If we were asked to think of an addiction we would probably think of substance addictions such as alcohol or drugs. When specifying behavioural addictions we may consider gambling or shopping but what do we know of love and sex addiction? Is it just an excuse for promiscuity or should we in fact regard it with the same gravity as other addictions?

Dr Vik Watts
and Mel Davis from the addiction team at Priory Hospital North London explain…

A negative impact on self and others

Sex and love addiction is not measured or diagnosed in quantity but instead by the negative impact and consequences associated with the behaviour on self and others. It is characterised by feelings of strong obsessive behaviours of which the sufferer feels compelled to repeat regardless of the consequences. These behaviours and thoughts get progressively worse ultimately resulting in the breakdown of personal relationships. This repetitive pattern with negative consequences can happen both as a result of excessive acting out (sexual bulimia) or the opposite, sexual anorexia.  

Love addiction behaviours

  • Clinging to an idealised relationship, despite a different reality
  • Returning time and again to an abusive and damaging relationship
  • Placing responsibility for emotional wellbeing on others
  • Craving attention from many different relationships and seeking new sources of attention

Sex addiction behaviours

  • Engaging with multiple sexual partners
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Interactions with prostitutes
  • Excessive use of pornography

The addictive behaviour fixes a problem

In an addict, we know that there is some kind of developmental immaturity which gets “fixed” by their addiction (whether behavioural or substance).   It is believed that these symptoms are born out of adapting to survive emotionally within their family system. Co-dependent childhood experiences such as enmeshment on one extreme or abandonment or neglect on the other are major contributory factors. 

Help available

Help for sex and love addiction is available through self-help fellowships such as SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) and SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous).

At Priory we offer treatment which helps with both the addiction and the underlying “trauma” issues. The trauma re-parenting model helps someone take responsibility for moderating their behaviours through new coping strategies. Goals of recovery are to teach and enable our patients to process and come to terms with their reality and to develop and practice appropriate coping skills to deal with the feelings of powerlessness and unmanageability over their behaviours. 

For more details on the full range of Priory Services, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to make an enquiry.