Sex Addiction Called an Epidemic in America

Posted on December 13th, 2011

Sex addiction is climbing in America at such a rapid pace that it was recently described at epidemic levels on the cover of a November 2011 Newsweek issue. Also on the attention-grabbing cover is a powerful quote about the loss of marriages, career and finances linked to sex addiction.

No longer in the shadows as a possible addiction, growing numbers of science-based studies are validating what addiction experts have said for years – sex produces a reward-based response that is highly addictive for some people. An addiction that can be as strong as drugs like cocaine. It is estimated that at least nine million people in America are living with a sexual addiction, spanning diverse demographics and age groups.

Young adults are one group believed to be carrying the rise in numbers of people addicted to sex. Experts like Robert Weiss, developer of the Los Angeles-based Sexual Recovery Institute, say sexual addiction is based upon getting a release and a rush of endorphins. Over time, the brain craves higher levels of the material and more intense forms of it to get the same high.

With Internet pornography available from millions of easily accessible sites, young adults may become addicted at an early age, carrying the addiction with them into their careers and their family lives. Experts have also addressed a general shift in belief that cybersex, sexting and Internet pornography viewing have become less taboo and viewed more often as normal elements of computer use and relationships, further contributing to the rise in sexual addictions.

Today, there are more than 1,500 professionals trained in helping people recover from sexual addictions, a figure that has dramatically increased from only a handful of sexual addiction professionals that could be found in the U.S. ten years ago. Therapists are also working to educate the public on the signs and dangers of sexual addiction, because many people may hide the addiction for years, especially if it includes Internet pornography.

In contrast to stereotypes and many media headlines, people with sexual addictions rarely seek out the behaviors as a form of sexual pleasure. In many cases, the sexual behaviors become a way of escaping unwanted, negative emotions. Many people with sexual addiction are unable to form and keep healthy personal relationships, and report feeling trapped by obsessive behaviors and sexual thoughts they can’t seem to stop, even when the consequences are severe.

As research continues to explore the causes of sexual addiction, tools like brain imaging have been used to look at the ways the brain responds when a person views sexual images. Additionally, researchers are looking at connections to co-occurring mental illness among people with sexual addiction, such as depression, anxiety disorders or obsessive compulsive disorders.

Similar to treatment for alcoholism or drug addictions, recovery from sexual addiction requires professional treatment. Teaching patients new and healthy ways to manage triggers and cope with life stressors has been shown effective, as well as engaging couples in counseling together to help address the anger, depression and shame that accompanies sexual addiction.

Experts hope the epidemic levels of sexual addiction in the U.S. will prompt new treatment centers to help offset the severe costs of the addiction, including millions of dollars in lost work time, broken families and the high costs of conditions like persistent depression or substance abuse, which are believed to be connected to sexual addiction for some patients.

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