Drug for Alcoholism Could Treat Sex Addiction
There is a structure deep within our brains responsible for motivation and pleasure. This structure is responsible for flooding the brain with dopamine, the “happy chemicals” our brains give us after completing a task or eating a good meal. This structure is the nucleus accumbens.
The chemical dopamine is released in alcoholics when they drink and in sex addicts when they engage in sexual activity. Furthermore, when the biochemistry and structure within the nucleus accumbens breaks done, people lose control over what makes them happy. They lose the ability to control themselves.
A new study shows the same medication used to treat alcoholism has a positive effect on treating sex addiction. Sex addition is defined as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others,” according to the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health. If we analyze the symptoms of alcoholism and sex addiction, it’s easy to see the similarities
Symptoms of Sex Addiction
- Frequency engaging in sexual activities, even when unintended
- Neglecting obligations such as work, school of family in pursuit of sex
- Preoccupation with sex; persistently craving sex
- Making efforts to cut down on sexual activity but failing repetitively
- Compulsively engaging in sexual behavior despite negative consequences
- Feeling irritable when sexual desires are not met
Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction
- Increased amount of alcohol consumption because of increase tolerance
- Reduced attention to personal and professional obligations
- Repeated unsuccessful efforts to reduce alcohol consumption
- Preoccupation with drinking: persistent craving alcohol
- Withdrawal symptoms when unable to consume alcohol
Comparing the two lists shows how similar the two addictions are. People with sex addiction are usually unhappy with their situation just like alcoholics who feel self-loathing every time they turn to the bottle. Both sex addicts and alcoholics struggle with obtaining a sense of normalcy. Also both addictions are perceived as normal in society. Sex and drinking are promoted as fun and healthy in moderation so it is difficult to know when you are crossing the line into addiction.
The study revealed that both alcoholics and sex addicts suffer from disrupted activity in their nucleus accumbens and the rest of the brain’s reward circuit. There is evidence that this could occur in other drug addicts as well. The study showed that individuals suffering from sex addiction had brains that “lit up” when they viewed pornography. This is related to alcoholics who also experience that same dopamine release.
Drugs that reduce dopamine have been shown to reduce activity in the nucleus accumbens. In the past, drugs like Naltrexone which reduce dopamine levels were prescribed to alcoholics however evidence shows that the drug could be helpful for sex addiction as well.
Naltrexone is a long-acting opioid commonly used to treat alcoholism. Scientists believe that the drug works because it limits the release of dopamine therefore reducing the pleasure associated with drinking. It makes sense that these effects would aid with sexual addiction as the decrease in dopamine levels would reduce the pleasure associated with engaging in sexual activities.
The drug Naltrexone has been found to suppress abnormal sexual behavior including:
- Compulsive Touching of Self
- Spontaneous Erections
- Compulsive Sexual Urges
Even more interesting, the drug has even been shown to successfully treat paraphilic adolescent sexual offenders.
Study after study show that addiction is stemmed from the malfunctioning of the brain’s reward system. The brains ability to release dopamine causes us to engage in repeated activities that release those chemicals over and over again. Furthermore, the medication that treats one type of addiction would make sense to treat other types of addiction as well.
Naltrexone’s powerful effect on dopamine and the reward center seems to be strong enough to treat addiction where treatment is needed the most– the brain.
Future of Sex Addiction Treatment
It is uncertain if naltrexone will be the end-all-be-all for sex addiction treatment. In the future, clinicians could find other ways to alter the chemistry within the disordered brain without medication. Perhaps more research can be done that looks into environmental factors and how that affects us.
Regardless of the next cure for sex addiction, the struggle to understand how the brain works continues. The brain shifts when it is in an addictive date. More research and treatments options will open doors to treatments for those desperate to overcome their addiction. Don’t let addiction take over your life.
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