Sex and Love Addiction: What it is and how to get help

What is Sex and Love Addiction?

Sex addiction and love addiction, also known as intimacy disorders, are not the same and it can be confusing to people when it is explained that they are different addictions. This is probably due to them sharing some similarities.

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Both love addiction and sex addiction are mental disorders characterised by an impaired ability to engage in healthy emotional intimacy.  Men or women suffering from either disorder typically have obsessive thoughts and compulsions leading to unhealthy behaviours.

Another confusing fact to understand is that it is also quite possible for a sex addict to be in a loving relationship. It is just that the relationship ultimately gets destroyed by their unacceptable addictive behaviour.

Help for sex addiction and love addiction

Years ago, people with an alcohol addiction did not seek help due to the stigma attached to alcoholism. Now, there is more of a general awareness surrounding alcoholism and the stigma has largely been removed. People therefore find it easier to seek help at an earlier stage.  However, people are far more judgemental with sex and love addiction. It is still stigmatised and thus people are reluctant to seek help even when they realise that their addictive behaviour and thinking is escalating. It is therefore important that when they make the big step of asking for help, and make that initial contact, that they feel there is an understanding of what is happening in their life, and they can discuss it openly.

At The Haynes Clinic, as with all telephone enquiries, we assure everyone that we are a non-judgemental environment and that extends to being the stance from all the staff.  Because of this, when speaking to us, we are able to offer general advice and help and a way forward without pressurising someone to come into treatment.

What causes sex and love addiction?

As with all addictions, Dopamine plays a major part. It is a chemical and neurotransmitter that is released in the brain. Dopamine makes you feel good and allows you to feel pleasure and satisfaction by communicating messages between nerve cells in your brain and the rest of your body. Generally, when you feel good it is because a surge of dopamine has been released in the brain. Levels of dopamine are released with sexual activity: this produces a feeling of pleasure and we seek more. The problem, though, is that using a stimulus repeatedly can increase levels of dopamine in our brain. Over a period of time, that time being different with everyone, we will develop a tolerance. This leads to sexual activity and thoughts of sexual acts needing to increase even further to try and maintain levels of pleasure.  However, after a while the brain recognises high levels of dopamine being produced and so will produce less. This leads to erratic mood swings as those higher levels of sexual activity are not producing the pleasure we crave and thus lead to a sex addiction. The feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, anger and remorse become bottled up inside us.

How is love addiction different from sex addiction?

Love addiction is a mental condition that causes a person to develop an unhealthy and obsessive fixation with another person. There is a tendency to feel insecure in any relationship and this can lead to intense infatuations and a moving from one brief romantic relationship to the next. The levels of dopamine are raised by the feelings of excitement that “being in love” brings. Examples of an unhealthy fixation with a partner would be carrying out obsessive compulsions such as telephoning or messaging them too frequently, or even stalking them as to see what they are doing.

Research has shown that the way a person addicted to love and a person addicted to substances might act is very similar. People in both groups experience emotional dependency, cravings, mood swings, compulsions, obsessions and loss of self-control. Again, the increased levels of dopamine can be associated with the addictive behaviour and thinking of someone with a love interest. 

How the internet contributes to sex addiction and love addiction

The biggest problem for both addictions is the development of the internet. There is very easy access to a huge number of porn sites, for all fantasies and tastes, so it is now very easy to watch this 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is possible to pay to get someone to act out that fantasy whilst you watch on your phone. For a love addict there are also now so many dating sites and with a simple swipe a meeting can be arranged. So it is not at all difficult to get our needs met as frequently as we want them met.

How to stop behaviours associated with sex addiction and love addiction

The addictive behaviour and thinking needs to be broken and it is near impossible to achieve that in a home environment assuming that we have reached a point where our behaviour has impacted, in a bad way, on work, our home life, loved ones around us such as family and friends and any sort of leisure time.

As was previously discussed it is important to seek help from where you feel you will not be judged that is why it is so important that the initial phone call asking for direction on a way forward is to someone who understands.  The vast majority of residential treatment centres or clinics in the UK will offer a 12 Step treatment programme based on Alcoholics Anonymous. The recommended treatment period within a residential unit is for 28 days and at The Haynes Clinic we offer ongoing Aftercare, one day a week, at the clinic for a least a year which is free of charge to support those that have completed 28 days treatment. It is important to be able to break the addictive cycle within a safe environment and to be part of a structured daily therapy programme.  It is one thing stopping the old behaviour. It is equally important to learn how not to return to it.

There is also a 12 Step support group network named Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous UK. They have their own website where you can find a meeting to regularly attend, in your area, as further ongoing support with people recovering from a similar addiction.