Amy Sohler, MPA, MA, LMHC, CDP, MHP, CSAT c, EMDR
Counselor, Gentle Path at The Meadows
Current research in the field of sex addiction is revealing with utmost certainty that sex addiction is just like any other addiction. It involves the dopamine response just like alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, shopping addiction, and any other process addiction. Such addictions all reside in the same part of the brain, so should be treated as such. What’s difficult and most challenging about sex addiction is that many people don’t see it as a “legitimate” addiction. Therefore, it has a stigma attached to it when in reality it’s no different than more “publicized” addictions.
The unfortunate part is that only a small percentage of individuals in the throes of sex addiction get treatment, even though they meet the criteria for sex addiction or impulse control disorder. The absence of a DSM-5 code for sex addiction (rendering the condition ineligible for insurance coverage) prevents many individuals from getting necessary treatment that could potentially save lives. Many clinicians do not have a good handle on sex addiction or even about the associated behaviors, so they’re often unable to make an accurate diagnosis.
On a brighter note, the increasing amount of research devoted to sex addiction will allow clinicians and other individuals within the medical community to gain a better understanding of sex addiction. Such studies will allow industry professionals to be better equipped to diagnose the condition and refer patients to appropriate treatment facilities, such as Gentle Path at The Meadows and The Meadows. With proper treatment, incredible transformations are realized every day. Hopefully, this research will allow sex addiction to be assigned a DSM-5 code in order for afflicted individuals to secure the treatment they need to recover.
How does research help sex addicts?
For example, two recent studies conducted by Dr. Valerie Voon of the University Cambridge are helping to “legitimize” sex addition.
- One study revealed that for people with sex addiction – or impulse control disorder – pornographic images trigger brain activity similar to brain activity triggered by drugs in drug addicts. When the sex addicts in the study observed pornographic images, they had greater activity in three brain regions than that of the control group. These regions – known as the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate, and amygdala – are also hyper-activated in drug addicts who are given drug stimuli. The researchers asked the study participants to rank their level of desire and how much they liked watching the pornographic videos. What’s interesting to note is that they discovered that the participants with compulsive sexual behavior had higher levels of desire towards the videos, but did not like them very much. Dr. Voon notes a similar pattern with drug addicts.
Attention and sex addiction
- Another study conducted by Dr. Voon looked at the differences in attentional biases in the sex-addicted population. The study relied on a small dot to measure frequency and the time it took for participants to pick the correct side of the screen where the dot had just appeared. The dot was either shown directly after an explicit or neutral image. Addicts picked the side of the screen where the explicit image was displayed – whether or not this answer was the correct. Healthy volunteers did not automatically pick the side of the explicit image. Sexually explicit cues provoked faster and more attentive responses in sex addicts than neutral cues. The authors theorize that sexually compulsive addicts are conditioned to consider sexually explicit material more relevant, salient, and attention-inducing and are quicker to respond to such cues.
Essentially, this body of research confirms that sexual compulsivity is often misunderstood. Research associates sexual compulsivity with neural forces that compel the addict – through changes brought about by sensitization, enhanced salience, and attentional bias (even when these addicts clearly do not like what they’re doing) – to engage in addictive behavior that puts sex addiction in the realm of any other addiction.
This knowledge will prevent treatment providers from having to constantly reinvent the wheel when it comes to helping sex addicts develop relapse prevention strategies and coping skills. We can borrow such tools from the world of chemical addiction. Addicts can be educated to develop skills that address their sensitization to cues; incentive motivation; the difference between wanting and liking; salience; and enhanced attention to sexual cues.
Sex addicts can and do recover. Once they understand the “whys” of their addiction, their tendency towards self-hatred and loathing will dissipate. It’s then they can focus on their journey of recovery – and experience the miracle of living a full life.
Learn More About Gentle Path at The Meadows Sex Addiction Treatment
Every journey begins with a single step. Through an array of time-tested modalities, we’ll give you the tools to develop healthy relationships. You’ll have these tools with you for the rest of your life. We want to see you and your loved ones prosper and thrive. For more information on sex addiction, call our Intake Team at 855-333-6076 to learn more.