Many different things have the potential to become addictive under the right circumstances. Believe it or not, some people find themselves addicted to sex or love relationships. In both cases, the pleasurable feelings resulting from the experiences creates a ‘natural high’ that can be very difficult to resist. This is love addiction. The desire to experience those pleasurable feelings can be a strong as cravings for drugs or alcohol.
It should be noted that there is a distinct difference between love and sex addictions. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss both in greater detail. However, the first thing you need to know is that any love or sexual relationship that seems to be out of control may be one where an addiction is present. It is important for you to seek professional help if you find yourself in this situation.
You also need to be aware that love and sex addictions are every bit as harmful as their chemical counterparts are. Left untreated, they can destroy the lives of both addicts and their families. Our first hand experience as a referral and counselling organisation has clearly shown us how serious a problem these addictions are.
There are quite a number of definitions for the word ‘love’, depending on the context in which it is used. For the purposes of this discussion, we are defining it as a romantic relationship between two partners. The feelings generated by these love relationships are very real and powerful.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about a love addiction is that it is based on an emotional response rather than a chemical response. In other words, a sex addiction is primarily related to the pleasurable feelings that result when chemical brain receptors are stimulated. The pleasure derived from romantic love is emotional.
Those addicted to their romantic relationships become dependent on the emotional stability they provide. Simply put, the love addict finds comfort and strength by being in a romantic relationship with another person. If that relationship comes to an end, the individual suddenly feels very vulnerable and unable to cope.
The NHS says people suffering from a love addiction frequently lack a self-identity that can exist outside of a romantic relationship. They also tend to have very low self-esteem. The lack of both qualities leads them to be somewhat controlling and obsessive in their romantic relationships.
An addiction involving sexual activity can cover any range of behaviours that provide sexual gratification. Sex addiction can involve a single partner, multiple partners or no partner at all. And in fact, many sex addicts engage in a variety of activities that can include the following:
traditional sexual intercourse
sexual relations with prostitutes
regular and persistent masturbation
regular and persistent use of pornography
phone and cybersex practices.
As previously stated, a sex addiction is primarily the result of a chemical receptor known as dopamine. Dopamine is released in the brain during sexual activity, causing extreme feelings of pleasure that can easily become addictive. Individuals addicted to sexual activity often find they cannot control their behaviour even though they know it is harmful to their relationships, finances and other areas of life.
Signs and Symptoms
Despite the fact that love addiction is emotional while sex addiction is chemical, the signs and symptoms of both our strangely similar. If you or someone you love is struggling with love or sexual relationships to the point of addiction, you might recognise some of the following signs and symptoms:
chronic and obsessive thoughts and desires
multiple relationships, sometimes with strangers
preoccupation with romance or sexual activity
inability to control romantic emotions or sexual impulses
repeated guilt over failed romantic relationships or certain sexual practices
low self-esteem, lack of self-identity
a need to be in control of all relationships.
It can be difficult to correctly diagnose a love or sex addiction, especially in its early stages. Why? Because the desire for both love and sex is naturally inherent to human beings. A healthy love and sex life that is a bit more active than normal does not necessarily constitute a problem.
The challenge for professional therapists is to be able to draw the line between active love and sex relationships and those that are addictive. It requires individuals with plenty of experience in the field. We can help you gain access to those individuals through the clinics we work with in Essex and England.
The treatment options for both love and sex addictions are based on proven behavioural therapies used for decades. Treatment is available via private clinics, community-based organisations, support groups and the NHS. However, please be aware the services provided by the NHS are limited in this area.
A common course of treatment in the UK includes two components: cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and group support through addiction recovery fellowships. The combination of the two is largely successful as long as individuals are committed to doing whatever it takes to get well.
So how do these therapies work? Here are brief explanations of both:
CBT – Cognitive behavioural therapy is a psychotherapeutic treatment led by a trained and experienced therapist. The therapist sets a series of goals designed to help the patient discover what triggers addictive behaviour, how addictive behaviour can be avoided, and what socially acceptable behaviours should be practiced in their place. The recovering addict works through each goal until the therapy is complete.
Group Support – The group support model has been very effective in treating all sorts of addictions for more than 100 years. The strength of group support lies in the mutual accountability and encouragement among a group of individuals all dealing with the same problems. Group support often involves 12-step work modelled after the Alcoholics Anonymous programme developed in the 1930s.
We want to help you take advantage of the treatment options available in Essex and England. If you are willing to call our addiction recovery helpline, one of our trained counsellors will start working with you right away.
NHS – http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/addiction/Pages/sexandloveaddiction.aspx