1 in 7 people are
affected by addiction.
Hardly a day goes by without a mention in the news about a tragedy grounded in addiction. We can see the wreckage left by addiction’s wake in the broken relationships, the wasted lives, and the deaths caused by unintended overdoses, all around us. From major celebrities and sports figures, who seemingly have everything, to the kid down the street, addiction knows no boundaries. To say that almost everyone knows someone with an addiction is not an exaggeration. Two-thirds of people say their lives have been affected by addiction — it’s in their family, friends or coworkers. Addiction destroys families, relationships, workplaces and even communities. It is hard to imagine another disease with such wide-ranging destructive powers.
It becomes clear that addiction is America’s
#1 public health crisis.
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dr. Nora Volkow, National Institute of Drug Addiction, says,
“When we increase dopamine, that activates the motivation and drive that leads you to want to consume that particular reward. Increasing dopamine in reward regions is what motivates our behavior. By being conditioned, you will engage that motivational system that is anticipating to receive a reward so that you can ensure to do the behaviors and procure the reward. This is exactly why people that are addicted to drugs have the enhanced motivation to take them because they have been conditioned.
They have been conditioned to the place where they take drugs. They have been conditioned to the dealer that sells them their drugs, to the friends with whom they get high. They have been conditioned to the emotional state that precedes the anticipation of getting that drug. This drives their behavior.”
The American Society of Addiction Medicine says addiction is characterized by:
- Inability to consistently Abstain
- Impairment in Behavioral control
- Craving; or increased “hunger” for drugs or rewarding experiences
- Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships
- A dysfunctional Emotional response
Addiction comes in many shapes and sizes, from addictions that are obvious to all of us, to others recognized mainly by addiction experts but invisible to most. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends and co-workers become addicted to legal substances such as alcohol, controlled substances like heroin, and prescription drugs like painkillers. But people from all walks of life are also afflicted by equally potent, yet less understood, process addictions such as gambling, video gaming, and perhaps most prevalent in our society, sex addiction.
Alcohol and drugs are what you mostly hear about, but other addictions, many occurring at the same time, also contribute to the tragedies. Sex, gambling, shopping, work — these are called process addictions because of the compulsive behavior involved
— all add to the destruction of the individual.
Just as an alcoholic’s relationship with alcohol is more important than any relationship or anything; a sick, mood-altering relationship with sex becomes central to the sex addict. As with any addiction, these addict’s secret lives become more important and real than their public lives.
Founder of AFAR, Patrick J. Carnes, PhD, and author of Out of the Shadows, says that sex addicts progress through a 4-Step Cycle that intensifies with each repetition:
- EPreoccupation: the trance or mood when the addicts’ minds are completely engrossed with thoughts of sex. This mental state creates an obsessive search for sexual stimulation.
- ERitualization: the addicts’ own special routines that lead up to the sexual behavior. The ritual intensifies the preoccupation, adding arousal and excitement.
- ECompulsive sexual behavior: the actual sex act, which is the end goal of the preoccupation and ritualization Sex addicts are unable to control or stop this behavior.
- EDespair: the feeling of utter hopelessness addicts have about their behavior and powerlessness.
The pain the addicts feel at the end of the cycle can be numbed or obscured by sexual preoccupation that repeats the addiction cycle. For the sex addict, all support systems — relationships, work, finance and health become unmanageable. The negative consequences from the unmanageability confirm the addicts’ faulty beliefs. The cycle continues.
Sex addicts are hostages of their own preoccupation. More than merely noticing sexually attractive people, there is a quality of desperation that interferes with work, relaxation, and even sleep. People become objects to be scrutinized. The addict seeks to capture the intoxication of young love. The pursuit, hunt, search, the suspense, the stolen, the forbidden and the illicit are intoxicating to the sex addict.
Sex addiction is on the rise and people are becoming addicted quicker and earlier in life. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of pages of internet porn are available in the palm of one’s hand with touch of a button. There are no barriers to entry.
- EAccessibility: People can access all forms of porn online, anywhere at any time.
- EAffordability: While the porn industry is the 3rd largest economy to spring from the internet, thousands of porn pages are free.
- EAnonymity: People can be anyone they want on the internet. They take no risk being seen.
- EDenial: Sex addicts tell themselves that cybersex isn’t real because it’s virtual.
In fact, research shows access to the internet has doubled the propensity for sexual addiction. Young men are reporting a loss of interest in relationships with real partners due to their excessive use of internet porn. And, there has been a surge of young men claiming to have PIED (porn induced erectile dysfunction). A third of all internet porn users are women. For some women, just as for some men, it becomes a drug where it can climb to sex addiction and they enter the 4-Step Cycle. “Cybersex becomes the great accelerator of the addictive process”, says Dr. Carnes.