Understanding Secondary Addictions

This entry was posted in Blogs and tagged , on
Scott Brassart

Secondary addictions are common among both substance addicts and sex/porn addicts (and other types of addicts, too). Generally speaking, there are two types of secondary addictions: cross-addictions and co-occurring addictions.

  • Cross addiction occurs when addicts switch from one problem behavior/substance to another. For example, when a cross-addicted sex addict/alcoholic is not behaving in sexually compulsive ways, he or she is probably drinking alcoholically, and when the addict is not drinking, he or she is probably acting out sexually.
  • Co-occurring addiction occurs when addicts use multiple addictive behaviors/substances simultaneously. For example, many addicts are co-addicted to both sex and stimulant drugs (such as cocaine and methamphetamine). If these individuals are getting high, they are almost certainly chasing sex, too, and if they are chasing sex, they are probably also getting high.

Alcohol, used as both a disinhibitor and a way to feel better about tolerating uncomfortable sexual behavior choices, is among the most common secondary drugs of choice for sex and porn addicts. Stimulant drugs (cocaine, meth) are also commonly abused in conjunction with sex. Many addicts with a co-occurring stimulant/sex addiction also abuse benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, Xanax, and the like), along with alcohol, over-the-counter cold medicines, and even opioids as a way to “come down” and get some sleep when the party is over. Erection enhancers like Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis are also commonly abused in conjunction with sex and porn addiction, as are butyl nitrites (aka, poppers).

Secondary addictions and compulsions typically manifest in one of eleven basic ways:

  1. Alternating Cycles: Switching back and forth from one addiction to another, often for years on end (i.e., flipping between binge drinking and sexual acting out).
  2. Combining: Combining various addictive substances/behaviors to create a more intense high (i.e., mixing meth with porn and then cybersex).
  3. Cross-Tolerance: Using one addiction as a way to tolerate another (i.e., getting drunk or smoking cigarettes to self-soothe shame about sexual behaviors).
  4. Disinhibiting: Using one addiction to reduce inhibitions related to a second addiction (i.e., getting high before having sex with a stranger or a prostitute).
  5. Fusing (also known as Stacking): Using one addiction to amplify another (i.e., using cocaine or methamphetamine to heighten the pleasure of orgasm).
  6. Inhibiting: Viewing one addiction as the lesser of two evils (i.e., smoking cigarettes instead of looking at porn all night).
  7. Masking: Using one addiction to hide another (i.e., going to AA for alcoholism but never looking at compulsive sexual activity).
  8. Numbing: Using one addiction to numb the shame of another (i.e., getting drunk or high after cheating on your spouse).
  9. Replacement: Replacing one addiction with another (i.e., cutting down on the use of hookup apps by gambling for hours on end).
  10. Rituals: Incorporating one addiction into the ritual phase of another (i.e., buying cocaine or methamphetamine before beginning the search for a prostitute).
  11. Withdrawal Mediation: Using one addiction to stop another (i.e., shopping compulsively as a way to stay out of sex clubs).

If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex, porn, or substance/sex addiction, help is available through our free resources website, SexandRelationshipHealing.com, our low-cost online workgroups, and our residential treatment center.