What is sex addiction and how can I tell if I have it?
There are many different definitions of addiction. The treatment and therapy industries probably have their own definition. The state/government may have a different definition. But, the addiction model, for which the Twelve Step Program can be effective, is specific. It is discussed in the Doctor's Opinion of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
We believe and so suggested a few years ago that the action of alcohol on the chronic alcoholics is the manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. Alcoholics Anonymous Pg xxviii 4th Ed.
The “allergy” or “phenomenon of craving” that Dr. Silkworth mentions can be explained like this: The alcoholic may walk into a bar with a sincere commitment to limit him/her self to 3 drinks, but once they start drinking they lose control. They end up having far more than they intended.
In S.A.A. this is often referred to as “the Bubble”. It is a trance-like state where we lose track of time, we lose track of how much money we are spending and/or we lose track of what behaviors we are engaging in. A sincere desire to limit the amount of time we spend in our behaviors often ends up with us exceeding that limitation. A commitment to ourselves to limit the amount of money we spend on acting-out often ends with us passing over that boundary, most of the time without even a second thought. We may be resolute that we will restrict ourselves to only engaging in one type of behavior that seems harmless, but end up engaging in behaviors that we were sure we wanted to avoid. This may not happen every time, but as our disease progresses, the examples of our ability to control become fewer and further between. This is what is commonly known as powerlessness. It is an inability to control our addictive sexual behaviors once we begin them. The result is that we end up on binges, sprees and benders. We destroy relationships. We lose jobs. We lose friends. We sometimes get in trouble with the law. The consequences of our powerlessness provide us with the impetus to change. They give us a desire to stop for good and for all.
If this were our only problem, the solution would be simple: stop. But this is the crux of our disease. We have made commitment after commitment, promise after promise. Eventually these became commitments and promises we made to ourselves. After a while we would give in to some excuse to try the “insane experiment” again. The insane language common to most of us was, “This time will be different.” But most of the time it was not. Eventually we ended up on another spree or binge. Our real problem (and this is the defining characteristic of a real addict) was an inability to stop and stay stopped for good and for all, an utter inability to stay away from our behaviors no matter how great the need or sincere the desire to abstain.
If when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when [acting out] you have little control over the amount [of time/money you spend or behaviors you engage in], you are probably [a sex addict]. Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 44.
The methods we have tried to put barriers between us and our behaviors have been creative to say the least. We finally realized that the chemicals on which we get high are already in our brains. In the end, there was nothing we could do to prevent us from going back to our behaviors. We could speak endlessly about our defective thinking, but the best summary of the insanity we suffer from, can be found in the Doctor's Opinion and Chapters 2 & 3. This is unmanageability. It is the inability to manage our most sincere decision to stay away from the sexual behaviors we had admitted were destroying our lives.
No one but the individual can make a diagnosis. The defining characteristic of addiction is heavily dependent on a desire to stop. None but the potential addict knows how sincere his/her desire to stop truly is. Being grilled on this point by our loved ones, employers or authorities was useless. If there were consequences involved and we didn't really have a sincere desire to stop, we lied.... and quite effectively. We realize this can be quite frustrating for the family and others close to the sex addict. For them we recommend reading the Chapter 8 “To Wives.” It will take the cooperation from the family and loved ones if there is to be victory over addiction by the Twelve Step Program. That chapter will have some very concrete suggestions for helping a sex addict.
Addressing those who are interested in this information for themselves, you are wondering how to tell if you are a sex addict. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous provides two tests: one for powerlessness and another for unmanageability.
Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it more than once. It will not take long for you to decide, if you are honest with yourself about it. It may be worth a bad case of jitters if you get a full knowledge of your condition. Alcoholics Anonymous Pp 31-32
Before you start write down the limitations to which you are committing. Write down the amount of time you are trying to keep it under. Write down a dollar amount to which you wish to restrict yourself. Write down the types of behaviors to which you want to limit yourself. Here is an example:
I will masturbate for 20 minutes while viewing only soft-core pornography. I will spend $0 to accomplish this.
If we step over any of these boundaries, even once, it is an indicator that we might have a tendency to slip into the “bubble.” The only solution we can offer is complete abstinence from all selfish sexual behaviors. It is important to know our truth in Step One, even though a spree may take us to behaviors from which society would like us to abstain. Step One is the only Step we must get absolutely right if we wish to find lasting sobriety. If we are able to control our behaviors then the rest is a not an issue.
The consequences of our sprees and binges are what finally bring us to a place where we desire to stop for good and for all. And if the tendency to go on sprees were our only problem then there would be no problem. The alcoholics like to say, “If you don't take the first drink, then you don't get drunk.” If we don't start our selfish sexual behaviors, then we never end up on a spree or binge. So, this is the determining factor as to whether we are addicted or not. As mentioned before, we must first have an internal desire to abstain: abstinence for its own sake, not to bring about another goal, like saving a marriage or job, or staying out of jail. Once we have this internal desire to stop, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous provides us with another test for unmanageability.
As we look back, we feel we had gone on drinking many years beyond the point where we could quit on our will power. If anyone questions whether he has entered this dangerous area, let him try leaving liquor alone for one year. If he is a real alcoholic and very far advanced, there is scant chance of success. Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 34
This is the essential diagnosing factor for addiction: the inability to abstain no matter how great the desire or necessity to do so. Our minds eventually convince us to start again. We inevitably found some trivial excuse, justification or rationalization to start again. We may have thought we were making a conscious decision to begin again, but after the spree we could not understand how we convinced ourselves to try “the insane experiment” again.
Dr. Silkworth put it like this:
Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks-drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous Pp xxviii-xxix 4th Ed.
We found that it was useless to try to use our own defective brains to solve a problem that existed in our own defective brains. There was no quantity of meetings we could attend, no amount of accountability, no approach to therapy, no amount of therapy nor treatment we endured that could remove this obsession. We have minds that convince us that a period of abstinence meant that the problem was solved, that we could control ourselves like other people, that this time would be different. We highly recommend reading the Doctor's Opinion and Chapters 2 & 3 to get a better understanding of the problem from which we suffer.
On the other hand, if you are able to abstain on a non-spiritual basis, which could include just attending meetings, accountability partners, therapy, treatment, medicine, and the like, then we would like to congratulate you. Being able to abstain by human means clearly delineates you as NOT being addicted to sex. We leave you with this warning.
I now remembered what my alcoholic friends had told me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come - I would drink again. Alcoholics Anonymous Pp 41-42
The ability to abstain for good and for all and be happy with that decision for the rest of your life is the earmark of a non-addict. But into the mind of the real sex addict will eventually creep the “lurking notions”, the justifications, rationalizations and excuses to return to our problem behaviors.
If you have diagnosed yourself as a sex addict, if you are out of options (including waiting), if you are desperate and your very life depends on finding a solution, we can offer you this ray of hope: we have found a way that works for us. In it we are happy and free of the obsession. Perhaps it will work for you too.
We realize that sex addicts will not be the only ones who read this page. We wish to offer hope to those affected by another's sex addiction.
Besides, we are sure that our way of living has its advantages for all. Alcoholics Anonymous Pg xiii
Whether you are a sex addict or bound to a sex addict by love or blood, we have a way of living that is a solution to all of our problems. This new and wonderful way of life is available to you also. It starts with contacting us. Providing contact information and initiating this process is the main purpose of this web site.