Why Sex Addiction Isn’t That Different from Substance Abuse

Many celebrities have been forced to come forward and admit their addictions — and the consequences of their actions. Others, such as Jada Pinkett Smith, have openly confessed they’ve struggled with addiction in the past, but found a way out without anyone noticing.

It’s likely that many more stars have dealt with sex addiction and other issues, but never engaged in behaviors that got them into trouble. Or they did, but no one has come forward to expose them.

When they confess their struggles, it sometimes feels like a move to soften the backlash, instead of an effort to take responsibility for things they’ve done wrong.

Is sex addiction real — or just a term predators use to excuse their behavior toward others?

Experts still don’t agree whether or not sex addiction is a real, diagnosable disorder. Research is ongoing, but the studies conducted so far have produced mixed results.

But many studies suggest if sex addiction or hypersexuality is legitimate, it’s not much different from an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or video games.

Jada Pinkett Smith

Jada Pinkett Smith | Robin Marchant/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Research published in 2013 suggested that men’s and women’s neurological responses to sexual imagery were due to “strong sexual desire,” not hypersexuality.

One 2014 study involving human participants found that, in the individuals observed, sexual stimuli activated the same areas of the brain often active in drug addicts when exposed to drug-related stimuli.

Some researchers have pointed out that collective studies suggest sex addiction can affect a person’s frontal lobe and other brain regions that initiate a pleasure vs. reward system — the same one that trains your brain to crave sugar, a cigarette, or something worse.

Substance and behavioral addictions aren’t exactly the same — but they’re close. Someone addicted to drugs, for example, is addicted to consuming something physical, but gains a psychological “reward” from the experience.

Someone addicted to sexual stimuli isn’t necessarily hooked on something physical, but anticipates the same reward for engaging in their behavior.

Addictions, diagnostically, must interfere with a person’s daily life so severely that they cannot function normally with or without their substance or behavior. A drug can have this effect. So can a “need” to engage in sexual activity or thought.

Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the psychiatric guide to diagnosing mental disorders, doesn’t include sex addiction or hypersexuality. Officially, it’s not a legitimate diagnosis.

But that hasn’t stopped the Harvey Weinsteins of the world from seeking treatment anyway, in an attempt to “correct” the negative behaviors that have all but obliterated their careers and personal relationships.

All actions have consequences — not just for the abuser, but for those they involve in their negative behaviors.

In the same way someone addicted to opioids or alcohol must be held accountable for — and should take responsibility for — their actions, so should anyone who acts inappropriately as the result or in spite of their compulsive sexual behavior.

If the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it’s that mental health issues such as addiction, no matter how severe, don’t excuse atrocious behavior. Addiction is a reality, but it isn’t all to blame.

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