If you’re in a relationship with a sex addict, you may find that you would like your partner to get sober from not just sex, but from alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive gambling, compulsive spending, etc. And rightfully so, as many sex addicts are multiply addicted.
This fact is hardly surprising when you understand the basic nature of addiction—that addicts don’t use to feel good, they use to feel less. Whatever the addiction, the underlying motivation is the same. Your addicted partner wants to control what he or she is feeling. And addictive substances and behaviors all happily oblige by altering brain chemistry in ways that temporarily distract your addicted partner from stress, emotional discomfort, depression, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, etc.
Admittedly, a few addicts are purists, sticking with their drug or behavior of choice no matter what. For instance, your partner might compulsively use porn but never drink, use drugs, or engage in any other addictive behaviors. If so, that’s great and there is only one addiction to deal with. But sex addiction is often part of a larger addictive pattern. It’s possible that your partner is what we sometimes refer to as a “garbage can user,” ingesting whatever addictive substance or engaging in whatever addictive behavior is available, as long as it creates the escapist neurochemical rush that he or she seeks.
With sex addicts, stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine are often the secondary drug of choice. Typically, these drugs are used in conjunction with sexual activity because they allow users to be sexual for several hours (or even days) at a time—especially if the addict is male and erection enhancers like Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis are also being used.
When stimulant drug use is consistently fused with compulsive sex, as described above, the behaviors can become mutually reinforcing. Over time, even simple sexual fantasies and/or memories of past sexual acts can become a psychological trigger for stimulant drug abuse, and vice versa. Eventually, stimulant drug use and sexual activity can become so tightly paired that engaging in one behavior inevitably leads to the other. This type of sexualized drug use is known as paired substance/sex addiction of chemsex addiction. If your partner is a substance/sex addict, getting high and seeking/finding/having sex is a single coexisting and complementary addiction.
Unfortunately, stimulant drugs are highly disinhibiting, which means your partner’s beliefs about the need for safer sex may disappear when high, greatly increasing his or her (and, by extension, your) risk for HIV and other STDs. Moreover, stimulant abuse is highly destructive in its own right, both physically and mentally—for both the addict and his or her loved ones. And if your partner has a co-occurring sex and stimulant addiction, he or she might also be abusing alcohol, benzodiazepines (like Valium, Ativan, or Xanax), and over-the-counter cold medicines to “come down” and get some sleep when the party is finally over.
When sex and drug addictions intertwine and fuse in this way, treatment and recovery become much more difficult. If your addicted partner is engaging in (or tempted to engage in) one activity, he or she is almost certainly engaging in (or tempted to engage in) the other. Thus, paired substance/sex addiction is double-trouble in terms of both potential consequences and risk for relapse. Ultimately, your partner needs to be treated for both halves of his or her addiction simultaneously. Otherwise, he or she is unlikely to establish and maintain sobriety.
If you think your significant other or anyone else you care about might be substance/sex addicted, help is available. Residential treatment for substance/sex addiction is available at Seeking Integrity: Los Angeles, as are online workgroups for male and female addicts. Seeking Integrity also offers online workgroups for betrayed partners and couples.