Sex and love addiction treatment

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This page was reviewed by Stephanie Chick, senior addictions therapist in Priory Hospital North London, in July 2020.

What is sex and love addiction?

Sex addiction and love addiction are not the same, although they can share some similarities. They are intimacy disorders that can cause sexual behavioural problems.

Common elements of both sex and love addiction include obsessive or intrusive thoughts, similar to those experienced if you have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). However, in sex and love addiction, this involves preoccupation with sexual activity or a particular person.

What is the difference between sex addiction and love addiction?

Sex addiction is characterised by sexual behaviour problems that involve a fixation with sexual urges, behaviours and fantasies, or  preoccupation with a particular partner. This can interfere with your everyday life to the extent that your relationships and work life may be adversely affected.

Love addiction, also known as co-dependency, or relationship/romance addiction, differs from sex addiction in that it is characterised by symptoms and patterns of behaviour similar to that of a substance addiction. This may involve intense cravings for a person and feelings of euphoria when you're spending time with them, which make way for withdrawal symptoms when you're not in their presence.

Signs and symptoms of sex and love addiction

If you have sex and love addiction, you'll be drawn towards actions that are harmful to yourself and potentially others, and that can make your life unmanageable.

  • Engaging with multiple sexual partners
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Excessive use of pornography
  • Interaction with prostitutes
  • Being incapable of refraining from having sex with others, even when you're in a relationship
  • Typically feeling guilty, ashamed or disgusted with yourself after acting on your sexual compulsions
  • Acting on these thoughts and urges, not in order to experience joy or pleasure, but because you feel compelled to do so

Sex addiction isn't simply about having a high sex drive, which in itself can be healthy, but rather engaging compulsively in sexual activity despite serious negative consequences. Reported problems in this area include damaging relationships through searching internet pornography, causing financial difficulties due to excessive spending, and resulting in loss of employment because of a sexual preoccupation. There is also risk to your physical health through sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In such an addiction, sex stops the creation of healthy relationships and intimacy is feared and avoided.

If you have a love addiction, you become dependent on a relationship and the attention of another, to the extent that your life becomes unmanageable without that attention. You may falsely believe that you're worthless without that other person and may show signs such as:

  • Clinging to an idealised relationship, despite a different reality
  • Returning time and time again to an abusive and damaging relationship
  • Placing responsibility for your emotional wellbeing, or even your ‘survival’ on others
  • Craving attention from many different relationships and seeking new sources of attention
  • Mistaking sexual experiences or romantic intensity for genuine intimacy
  • Feeling lonely and isolated when you're not in a relationship
  • Missing out on important commitments with friends, family or colleagues to search for a new relationship
  • Seeking the euphoric ‘rush’ of a new relationship while in an existing one
  • Feigning interest in activities that aren’t enjoyable or manipulating a partner or someone new through sex in order to maintain contact
  • Relying on romantic intensity as a way to escape from underlying emotional or mental health difficulties such as depression and stress

In these situations, you may become dependent on the rush of finding someone new who is attracted to you. The condition hijacks the early stages of dating and you can find yourself wanting to repeat these stages despite the painful consequences. Often, this co-dependent behaviour is linked to low self-esteem, derived from emotional neglect or abuse in childhood.

The emotional and psychological impact of sex and love addiction can be profound. The associated dysfunctional behaviour can either lead to or stem from mental health conditions including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • OCD-type symptoms
  • Shame
  • Inadequacy
  • Distress
  • Social and physical symptoms

If you have sex and love addiction, one of the main areas that can determine a diagnosis includes its effect on various aspects of your life. Associated behavioural problems can potentially lead to:

  • Disruption or ending of personal relationships, including friends and family
  • Problems in your job and difficulty focusing or completing required tasks
  • Physical symptoms such as sexual dysfunction or STIs

What causes intimacy disorders?

As with other forms of addiction, such as drugs or alcohol, one of the reasons that you may become addicted to sex is that it offers a form of escape or 'high.' These are some of the most common causes of sex and love addiction:

  • Genetics and family dysfunction
  • Sexual abuse during childhood
  • Substance abuse or other addictions
  • Existing mental health problems
  • Biochemical and/or hormonal imbalances
  • Medical conditions

Effects of sex and love addiction

The specific ways that sex and love addiction can affect your life depends on a variety of personal factors. The following are among the more common types of damage that this compulsive behaviour can inflict:

  • Strained or ruined friendships
  • Inability to form and maintain healthy romantic relationships
  • Separation and divorce
  • Health problems, including increased risk for STIs such as HIV and AIDS
  • Legal problems as a result of exhibitionistic sexual behaviours
  • Job loss relating to unacceptable behaviours
  • Substance misuse and addiction
  • Onset or worsening of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Diminished sense of self-worth
  • Persistent sense of shame, guilt and self-loathing
  • Suicidal thoughts

When you choose to enter a comprehensive addiction treatment programme to get help for your sex and love addiction, you remove yourself from danger, avoid future harm and have the opportunity to begin healing from any past damage.

In a programme such as those offered by Priory, you'll have the professional support you need to identify, address and develop strategies to overcome the negative thought patterns that have prompted you to engage in compulsive sexual and co-dependent behaviours.

Sex and love addiction is a complex challenge, but it can be overcome. With effective help, you can regain control over your thoughts and actions and return to the healthy and satisfying life that you deserve.

