What are the differences between substance addiction and sex addiction?

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substance addiction All addictions share certain qualities, but present their own challenges. Addiction comes in two basic varieties; dependence on an outside chemical, and dependence on a chemical produced from within. An addiction that sustains itself using an outside substance is a “physical addiction,” while an addiction using the body’s own chemistry stems from “psychological,” sources.

Addiction to drugs is a physical addiction; sex addiction is a psychological addiction.

When a person takes in a drug, foreign chemicals enter the brain and make it feel a certain way. The brain runs on chemical reactions. Things that make us feel good are causing the brain to produce   dopamine and other substances. This is natural and its one of the ways our systems reward certain behaviors. This comes into play for all addicts.

The drugs make a person feel good, but  when an excessive use of drugs shuts down the brain’s normal ability to produce “feel good,” chemicals an addiction is formed. In the absence of natural stimulation, the brain relies more on drugs to create the same feeling. Addicts begin to find they crave the drug and feel terrible without it. By abstaining from the drug, an addict, given time, can get away from the addiction and have normal brain function return.

Sex addicts are in a bit more trouble, as something a little different is happening in their brains. When the brain does something, anything, it forms a neural pathway. The brain works through chemicals and electricity, and theses neural pathways are like telephone wires going from place to place, only each time they’re used, they become more fixed. When a person repeats an action in order to learn it, what they’re doing is forming stronger neural pathways. That’s fine when the behavior is helpful. But when it’s damaging or unhealthy sexual behavior, sex addiction can be the result. Recovering from sex addiction can be a bit like trying to unlearn how to ride a bicycle.

Remember we said feel good chemicals are the brain’s way of rewarding certain behaviors? Sex is a behavior that gets rewarded in the brain through the release of dopamine. It leads to procreation so the genes that say sex is good have a way of getting passed on. Sex addicts start by using sex to cope with negative emotions. The release of dopamine relieves the negative emotions and creates the feel good feelings.

Soon it becomes the only way the sex addict knows of to deal with negative emotions. Sex addicts rely on the high generated by sex to get them over rough patches, and after a while begin to have the same issues drug addicts have. Instead of using sex only as a means of coping, the addict will seek the rush for its own sake. As time goes on he or she will need more of the chemical to get high and to relieve negative emotions.

Sex addicts can get their fix from sexual thoughts or actions, so they don’t have the ability to abstain from their drug of choice like other addicts. Instead they must engage in a long process of unlearning old behavior patterns, learning new ones, and keeping stock of their lives and behavior overall to prevent the sex addiction cycle from returning.

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