Video Chat and Substance/Sex Addiction

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By David Fawcett PhD, LCSW

The term ‘video chat’ sounds relatively innocuous. It’s what kids do on their iPhones, right? And they taught grandma how to do it last Christmas so she can see them at the holidays instead of just talking to them. Also, on TV Captain Kirk uses it when he’s conversing with alien warlords. So video chat is a really awesome sci-fi invention come to life that benefits us all.

Mostly.

Several months ago, Dr. Rob Weiss, therapist Terry Gatewood, and I – all of us specialists in sex addiction and fused substance use and sexual behaviors – spoke about the rising use of methamphetamine in conjunction with sexual behaviors. One issue our audience brought up, and an issue that all three of us stated we were increasingly encountering in our work, was the role that video chat plays in these behaviors.

Numerous individuals shared their personal stories of mixing video chat with chemsex with Rob, Terry, and me both during and after the event, with a variety of commonalities in what they said – regardless of whether they were mixing video chat and chemsex one-on-one or in a group chat room. A few of the common elements include:

  • When their lives started to fall apart, they thought meth was the sole problem. Routinely, these men thought that if they addressed their drug use, that alone would fix their issues. They ignored the allure of feeling ‘part of’ that video chat, especially group video chat, gave them. They also undervalued the powerful pull of the sexual intensity they experienced in these sessions. Many had tried multiple times to get sober from meth, only to have their desire for feelings of connection and sexual intensity drive them into relapse. These men said things like: “Ninety-nine percent of the time I use crystal meth I’m online in front of the computer, in my bedroom, but chatting and being sexual with someone or an entire group. When my NA sponsor asked me if I ever use alone, just to get high, I said no. The idea just doesn’t appeal to me. Now I think compulsive online sex might be my primary addiction, or at least as much of a problem as the meth.”
  • The video chat element of chemsex behavior provides a sense of bonding and community, while also letting users feel safe and anonymous. Most of the men who spoke to us said they hardly ever had in-person sexual encounters. The internet provided a buffer that let them become vulnerable with others – but never to the point where they might be hurt either physically or (more importantly) emotionally. If you don’t know another person’s name, or even where that person lives, how can that person hurt you? Yet, because everyone is in the chat room to use meth and masturbate, there’s a much-desired sense of connection. They said things like: “I really needed to be around someone to validate my sexual nature and my drug use, but I’ve always been afraid to get too close to anybody. So video chat was a way to meet both sides of that need.”
  • Until they addressed their entire addiction – meth, sexual behavior, and video chat – they could not stay sober and their lives continued to disintegrate. Even those attending NA and CMA meetings regularly tended to relapse relatively frequently. However, once they uncovered and started to address the relationship between all aspects of their addiction, their lives generally took an upturn. Prior to that, they were only dealing with parts of the addiction, and that just wasn’t enough. When they began to look at their underlying desire for connection and true intimacy, they found healthier venues and activities and were able to get these basic human needs met while staying sober. They said things like: “Now that I know my real issue is a fear of being hurt by other people, I’ve been able to be much more honest in 12-step meetings for both drugs and sex, and now I have a good support network – people that I know won’t hurt me. Eventually, maybe I can find a healthy romantic relationship, even though I’m not ready for that right now.”
  • There are some real horror stories. Meth addiction and sexual addiction are two of the most difficult addictions to recover from. It takes the brain a year or more to normalize and heal, and there is a tremendous risk of relapse in that period. Plus, there is the double-whammy of dealing with not only drug triggers but sexual triggers. Even worse, chemsex chat groups are frequented by a variety of predators – Satanists, violent racist groups, etc. Active chemsex addicts are emotionally and psychologically vulnerable to anyone who promises them they can ‘belong’ somewhere, so these predators often find easy victims and converts. Many of these addicts/victims end up in prison or dead from an overdose, suicide, or murder. They say things like: “A behavior that initially seemed safe turned out to be very, very unsafe. It took me to hell, with hellish consequences. Before I finally crashed and burned and got help, I saw things and did things that make me sick to my stomach.”

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Absolutely. It’s that substance abuse problems are sometimes more than just a substance abuse problem. This is especially true with stimulant drugs like meth and cocaine, which so often travel hand-in-hand with compulsive sexual behaviors – both real-world and online. For many addicts, drug use and sexual activity actually become a single paired/fused addiction. And both halves of that addiction must be treated if the addict hopes to recover and heal.

Specialized treatment for paired substance/sex addiction is available at Seeking Integrity Treatment Centers, in Los Angeles, CA.