about sex a lot. But how does one know if they are addicted to sex?

The simple rule is: no impairment, no addiction.Sex addiction

On the other hand, if day to day functioning is affected by the behavior (in this case, something sexual), this may be an indication of a problem. So, whether it be having sex often, thinking of sex, or even just being extremely horny, if it’s making a person’s daily activities or relationships dysfunctional and if they are unable to control their behavior they may be defined as a sex addict.

In future posts we will look more into the symptoms, forms, theories, and treatments related to sex addiction. In the mean-time, keep reading, and if you feel brave enough, share your story; who knows, you may be able to help someone else who is love addicted!!!

Sex addiction help from All About Addiction

If you need help finding treatment for your own, or a loved one’s sex addiction, make sure to give our Rehab-Finder a try: It’s the only evidence-based, scientifically created, tool for finding rehab anywhere in the United States!

Posted in:  Education, Sex
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Addiction-brain effects: Sex addiction, neurotransmitters, and being love addicted

August 30th, 2009

***A disclaimer: Sex addiction is a relatively new concept in science. I haven’t been able to find much research on the subject, so much of what is being said here is my interpretation of the current literature on sexual responsivity in humans.***

sexI’ve already mentioned that scientists are beginning to consider behavioral addictions (like gambling and sex) as being similar to drug addiction. We’ve also covered sex addiction on the site quite a few times.

Since we’d covered the addiction-brain effects of some of the major drugs’ (see here for opiates, crystal meth, and cocaine), I thought it’s time to write about the possible science behind sex addiction.

The sexual activity cycle

Scientists have divided human sexual interaction into 4 stages:

  1. Desire – Represents a person’s current level of interest in sex. It is characterized by sexual fantasies and a desire to have sex.
  2. Arousal – Includes a subjective sense of sexual pleasure accompanied by a physiological response in the form of genital vasocongestion, leading to penile erection in men and vulva/clitoral engorgement and vaginal lubrication in women.
  3. Orgasm – Involves both central processes in the brain and extensive peripheral effects. Orgasm is experienced by the peaking of sexual pleasure, release of sexual tension, rhythmic contraction of the perineal muscles and pelvic reproductive organs, and cardiovascular and respiratory changes.
  4. Resolution – The final stage of the normal sexual response cycle. There is a sense of release of tension, well being, and return of the body to its resting state.

After sexSex addicts don’t seem to have a problem with stage 3, and resolution is more like the end of sexual behavior. So we will focus the rest of our attention on the other stages 1 and 2.

Sex and neurotransmitters

While sex doesn’t involve the ingestion of substances, each of the above cycles does involve the release of many of the neurotransmitters we’ve already discussed (dopamine, serotonin, etc.).

In fact, there seem to be three major area in the brain that are activated during sex:

  1. The Medial Preoptic Area (MPOA) – This is one of the areas where all the sensory inputs to the brain converge. This. This area is crucial for the initiation of sexual response – the move from desire to arousal. It is mostly the release of dopamine within this area that supports sexual responding. Animals with lesions here can’t  mount or thrust.
  2. Paravantricular  (male) or ventromedial hypothalamus – These area are responsible for non-contact sexual responses. Dopamine is once again the main activating agent here.
  3. The mesolimbic system – Important for the motivation towards anything “good” this system is also very involved in motivation for sex, a big part of the desire and arousal stages. As with drugs, it is the release of dopamine with this system that increases the motivation for sex.

We haven’t discussed the first two area much, and from my understanding, their functioning is relatively specific to sexual response. However, we’ve certainly mentioned the mesolimbic system. This is the same system involved in the brain’s processing of opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine, and essentially all other drugs. It is also the system in charge of food motivation.

As you can see, dopamine is an activating neurotransmitter for sexual response. Serotonin on the other hand, plays an inhibitory role in sex. Through its activity on a number of brain area, serotonin reduces desire, arousal, as well as the ability to orgasm. The increase of overall brain-serotonin levels is one of the main reasons for reduced sexual responsivity in individuals who are taking SSRI antidepressants.

What about sex addiction?!

Aside from a few specific authors (like P. Carnes), scientists still find themselves struggling with whether or not behavioral addictions should be considered similar to drug and alcohol addiction or whether they are examples of compulsive, or impulsive, behaviors. I personally believe that these all share more common features than we may yet realize.

