Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When is an addiction not an addiction?

Whenever anyone says so, because no-one can agree on what an addiction actually is...

Recently, it was reported that a sex research study from UCLA has reported that sex addiction isn't really an addiction.

Sweeping aside the normal misreporting, misunderstanding, and misconstrual of scientific methodology and wording endemic to popular science and health reporting, this study has some major fundamental flaws.

As close to a consensus as exists on what constitutes addiction (as opposed to habituation, compulsion, or dependency), comes down to this:

  1. Is it habituating or compulsive
  2. Is there physical or emotional dependency (or both)
  3. Does it require escalating input to reach the desired output
  4. When deprived of it, is there withdrawal and craving
  5. Is pursuing and fulfilling this thing harmful or destructive to the person or those around them

Now... read the study linked above...

This study is entirely flawed, because it is incorrect in it's basic premise.

They're measuring the wrong thing, in the wrong way, because they don't seem to understand what sex addiction really is (a lack which, unfortunately, they seem to share with most people).

The premise of this study, is that sex addicts brains should respond to sexual imagery, in the same way that substance addicts respond to imagery of, or the presence of, the substance they are addicted to.

This premise shows a complete lack of understanding as to what sex addiction (which is an expression of clinical hypersexuality, but not the only expression, as misstated in the article) is... and more importantly WHY it is, how it is expressed, and what expressing it does for the addict.

Physically, no, it isn't an addiction to the actual sex... but emotionally it every much is an addiction. Not only that, but without doubt, the brain chemistry associated with it IS an addiction. It causes physical habituation with an escalating need for stimulus to achieve the same high, it crashes after an initial high, it has a strong compulsion and craving associated with it, and it has withdrawal symptoms (which can be dramatic).

And of course, the final element that separates habituation from addiction; sex addiction can be very destructive to the addict, and those around them (in fact, that can be part of the point of it).

Sex addiction isn't about sex, it's about self medication, self punishment, self harm, and self destruction; through novelty, risk, control, pushing the edge of control; and some times, for some people, losing control.

Sex addicts binge and purge... clean up, and fall off the wagon... just like any substance abuser. The behavior is the same, the emotional landscape that drives it is the same, the feelings it engenders and the psychological responses to it are the same... the only difference is the stimulus.

It's just substituting "sex"... but more importantly those things associated with risky sex... seduction, control, risk, and release... for the needle.

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