Assessing sex and love addictions

Despite there being no clear criteria for when sexual interest becomes excessive, the sexual addiction screening test (SAST) is a useful tool in helping to diagnose this mental health condition.

SAST was developed in co-operation with hospitals, treatment programmes, therapists, and community groups to provide a profile of responses which help to discriminate between addictive and non-addictive behaviour.

As humans, we crave intimacy and close relationships. It’s normal for us to feel this way and it’s actually integral to our humanity. However, with the rise of accessible sexual materials, dating apps, and media surround sex and love, the culture of sex and love is constantly evolving. These changes can result in intimacy disorders, such as sex addiction and love addiction.

If your craving for sex and love has taken over your life and no matter what you do, your needs are not being met, you may be suffering from a sex and love addiction and would benefit from sex and love addiction treatment.

How is sex and love addiction treated?

The ultimate goal for any sex and love addiction treatment isn’t to deprive you of any form of intimate relationship. It’s about managing your sex and love addiction symptoms, helping you control your urges, and cope with any withdrawal symptoms you may experience.

Treatment for co-dependency addictions shares much the same approach as with treatment methods for other forms of addiction such as compulsive gambling and substance abuse problems. This means focusing on a change in your thoughts and behaviours in order to achieve a desired level of abstinence, which can be defined differently from person-to-person.

Treatment for sex and love addictions doesn’t involve ignoring all relationships, but the therapy involved is designed to help you reach a stage where sexual and romantic activity is engaged only in moderation and does not interfere with your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Treatment options for sex and love addiction

When seeking treatment for sex and love addiction, your treatment plan will be made up of various therapy techniques. These include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • A 12-step programme
  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) meetings

Initial assessment

We offer a free and confidential addiction assessment with a highly experienced sex addiction therapist at your nearest Priory hospital. This gives you the opportunity to further understand the condition and how severely it's affecting your life.

This may involve you detailing elements of your sexual and relationship history in order for your therapist to devise the most effective treatment programme aimed at challenging existing habits.

Individual therapy

Individual therapy often revolves around cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a form of talking therapy, which is a good starting point for tackling the compulsive behaviours and obsessions associated with sex and love addiction. Individual therapy can also include dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), which teaches mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness and emotion regulation.

Your treatment plan may also include psychodynamic therapy, which is used if you're experiencing deep-rooted problems with self-esteem. Longer-term psychodynamic psychotherapy may be helpful if uncovering any unconscious memories and issues developed from childhood that may be a factor in co-dependent behaviour and attitudes towards intimacy.

Group therapy

Recovery from sex and love addiction can be improved with shared discussion during group therapy sessions with other people suffering from addiction.

The realisation that your situation isn’t unique helps ease any feelings of guilt or remorse you may feel after a series of failed relationships or sexual experiences, and can put into perspective the extent to which your behaviour may be hurting yourself and others.

12-step programme

A 12-step programme, such as Priory's addiction treatment programme, is a good starting point when it comes to sex and love addiction therapy.

While the programme is based on abstinence for substance misuse disorders, in sex and love addiction it will help you to develop healthy patterns of loving and relating. Old habits are hard to break, so establishing a period of abstinence from the harmful behaviour is usually needed.

Completing the addiction treatment programme can lead on to engagement with a 12-step recovery programme such as SLAA. These are recurring conditions and engagement with such a programme is important to remaining in recovery.

SLAA meetings

SLAA meetings are formatted in a similar way to AA meetings, where a group of people struggling with sex and love addiction come together and support each other through recovery. These meetings are something that can be continued after a treatment plan has been finished and provide extra support to those who desire to stop living out a pattern of sex and love addiction.

The meetings follow the 12-step model that would have been learnt in the 12-step programme at Priory.

Free addiction assessment

We recognise that reaching out for help can be daunting. That’s why we offer a free assessment with a Priory expert at your nearest Priory hospital. Call our dedicated team today to arrange an assessment.

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Recovering from sex and love addiction

If you've recognised that you have an addiction to sex and are ready to begin your journey to becoming well again, there are some suggested steps to take in order to stop:

  • Accept your problem and confide in others - once you feel ready to talk about your sex and love addiction, try to confide in someone you trust. It may be difficult to accept that you need help, but once you've shared the secret that you may have been trying to hide, it's a huge relief and weight off your shoulders
  • Avoid triggers - as many addicts use sex addiction to cope with difficult and intense emotional pain or other dependencies, it's important to recognise in yourself which feelings drive you towards being addicted to sex and love, be it feelings of loneliness, sadness or anxiety
  • Learn new coping methods - when you've recognised a trigger for your sex addiction, it's crucial to develop alternative methods of managing it. These might include exploring your creative side, exercising or talking to someone, be it a friend, partner, family member, therapist or on a relevant online forum

Sex and love addiction can be challenging, but with the right help, you can regain control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions and can once again live the healthy and satisfying life you deserve.

Private medical insurance

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers. All of the services that we offer at Priory can be funded through private medical insurance. This includes:

  • Mental health treatment
  • Addiction treatment
  • Eating disorder treatment

All clients will have access to our highly skilled and accredited clinicians, many of whom are published experts in their fields of treatment. Whatever your requirements, we are committed to working with you to get your life back on track.

Registered and approved provider

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers.

Addiction treatment near me

We have addiction treatment centres located throughout the country, ensuring that you can access the support you need in a location that's convenient for you. To find your nearest addiction treatment centre, please use the search form below.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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