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Addicts of all types experience an increasing tolerance to the mood-altering effects of their drug of choice, be it an addictive substance or an addictive behavior like sex. As a result, addicts must, over time, use more of their drug of choice or a more intense version of their drug of choice to achieve and sustain the neurochemical high they seek.

If you’re struggling to understand this, consider drug addiction. Almost nobody shoots heroin right out of the gate. Instead, drug addicts ease into things by smoking marijuana or abusing a prescription medication. As time passes, their tolerance increases, and in response their habits escalate. Maybe they start smoking pot around the clock, popping pills by the handful, or whatever. Eventually, as their brain continues to adapt (to develop tolerance), even that level of usage doesn’t get or keep them high the way they’d like. At some point, they “discover” more potent drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin, and they use these stronger substances to get the high they seek. At first, they might just sprinkle a bit of cocaine or meth into a joint or a cigarette, or mix a tiny bit of heroin into the pills they’ve learned to crush and snort (for faster effect). Eventually, however, without ever making a conscious choice to do so, they find themselves in a dark alley with a needle in their arm.

Sex addicts escalate their behavior in similar fashion. For example, occasionally using and masturbating to generic (i.e., vanilla) online porn is typically regarded as an enjoyable and relatively innocuous activity, akin to drinking a beer or inhaling a few puffs of marijuana. For some people, however, this harmless recreation can become an all-consuming activity, pushing them away from relationships, family, work, hobbies, and other life-affirming activities. Hours and sometimes even days are lost to digital sexual intensity. Over time, the porn user might also start looking at and being turned on by increasingly more intense sexual imagery and/or engaging in other sexual activities (webcam sex, casual sex, anonymous sex, and the like).

Regardless of age or gender, sex addiction escalates. And sooner or later, without intervention, these escalated behaviors result in profound negative consequences. Over time, sex addicts neglect people (children, spouses, friends), interests (recreation, self-care, creativity), and responsibilities (work, finances, family) to spend hours, sometimes even days, in a fantasy-based, emotionally elevated state of dissociation (the bubble/trance). Even worse, as their addiction escalates, their sexual activities often start to go against their inherent values and beliefs (relationship fidelity, safer sex, not lying to or hurting others, etc.)