From Shame to Hope- The Importance of Seeking Treatment for Sex and Love Addiction

Sex and love addiction are mental and emotional disorders

Sex and love addiction are both mental disorders characterised by an impaired ability to engage in healthy emotional intimacy. They are professionally regarded as two separate addictions and there is, in fact, a clear boundary between them. That said, some will see them as the same or similar as they share similar consequences of a hugely detrimental impact on health, quality of life, self-esteem, shamefulness and a disjointed relationship with others.   

love and sex addicitions

Sex addiction

There is a degree of controversy around sex addiction, which is becoming more commonly reported in the media, but the World Health Organisation classifies it as a mental health disorder. Sex addiction is basically a dependence on the reward experience of sex and the reward is the increased levels of Dopamine being produced in the brain producing the “pleasurable effect.”  

Trying to maintain this effect results in sexual behaviours becoming increasingly compulsive and out of control. It could be porn, as the internet is flooded with it; it could be use of a webcam in which there is no direct contact; or it could be affairs, escorts or prostitutes.

Whichever it is, sex addiction becomes physically and emotionally destructive and there starts to be the element of more risk taking in trying to reach the pleasure that we used to experience.  There is also the very strong possibility of leading a “double life” by constantly lying all the time and struggling to maintain intimacy, physical contact and sex within a “normal” relationship and possibly even a marriage. There is a similarity with other addictions, in that, despite continued and worsening negative consequences and feelings surrounding our actions, the compulsive thoughts associated with sex addiction mean that the behaviour continues and the consequences worsen .

Love addiction

Love addiction is equally controversial and a highly debated condition. It could be argued that we all have the potential, at some level however small, of being at risk of love addiction.  Love addiction creates fixations and compulsions in love interests and can play out in unhealthy behaviours towards loved ones.  Love addicts will nearly always people please, and will put the needs of others before their own.  Their world becomes one of desperate need and emotional despair.  Fearful of being alone or rejected, Love addicts will search for that special someone who will make them feel whole.  However, the nature of the addiction means that they are much more strongly attracted to the initial intense experience of actually falling in love than in a long term relationship. The relationship often does not develop beyond this initial emotionally elevated and charged state. There is also the mental error of confusing intense sexual experiences and new romantic excitement with being in love.

Total abstinence is not the answer

Part of the controversial debate is that, unlike with alcohol, drug or gambling addictions, with sex and love addictions the treatment does not involve abstinence or deprivation of any form of intimate relationship. It is about managing the symptoms of sex and love addiction, helping to control any past urges and recognising “triggers” that will lead to a return to the old addictive thinking and behaviour. It is about existing in a relationship free of co-dependency.  Therapy is vital in challenging the thought process that leads someone to feel it is OK to continue with the behaviour and that it might just be a “phase.” There is a great deal of stress in being in a relationship when there is the feeling “My life is OK just as long as you are OK and if you are not OK then neither am I.”

Sex and love addiction treatment

Treatment for sex and love addiction shares much the same approach as treatment for other addictions such as alcohol, gambling and drugs. Treatment usually uses the 12 Step approach or modality. This means focusing on a change in thoughts and behaviours in order to achieve a desired level of abstinence, which can be defined differently from person to person.  The therapy involved is designed to help reach a stage when sexual and romantic activity is engaged only in moderation and does not interfere with a person’s mental and emotional well-being.

Residential help for sex and love addiction

Taking the step of seeking help is critical and in order for our thinking to change we need to break the addictive cycle away from a home environment and consider residential treatment within an addictions rehab or addiction treatment clinic.  One of the benefits at The Haynes Clinic is that we are able to monitor everyone in treatment and even have separate male and female accommodation to avoid attraction distractions that could otherwise occur and sabotage treatment. 

Generally, the form of one to one therapy is CBT based (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with an addiction’s therapist. This is centred around looking at what is realistic and what is not realistic behaviour. It also looks at how our own behaviour has been having a detrimental effect on our life and the life of others close to us such as family and friends.

The daily structured therapy programme is also more group focused in which shared discussion with other people can highlight the similarities with other addictions. All addictions in one way or another will damage our health, relationships, work, finances and family. This realisation that our situation is not unique helps to ease the feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, anger and remorse.

Ongoing support for sex and love addiction

Following on from residential addiction treatment, it is important to access ongoing support. There are support groups similar to AA in nature – SLAA stands for Sex and Love Addictions Anonymous. Here they follow the same principles of AA and similarly incorporate the 12 Step programme. 

One other aspect of residential addiction treatment is gaining an understanding around the 12 Step programme. Attending support groups in addiction treatment and being advised to continue to do so following discharge from rehab treatment means that there is already an awareness of the importance of attending these groups. This will help to maintain an important change in thinking and behaviour and to work (possibly again) through the 12 Steps as part of everyone’s Recovery Plan. 

Some clinics, such as The Haynes Clinic, will also have Aftercare involving ongoing once a week support groups, and these are available free of charge if you have been in addiction rehab treatment for the full recommended 28 days.  Some clinics will also provide Zoom aftercare meetings so everyone can share and participate, however far afield they are.  The key is to be honestly sharing with others rather than choosing to keep our feelings to ourselves both in treatment and ongoing when we leave.