The Stress – Sex Addiction Cycle & When to Consider Treatment

With older, traditional models of etiquette falling by the wayside, “freedom of sexual expression” has become the norm within today’s society. This change in societal norm has likewise brought about its own set of challenges, especially for people with a predilection for compulsive sexual behavior.

Unlike the physical effects of mood-altering substances like alcohol and drugs, sex addiction works as a process-based addiction where sex and all things sex-related become the mood-altering variable, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Like any other form of addiction, sex addiction comes with its own set of risk factors, one of which is stress.

In effect, stress can act as a trigger for the behaviors that most characterize sex addiction. Over time, this interaction takes on a life of its own forming a stress-sex addiction cycle that slowly but surely diminishes a person’s quality of life. Once this cycle takes hold, the need for treatment help may well become glaringly apparent.

The Link between Stress & Addiction

Sex Addiction Cycle

Sex addicts generally experience an unhealthy amount of stress, leading them to use sexual behavior as a coping mechanism.

As far as the brain goes, the addiction process takes root in the brain reward system, an area involved with learning, reward processing and adapting or coping with change. In general, the brain uses neurotransmitter chemicals to regulate its various centers, including the center that houses the reward system.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the reward system relies heavily on stable levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates pain/pleasure perceptions, to function normally. The effects of addictive substances on dopamine output directly account for their addictive potential. Incidentally, stress also disrupts dopamine level outputs, and in turn disrupts reward system functions in ways similar to addictive substances.

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The Stress – Sex Addiction Cycle

The brain reward system’s role in helping a person adapt to change plays a central role in developing and maintaining addiction-based behaviors. In effect, the feelings of euphoria and contentment experienced during sex become a means for coping with daily life stressors when sex addiction is at work, according to Bryn Mawr College.

Someone struggling with sex addiction has a compulsive need to engage in sexual activity whenever possible. Not surprisingly, this type of behavior can create a world of stress all its own considering the potential for damaged relationships and negative consequences in general. In turn, the conflicts and stressors that result from this behavior feed into the stress-sex addiction since sex has become the reward system’s primary method for coping with difficult situations.

Mental Health Effects

As with any form of addiction, the brain’s chemical system enters into a state of increasing imbalance the longer sex addiction goes untreated. After a certain point, chemical imbalances in the brain become a breeding ground for other forms of psychological dysfunction, such as depression and anxiety-based disorders, according to the University of California.

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How to Get Over Sex Addiction

Treatment Considerations

Nowadays, stress has become a regular part of most everyone’s daily life so someone struggling with sex addiction faces an ongoing battle with trying to control his or her urges. Under these conditions, a person’s quality of life sees considerable decline as the consequences of this behavior start to snowball out of control.

If you or someone you know struggles with sex addiction and have further questions about how addiction works, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-654-0987 to speak with one of our addictions counselors.

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