Nevertheless, for addicts, the subjective experience of a substance, or behavioral, addiction is similar. It is an inability  to control a behavior in the face of repeated negative consequences that is often accompanied by a need for more and a reduced sensitivity to the act.

Given my recent reading on the brain processes involved in normal human sexual response, I’ve developed my own early theory about sex addiction:

Given that many of the same neurotransmitters are involved in the regulation of sex, it is my belief that sexual addicts or those experiencing sexual compulsions, fall into one of two categories that probably overlap to some extent:

  1. Individuals who have reduced inhibitory capacity (like those with impulse control disorder, ADD, or ADHD for example). These individuals find themselves acting out relatively impulsive behaviors that others without such dysfunction seem to effortlessly control. Given what we know about impulse control disorders, it is no wonder that these individuals often find themselves engaging in more than one such behavior, including drug, sex, and other poossibly addictive activities.
  2. Those who’ve had sex paired with a strong neurological response – Given the important role of dopamine in all rewarding activities (what scientists call appetitive response), it is very possible that two or more rewarding experiences that are linked may increase the brain’s response to any of the individual rewards.

neurons that fire togetherLet me explain the last point: In neuroscience, there’s the concept that Neurons that fire together wire together,” which is to say that events that happen at the same time, if they are strong enough, may form their own neural networks. If something strongly negative (like violence) happens in conjunction with sex, the experience might lower sex responsivity. However, if a strongly rewarding event happens at the same time, the link might serve to enhance response for both future sexual experiences and the linked event.  The people in the first group are likely to often fall into this category due to their use of psychoactive substances. Drugs release huge amounts of dopamine, which may then become linked with sexual response, making sex seeking as strong as drug seeking.

So that’s my take, for now, on sex addiction. Like other addictions, it has to do with the exposure to a very rewarding event that in a subset of individuals ends up developing an exaggerated response or an inability to control it. Since feeling of love and intimacy can often be just as rewarding, people often refer to themselves as love addicted, and not sex addicted.


1) A. G., Resnick, & M. H. Ithman (2008). The Human Sexual Response Cycle: Psychotropic Side Effects and Treatment Strategies. Psychiatric Annals, 38, pp. 267-280.

2) E. M. Hull, D. S. Lorrain, J. Du, L. Matuszewich, L. A. Lumley, S. K. Putnam, J. Moses (1999) Hormone-neurotransmitter interactions in the control of sexual behavior. Behavioral Brain Research, 105, 105-116.

Posted in:  Education, Sex
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My Friend the sex addict part 2 – The ups and downs of sexaholics

July 19th, 2009

As you may recall from an earlier post, a friend of mine, Brian, has been struggling to get some control over his sex addiction.

I had referred him to a number of clinics that treat sex-addiction specifically, and to Sex Addicts Anonymous (sometimes known as sexaholics anonymous) as a starting point. I’m not at all surprised that he hasn’t followed up with either of these for now, since his addiction has only recently become an issue he recognizes and though the costs are obvious, they’re not staggering, yet.

The concept of addiction to sex is relatively recent (see 1st citation, in 1991). Still, it’s relationship to substance-use and dependence in terms of predictors, determinants, and progression have been mentioned from the very beginning and are still being examined today.

The issue for most people here is the absence of any drug that’s being taken in, which makes them doubt the validity of looking at the two conditions as one.

In my earlier posts on the pharmacological actions of cocaine and meth, I talked about how it is that those drugs activate that neural systems that control rewards in ways that are unnatural. There is little doubt that the “help” provided by these chemicals makes the link between their initial use and later, compulsive use, easy to follow.

ProstitutionStill, repeated exposures to a rewarding stimulus (like sex) can themselves set up behaviors that seem reinforced, but that are maladaptive (as in bad for them). The search for internal reinforcement through repeated sexual encounters, pursuits, and preoccupation would be the pattern common to many sex addicts.

By consistently making them feel better (sexual release results in more dopamine in the brain as well), a pattern develops that may lead certain individuals to seek the reward whenever they need reinforcement. Once such a pattern develops, the road to compulsion, is not too long. This is especially true for those who already have low impulse control, for whatever reason, as I discussed earlier.

