New Study Links Compulsive Sex to Drug Addictions

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

People who engage in risky sex, have multiple sexual partners, or frequently mix sex with drugs/alcohol are often labeled sex addicts. But is it really an addiction that causes them to indulge in Compulsive Sexual Behaviors (CSB)? Or is it simply an impulse control disorder? Well, new research indicates that substance abuse disorders and CSB have much more in common than researchers initially thought. In fact, a new study published in the journal PLOS One shows both are associated with – and influenced by – what’s known as “attentional biases,” or visual cues that trigger addictive behaviors.

Understanding Attentional Bias

“Attentional bias” is a term that highlights the tendency of a person to focus abnormally high amounts of attention on a specific stimulus or sensory cue. It inevitably leads to poor judgment and/or an incomplete (or slowed) recollection of certain memories. For instance, if you put a drug addict in a room and there are drugs and paraphernalia on the coffee table, it’s a safe bet that the addict will later be able to recall the drugs, the paraphernalia, and the coffee table with clarity. However, he or she may not remember any other features of the room.

The Science Linking CSB to Addiction

Numerous studies have linked attentional bias toward drug cues with drug addiction. Studies of drug addictions, such as cocaine, have shown a consistent pattern of brain response to images of the drug of abuse. This new sex addiction-focused research, conducted at Cambridge University (UK), looks at whether sex addicts display a similar attentional bias, but in regard to sexual cues rather than cues that are drug-related.

This finding supports the group’s recent observation that sexually explicit videos were associated with greater activity in the brain’s neural network, similar to that observed in drug-cue-reactivity studies.

Researchers found that, when compared to a group of healthy volunteers, CSB subjects are much more sensitive to attentional bias. This finding supports the group’s recent observation that sexually explicit videos were associated with greater activity in the brain’s neural network, similar to that observed in drug-cue-reactivity studies.

Another supportive study published in the journal Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology tested the brain’s response to sexual stimuli, using a group of individuals who identified as having CSB. What they found was that the group reported brain responses similar to those of drug addicts.

Learning to Cope with Sexual Triggers

Thanks to several recent scientific studies, we now know that visual stimuli are linked to addictive behaviors. People who complete treatment for these behaviors, including CSB, can be taught how to use new responses to daily triggers and cues. Some sex addicts are able to utilize the new tools and refrain from CSB, while others relapse. Experts hope that by figuring out why some addicts see success with applying the new attentional bias responses and, perhaps more importantly, understanding why others fail, will help them identify and help the ones who are most likely to struggle with relapse.

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