Are Sex Addiction and Drug Addiction that Different?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

An estimated one in 25 adults is affected by compulsive sexual behavior, also known as sex addiction.

According to a University of Cambridge study published in PLOS ONE, the condition seemingly mimics that of drug and alcohol addiction. Just as drug addicts can be triggered by certain sights, smells, and situations, experts believe that compulsive sexual behavior can be triggered by pornography.

Sex addiction creates an unhealthy and uncontrollable obsession with sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviors. It interferes with a person’s personal and professional life, causing serious emotional disturbances and feelings of shame. Unfortunately, there is no standard diagnosis for the condition.

Similarities of Sex and Drug Addiction

A study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge evaluated the brain activity of nineteen male patients who admittedly suffered from sex addiction and compulsive sexual behaviors. An alternate group of nineteen participants were also evaluated, none of which were suffering from compulsive sexual behaviors.

What’s astonishing is that these three regions – the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdale – are the same regions that become activated in drug addicts who are exposed to drug-related triggers.Both groups were shown a series of videos that featured sexually explicit content or sports. As they watched the videos, the brain activity of each participant was carefully monitored. Researchers found that, in the sexually addicted group, three regions of the brain were more active. What’s astonishing is that these three regions – the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdale – are the same regions that become activated in drug addicts who are exposed to drug-related triggers.

Participants were also asked to rate the level of sexual desire they felt while watching the videos and whether or not they liked watching them. As expected, the sex addict group showed much higher levels of desire or pleasure towards the sexually explicit videos. However, experts were surprised to find that the sex addict group did not rate the graphic videos higher on the liking scale.

Using Drug Addiction Methods to Treat Sex Addiction

Unlike treatment for substance abuse, the goal of sexual addiction treatment is not lifelong abstinence. When treating an addiction to sex, patients are seeking to terminate compulsive, unhealthy sexual behaviors. Programs usually encourage abstinence for a set period of time, normally 60 to 90 days.

The study shows undeniable links between drug and sex addiction, leading many to believe the methods used for substance abuse could benefit treatment programs for sexual compulsive behaviors. Those methods might include:

  • Medication: Antidepressants can be useful in treating sexual addiction.
  • 12-Step Programs: Just as AA or NA is used for drug or alcohol addiction, programs like Sexaholics Anonymous apply the same 12-step principles.
  • Therapy: Traditional talk therapy can be helpful in treating sex addicts. Group and one-on-one settings can help to increase self-control, treat related mood disorders, and work through the effects of past trauma.


If you or someone you love is struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors, take action and learn about sex addiction treatment options to fit your needs. Call 1-888-366-3510 and speak with a helpful recovery professional today.

Photo via istock

Addiction can cost up to $200 per day.

What would you do with that money if treatment was affordable? Find out if your insurance covers treatment now!

See if you’re covered