Taking The Disease Out Of Sexual Addiction
Alcohol and drug abuse, overeating, gambling, and deviant sex has been a problem for centuries. Today, the level of compulsive behavior seems to be at epidemic proportions, and increasing in scope and magnitude daily.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported in 2013 that there were:
- 22 million alcoholics
- 20 million people who used marijuana regularly
- 2 million people hooked on cocaine
- ½ million heroine addicts
- 6 million people addicted to prescription pain medications
- 1 million people who took hallucinogenic drugs repeatedly
- 56 million people habitually smoking cigarettes
The NIDA estimates that some 23 million people need intensive help to treat their chemical dependency, yet only 2 million people receive treatment at a specialty facility.
Most of the chemically dependent settle for support groups to try and kick their habit.
Today, there are support groups for just about any compulsion — gambling, overeating, under-eating, excessive shopping, binge T.V./Internet use, sex, and even for those who enable people with these compulsive problems.
A Shift In Treatment Philosophy
When Bill Wilson and Robert Smith founded Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) in 1935, it launched an entirely new approach to helping people overcome undesired and out-of-control lifestyles.
Over the years, their 12-step recovery program has become widely accepted as the norm for treatment of sex addiction.
You can just about find a 12-step group for just about any personal problem you may be experiencing. In fact, many people attend several different groups to cover all of their bases.
While 12-step groups can be very effective in helping people stop harmful and unmanageable behavior, the idea that you have a disease presents unique challenges moving towards wholeness, wellbeing, and wholehearted living.
The Dis-Ease Of The Disease Model
In 1956, the American Medical Association (AMA) declared that alcoholism is an illness.
Ironically, in a 1996 article entitled, "Physicians' Perceptions of Alcoholics: The Disease Concept Reconsidered", published by S.I. Magnon in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, an astonishing 75% of physicians do not believe that alcoholism is a disease.
In an article, “Is Alcoholism A Disease?” published on the website, Alcohol Problems and Solutions.org, Dr. Lynn Appleton summarily states that,
Despite all public pronouncements about alcoholism as a disease, medical practice rejects treating it as such. Not only does alcoholism not follow the model of a “disease,” it is not amenable to standard medical treatment.
She goes on to point out that "medical research on alcoholism does not support the disease model.
The basic tenant of 12-step programs is that you have a disease that is causing you to act out in compulsive, destructive ways. Unfortunately, while you can manage behavior, there is no cure for the disease.
As the saying goes, “Once an addict, always an addict”.
When sex addiction is treated as an incurable disease, it becomes who you are, as well as what you do. This combination leads to a sense of dis-ease, which is antithetical to wellbeing.
Our Behavior Is Not Our Identity
When we say, “Hello, my name is _________, and I’m a sex addict”, we have crossed over from dealing with an unmanaged behavior to an identity.
There is a huge difference between these two statements:
“I have made choices to create my out-of-control behavior”
“There is something wrong with me”.
The first relates to our behavior, while the second speaks of our Self — our identity.
Brene Brown teaches that guilt and shame are antithetical when approaching change in our lives. She points out that,
Guilt says, “I did something bad” — our behavior
Shame says, “I am bad” — our identity
When we believe that there is something inherently wrong with us — that we are hopelessly diseased, it is easy to accept our dysfunctional life as inevitable.
The disease model of treatment keeps us locked into a life of shame, while a wellness model of treatment empowers us to make positive choices to change our behavior to coincide with healthy core beliefs.
We were not genetically programed towards irresponsible behavior.
Our compulsive behaviors are rooted in the choices we made to numb our pain in some way.
We must accept responsibility for the choices we made, and then accept responsibility to begin making healthy choices to live wholeheartedly in every sphere of our life.
We Can Choose Our Way To Wellness
When we experience trauma from abandonment or abuse issues, it is normal to want to numb the resulting emotional pain. Even more, we look for ways to counter the pain with pleasure.
Pleasure is the antithesis of pain.
Most compulsive “addictions” come about in our effort to find pleasure in our lives. We desperately want to live wholeheartedly, but go about it in an unhealthy way.
Compulsive behavior is a result of trying to meet legitimate needs that we have for comfort and pleasure in illegitimate ways.
When we have unresolved trauma experiences, and resulting dysfunctional intimacy issues, it is easy to make choices to help ourselves feel better, even if it is detrimental to our long-term wellbeing.
The good news is that we can choose to change our behavior, as well as choose to deal with the underlying issues that prompted our compulsive deviant behavior in the first place.
Sex addiction is a behavior problem and we can choose our behavior. That is what distinguishes us from animals. We have choice — free will.
Certainly, it is not easy to reverse the habits we have formed through the choices we have made in the past, but cognitive therapist have demonstrated that we can actually re-route our neurotransmitter pathways through positive choices.
This process does not happen overnight, however, which is why we need a plan, people, and God’s power to help us in this journey.
Support groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) can be helpful in curtailing behavior, even though they support a disease model. As someone once said, “eat the meat and spit out the bones”.
The reality is that you are not a moral leper. You were created with the potential to live in emotional, relational, spiritual, and sexual wellbeing.
The process is one step at a time, one day at a time, although the destination is not the desert of disease, but rather, the promise land of abundant wholehearted living.
The good news is that we get to choose which journey we want to take.
We hope this blog was encouraging to you. Let us know how we can better assist you on your journey.