Brian’s issue is certainly his need for ego reinforcement, and his brain has learned that the attention of a woman provides that in bulk. The problem is, as I’d pointed earlier, that many areas of his life, including his ego when he ends up not keeping up with other responsibilities, end up being damaged in the process.

This sets up the all too familiar cycle of ups and down common to many addicts. To those who know him, the fact that Brian’s priorities are “screwed-up” is no secret.

Brian at least recognizes his pattern now and perhaps, if the roller-coaster ride become too extreme, he may decide that it really is time to do something about it. One thing is certain, he recognizes that he is likely a sex addict.

In the meantime, the age of the internet has provided immediate access to sexual content, which makes relapse all to easy for sex addicts. I recommend putting a lock on your own computer that is controlled by someone else if that is part of your sexual addiction. Having someone to talk to that you feel comfortable enough to share urges when they do come up can be of great help too. This is where 12-step groups come in handy for most people. It’s hard to talk to most people about things we find shameful unless they too have had the same problems…

Question of the day:
If sex-addiction is your problem, what have you found can help you in best resisting the compulsive urges?


Schneider, J. P. (1991). How to recognize the signs of sexual addiction. Asking the right questions may uncover serious problems. Postgraduate Medicine – Sexual Addiction, VOL 90 (6).

Posted in:  Addiction Stories, Cocaine, Education, For addicts, Sex, Sex, Tips
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My Friend the sex addict – When looking for love goes too far

July 11th, 2009

I have this friend, we’ll call him Brian, who has recently realized that he may be addicted to sex. Being an addiction specialist, he obviously came to me for advice. I told him that I would look into some of the treatment centers specializing in sexual addiction, and that in the meantime, there are support groups (like sex addicts anonymous) he can turn to for help.

Still, his revelation was not a surprise to me or the few other close friends who were let in on his problem.

Brian has been chasing women for a while, and even though he is young, many of us have noticed that the lengths he’ll go to, and effort he will sometimes put in to getting these women into bed can be astounding. From elaborate schemes of heavy partying, to lavish dinners, long weekends, and outright lies and deceit, Brian would essentially stop at nothing to get a woman to become his lover.

Owning a successful business, this has meant bedding some clients, as well as clients’ wives along with assistants, assistants’ friends, and colleagues. While this may be impressive in an “Animal House” sort of way, Brian has come to realize that his ways may be sabotaging all aspects of his life other than the average number of orgasms he is experiencing.

He often gets little sleep, at times is forced to drop accounts due to precarious personal relationship, and has no doubt that few of his clients ever refer him for fear of affairs being discovered, jealousy, or for other reasons.

Brian has realized that much like a drug addict, his “using” of sex often leaves him feeling empty and wanting. Probably as importantly as all the trouble above, Brian has been unable to get involved in any serious romantic relationship for a few years now. Like a drug addict, he craves the comfort of the “normal” life but feels empty without the constant rush he gets from his sexual escapades.

Brian and I share many of these attributes, and so our conversations in these last few months have helped us both understand the origin of this seemingly insatiable need for sex, love, and intimacy. Still, Brian finds himself “relapsing” and setting out on sometime week long sexual “binges” whenever he loses his resolve. For those familiar with sexual addicts, narcissism, a constant need for validation and attention, as well as bouts of depression are very common. Still, I believe that there is more to sexual addiction than personality traits and a need for social validation.

Some of my own recent research has centered on understanding the neurological mechanisms that may drive what are called “natural” addictions, as in sex, food, gambling, and even video-game addictions. I believe that as far as the brain is concerned, there really is very little difference between “natural” addictions and drug addiction. While I believe I’m on the right track, my theories are involved and so I will reveal them in future blogs, slowly unraveling what I believe to be the common brain mechanisms that are shared by both drug and natural addictions.

I will keep telling the story of Brian along with stories of other friends and acquaintances who suffer from addictions and addiction related problems. I’d like for all of you to feel free to share with me similar stories, whether these involve yourselves or other around you. I am here to offer my help and guidance.

Question of the day:
Do you know anyone who suffers from a similarly insatiable need for affection? What are the characteristics of this need? Can you try to see what may be behind the “chase”?

Posted in:  Addiction Stories, Sex
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