The Relationship Between Sex Addiction and Drugs

Profile portrait of a young woman

By Michelle Dunbar

Are you or a loved one convinced that you have sex addiction? Many self-proclaimed sex addicts or those who seem to be unable to control their sexual compulsions often believe that they have an “addictive personality” that causes them to engage in these acts over and over again.

So what is a sex addiction? According to Dr. Michael Herkov, “sexual addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts.” Much like alcohol or drug use, a sex “addict” may need to increase frequency of sex acts to achieve the feeling of satisfaction or relief. [1]

Behaviors regarding a sex addiction can develop in many different forms in order for the person to achieve their “high.” Herkov continues by stating, “For some sex addicts, behavior does not progress beyond compulsive masturbation or the extensive use of pornography or phone or computer sex services. For others, addiction can involve illegal activities such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, child molestation or rape.”

However, there have been recent studies completed in 2013 by UCLA suggesting that “‘sex addiction does not fit the definition of other medically-recognized forms of dependence.” [2] The research had tested its theories through showing test subjects explicit photos to see if any brain activity would spike. This testing referred to as “Electroencephalography (EEG) was used to measure brain activity in the first 300 milliseconds after the appearance of each image.” [2]

The study concluded no significant brain activity spikes, “Brain response was only related to the measure of sexual desire. In other words, hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain responses to sexual images any more than just having a high libido.” [2] There are not enough studies that have been conducted to conclude that the brain responds to activities that would create feelings of a strong desire or “craving” for sexual activity.

As for now, sex addiction is not recognized on the official list of psychiatric disorders created by The American Psychiatric Association. [2] According to Time Magazine, there is still much debate as to whether it should be added or not. The Times article entitled Sex Addiction: Real Disease or Excuse for Men to Cheat? quotes, “The addition of what the APA is calling “hypersexual disorder” would legitimize sex addiction in a way that was unthinkable just a few years ago, when Bill Clinton’s philandering was regarded as a moral failing or a joke — but not, in the main, as an illness.”

While many stick to their assertion that they couldn’t help themselves or resist from engaging in these activities, some philosophers suggest that people use the sex addiction excuse to explain away infidelity or socially unacceptable sexual acts such as spending long hours on pornography sites. [4]

Just like 12 step programs for alcohol and drug treatment, once someone gets help for a sex addiction they are essentially cut off from it in all forms and must practice abstinence. According to the NBC article, Sex addiction real- or excuse for cheating?, “just as a drinker is instructed to never again have another drink, so is a sex addict prohibited from sexual self-gratification. The idea here is, sex should always be an emotional experience (with a loving partner) and not for pure sexual gratification (read: one-night stands, pornography, or fantasies). Patients are taught to connect with their partners and to focus on sensuality, not just sexuality.”

The true causes of sex addiction can be explained as no more than habitual behaviors based on a person’s belief in the habit providing some happiness and some level of fulfillment.

Instead of the person figuring out what is making them happy and finding more productive solutions, they opt for quick short term happiness among behaviors that are deemed unacceptable or excessive by cultural norms. These quick fixes can come in the form of drug and alcohol use, sex, gambling or productive behaviors such as exercise, cleaning or working. As humans we naturally look for ways to create happiness and an euphoric feeling. Some individuals are happy with the euphoric or “high” sensation that drugs give them and others get this result from sex; however, they always have a choice in the matter before engaging in these activities.

Still, the treatment industry professionals are quick to label what they deem to be excessive sexual behaviors as sickness blaming it on a chemical imbalance or traumatizing life experiences, which can lead to other addictions (none of which has been proven). Dr Herkov quotes, “One study found that 82 percent of sex addicts reported being sexually abused as children. Sex addicts often describe their parents as rigid, distant and uncaring. These families, including the addicts themselves, are more likely to be substance abusers. One study found that 80 percent of recovering sex addicts report some type of addiction in their families of origin.” However, these correlations are misleading, in that, the presumption is that there is a connection, and then the research is then used to prove that presumption true. However, the correlation may exist for a number of reasons, when in fact, there is no causal relationship at all.

Conversely, there is much support opposing the theory of sex and drug addiction. The late Dr. Thomas Szasz stated, “‘Do drugs cause addiction?’ is prima facie nonsensical. Addiction is a form of behavior. Behavior is not caused; it has reasons. Drugs can no more cause addiction than sex hormones or genitals can cause perversions or sexual acts. Some drugs, when ingested–which itself is a decision–some drugs make people feel in certain ways which they like to repeat.” [5]

The correlation that people find between sex addiction and drug use is that often times while under the influence sexual acts can happen more frequently. This is not to insinuate a loss of control of actions in any way. A person may in that moment care less about the consequences of their actions. It’s also important to note that not all heavy drug users will engage in high volume sexual activity, just as those who are self-proclaimed “sex addicts” will not begin using drugs or become a heavy drug user.

Dr. Jeffrey Schaler,  PhD and Assistant Professor of the Department of Justice, Law and Society at American University, is also quoted stating, “I think it’s also important to differentiate between how drugs get into the body and what drugs do to the body. What drugs do to the body is relatively uncontroversial. The controversy here is how do drugs get into the body? And of course, people choose to use drugs. Thirty-five years of research testing the notion of loss of control has always shown that people use drugs–heroin, cocaine, and alcohol–for psychological reasons, not for physiological reasons, or in such a way as could be caused by the power of the drug.”[5]

No matter what degree of severity a behavior has escalated into, behaviors can be changed at any moment. Once a person realizes they are in control of their own actions, moving beyond a sex or drug habit seems more realistic and obtainable. However, they must first let go of the mentality that addictions are permanent diseases, as such thoughts will only lead to feelings of doubt and hopelessness for a better life ahead.



[1]  Herkov, M., Gold, M., Edwards, D. What is Sexual Addiction? Psych Central. Available at Accessed Feb. 15, 2014

[2] Gonzalez, R. New Study Suggests Sexual Addiction is Not Actually an Addiction. Available at Published 24 June 2013. Accessed Feb. 15, 2014

[3] Cloud, J. Sex addiction: A Disease or a Convenient Excuse? Time Magazine. Available at,9171,2050027-2,00.html. Published 23 Feb 2011. Accessed Feb.15, 2014

[4] Nerdesian, E. Sex Addiction Real- or excuse for cheating? Sexual Health on NBCNews. Available at Published 19 Feb 2010. Accessed Feb. 15, 2014

[5] Szasz, T. Do Drugs Cause Addiction? Thomas Szasz Official Website. Available at Accessed Feb. 15, 2014



Author: Michelle Dunbar

Michelle Dunbar is the Executive Director of Saint Jude Retreats, a non-12 step non-treatment alternative to traditional drug and alcohol rehab. The program concentrates on self-directed positive neuroplastic change and positive self-change as an alternative to traditional alcohol and drug treatment.

Share This Post On

1 Comment

  1. Interesting piece. I was molested when I was younger, raped in my teens and within my marriage by my ex. I never turned to drugs or alcohol….and certainly never became a sex addict. But I also had intensive therapy as a teen and had a good head on my shoulders. I knew, and acknowledged , what had happened…..and swore to not let it BE my life. I guess it’s dependent on each individual. But I do know some women who are what I would call sex addicts…’s a dangerous lifestyle. And just a quick question….do you know if more women than men are considered this? Or men than women? Or is it about equal?

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *