August 8th, 2023
For many people, love and sex are two of life’s great pleasures. However, there are tens of thousands of people in the UK for whom sex and love are an obsession at the expense of everything else in their life. This preoccupation can develop into full-blown sex and love addiction which can have a major impact on both you and your loved ones. If you are struggling with sex or love addiction, it is important to understand the conditions so that you can successfully overcome them.
On this page, we will explore what love and sex addiction are, how they develop and the signs and symptoms to look out for. We will also explain how they are treated and answer some frequently asked questions.
What are sex and love addictions?
Though there are similarities between sex and love addiction, the two disorders differ in fundamental ways, and are clinically considered separate from each other:
Sex addiction is characterised by compulsive seeking, observing and engaging in sexual behaviour, despite the negative consequences generated by these activities.
Love addiction is a compulsion toward the feeling of being in love. Different people experience it in different ways; for example, for some people love becomes a dependence on a particular individual, who they rely on to provide unconditional positive regard at all times; for others, it is characterised by an obsessive desire to relive the euphoric feeling that accompanies new love.
Despite their differences, both love and sex addiction can be very difficult to overcome alone and usually require a comprehensive treatment strategy including rehab treatment and aftercare.
How do sex and love addictions develop?
The answer to this question lies in how the brain responds to pleasure. When we have sex, a part of our brain called the ‘reward system’ is activated and a number of chemicals are released into our brains. Among these chemicals are a category called endorphins, which are the most powerful pleasure lever our brains possess (on a molecular level they are almost identical to Heroin.) It is these chemicals which make sexual activity pleasurable.
Like all addictions, the problem comes when sex is consistently used as a quick and easy way to access pleasure. When this happens, the brain begins to physically change to make space for the increased amounts of endorphins being released. The result is that the subconscious brain starts to consider sex as its highest priority while demanding ever stronger and ever-increasing amounts of sexual activity or fantasies to keep it satisfied.
Love addiction, too, is all about the brain’s reward system. Many have argued that everyone is a love addict to some extent; that it has over millions of years to ensure we bond and reproduce. Brain imaging reinforces this theory – intense romantic love fires up the reward system, in a similar way to drugs. And as with sex addiction, the more that someone relies on love and, in particular, the pleasure rush that comes with intense romance, the more this activity becomes hardwired into the subconscious brain.
Routes to sex and love addiction
But why are love and sex a healthy part of life for some, yet unhealthy and unmanageable for others? Although addiction works in a similar way among all sufferers, the roads that lead them there are different for all. There is still a debate among scientists about what factors can actually cause love and sex addiction. Some argue that it is predominantly rooted in psychology, often left over from traumatic childhood experiences while others believe it comes from biochemical imbalances or genetic predisposition.
However, for most people, it is likely a mixture of a number of different factors. These include:
A genetic disposition to addiction plays a significant role in all dependencies, be they drug addiction, alcohol addiction or behavioural addiction. Sex and love addiction are no different – the genetic traits you inherit from your parents can greatly influence how vulnerable you are to becoming addicted.
Abuse or trauma during childhood
According to some research, a high percentage of people with sex and love addictions experienced sexual, physical or emotional abuse or trauma during childhood.
With sex addiction, in particular, hormones are believed to play a significant role. Both men and women have hormones known as androgens, which strongly affect libido. There is some evidence that sex addicts have abnormally high levels of androgens, and medications that affect hormone levels are sometimes used as treatment for sex addiction.
All addictions are closely associated with a category of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. In both sex and love addiction, there are two neurotransmitters that play a particularly important role; dopamine and endorphins. It is thought that people with an addiction to love and/or sex may have higher levels of these chemicals than other people and that this plays an important role in them developing an addiction.
Do I have a love or sex addiction?
Addiction is very cunning and can convince you and the people around you that there is no issue. After all, how can things which only bring joy to most people be bad? Addiction is a master of hiding in plain sight so it’s important to recognise the signs of love and sex addiction in yourself (or your loved one if you are worried they may have an addiction). Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Does being single make me feel worthless or empty?
- When I am in a relationship, do I tend to act over-pleasing or controlling?
- Am I constantly checking my online dating profiles?
- When I meet someone new, do I always quickly fall in love?
- Is meeting “the one” an obsession of mine?
- Do I have strong fears of rejection or abandonment?
- Have I gone through periods of depression and/or anxiety when single?
- Are my thoughts obsessed with an existing relationship or with finding a new relationship?
- Does having sex preoccupy my thoughts?
- Do I engage in sexual activities more often than intended?
- Have I unsuccessfully attempted to stop or limit sexual activity?
- Do I spend considerable time searching for sexual partners?
- Am I continually engaging in sexual behaviour despite negative consequences, such as divorce, or sexual health issues?
- Does being unable to have sex make me frustrated, anxious or angry?
- Have I escalated the frequency of sexual activity to obtain the desired effects?
If you answered yes to these questions, you may have a sex or love addiction. Get in touch with us today and we can explain the love and sex addiction help available to you at UKAT.
What are the negative impacts of love and sex addiction?
The consequences of love and sex addiction are too often underestimated. But just as the brain chemistry of these addictions share much in common with substance abuse, so do the physical and psychological consequences.
When cravings for love or sex are not fulfilled, the brain will experience a drop in levels of neurotransmitters that are vital for it to function correctly, resulting in depression, anxiety and even psychosis. These cravings can even manifest as physical pain, as the same areas of the brain are responsible for romantic love, sex and pain perception.
This is often exacerbated by profound effects on family and interpersonal relationships. Sex and love addictions can establish unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of what a satisfying romantic and sexual relationship should be. Sex addiction is often accompanied by deception, denial, and deep-seated issues with trust, which can lead to fractured relationships with romantic partners as well as children, friends and colleagues. As the illness progresses, simple life requirements such as work, caring for children and domestic chores become neglected, as the sufferer focuses increasingly on satisfying cravings.
Love addiction is often characterised by periods of extreme highs and lows. New relationships are often particularly intense, as the person becomes infatuated and incapable of seeing any flaws in their partner. Friends and family may be neglected, as well as other responsibilities such as work and household chores.
Once this phase ends, the relationship often becomes very melodramatic and chaotic, as the person tries to reignite the flame or seeks to constantly ensure that their partner will not leave. When the relationship comes to an end, they may experience deep depression and anxiety which can lead to further issues.
How are sex and love addictions treated?
There are two main stages in sex and love addiction treatment: therapy and aftercare.
During the therapy stage, you will explore the reasons for your addiction so that you can understand why it developed. Have you experienced trauma? Do you have an underlying mental health condition for which you use sex or love to self-medicate? Understanding these causes will help you understand that sex and love addiction is neither your fault nor something to be ashamed of. You will then learn to develop new ways to deal with these underlying issues so that you can break the cycle of addiction.
There are two main options for sex and love addiction treatment: outpatient treatment and inpatient treatment.
Outpatient treatment involves attending regular group therapy sessions and is available on the NHS. The perceived benefit of outpatient treatment is that you can still live at home during treatment and can take care of your usual responsibilities. However, this option means you will still have the opportunity to engage in your everyday behaviour and will still be exposed to your addictive triggers such as access to dating sites.
Inpatient treatment is when you stay in a residential rehab centre for the duration of your treatment programme. This option provides you with an immersive recovery environment where you won’t be able to fulfil your cravings for love or sex. You will have no access to sexual or romantic opportunities as rehab centres prohibit relationships between clients or between clients and staff.
Inpatient rehabs usually have a wider range of therapies and because you are there 24/7 can provide a more intensive treatment programme. At UKAT, we provide both individual and group therapy alongside mindfulness and stress coping activities. This mixture of treatments will address every aspect of your addiction giving you a better chance of recovery.
We also provide family therapy to help your loved ones cope with any damage done by your love and sex addiction and to give them the strength and support they need during your treatment. Finally, we offer aftercare to all our clients to help them resist cravings and deal with difficult moments when they leave rehab.
To find out more about sex and love addiction at UKAT, get in touch with us today. Our admissions team will be happy to explain how we can help.
Frequently asked questions
How can I support a loved one who is affected by sex and love addiction?
The most important thing is to be patient, understanding and non-judgemental. Your loved one may be embarrassed about their addiction or even in denial. Speak to your loved one about your feelings and concerns and reassure them that you will be there to support them whatever happens.
Why are sex addiction and love addiction grouped together?
Sex and love addiction are often grouped together due to both the connection between love and sex and the shared characteristics of the two conditions. Both are intimacy disorders which can affect yourself and others, particularly romantic and sexual partners.
Does UKAT provide rehab for sex and love addiction?
Yes, UKAT provides rehab for sex and love addiction and we have helped many people overcome the conditions. We have a number of rehab centres across the UK which can provide the treatment you need. Get in touch with us today for more information about how we can help.