If you are recovering from a behavioural addiction like sex addiction, you might not expect the intensity of withdrawal symptoms that tend to occur in early recovery. Even though these types of addictions don’t always involve a substance addiction as well, the withdrawal can feel quite similar. Being aware of the symptoms, and patient as you recover, can help you pass this stage.
There are many misconceptions about sex addiction – among the most damaging being that it is not a “real” addiction. The truth is sex addiction is very much a legitimate addiction that requires professional treatment in order to recover and rebuild healthy, safe relationships. Just like recovery from substance addictions, or other behavioural addictions like gambling. For those battling a sex addiction there is a period of withdrawal that must be navigated.
When someone decides to start resisting the pull of addiction, the discomfort of withdrawal begins. Withdrawal happens as the body weans itself off of a dependency and can have intense physical and emotional effects. Being aware of the symptoms of withdrawal, and how to cope with them as you progress in your recovery, leads to better long-term outcomes for healing from your addiction.
What is Sex Addiction?
Sex addiction occurs when the drive to engage in sexual activity is persistent, compulsive and uncontrollable, despite risks and consequences. Sex addiction can involve a variety of sexual activities, including things like viewing pornography, masturbation, and sexual activity with others. Sex addiction may be linked to past trauma, abuse or neglect, or be present in connection to other disorders, and can wreak havoc on a person’s quality of life if it is left untreated.
Some signs that you might be struggling with sex addiction include:
- Constant thoughts of sex and sexual fantasies
- Frequent sexual activity with multiple partners
- Spending substantial amounts of time looking for potential partners, watching porn, or going to sex-related venues
- Neglecting professional or personal responsibilities due to the need to engage in sexual behaviour
- Needing to engage in more frequent or riskier encounters in order to achieve the same gratification
- Feeling guilty or ashamed after sexual encounters, but unable to stop
Identifying Withdrawal Symptoms for Sex Addiction
Sexual gratification naturally causes a surge of dopamine in the brain, a pleasurable neurotransmitter that is similarly triggered by cocaine addiction. Part of what occurs during sex addiction is that the brain’s natural reward system becomes dysregulated and fixates on this dopamine rush. As the brain adjusts to expect unusually-elevated levels of dopamine, this spurs cravings to engage in more frequent sexual behaviour. When you first begin to abstain from sex, these levels fall and play a role in subsequent symptoms of withdrawal.
Though symptoms of sex addiction withdrawal may vary from person to person, common withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Boredom and restlessness
- Intense loneliness
- Mood swings, elevated emotions and hypersensitivity
It is normal to experience symptoms in waves, with one day full of energy and symptom-free, and the next being far more difficult. Though these symptoms can feel overwhelming at times, it is important to remember that they will dissipate over time.
How to Cope with Withdrawal from Sex Addiction
Withdrawal doesn’t last forever, but it can feel like it when you are in the middle of it. You can make it through, but having a variety of tools at your disposal to help soothe your psyche, relieve stress, and deal with triggers increases your resilience and bolsters your recovery.
Make Your Reasons Clear….to Yourself
Sit down and write yourself a letter about why you are choosing to recover. What led you to this place? What have you lost? What do you want moving forward? What do you want life to look like? What kind of relationships do you want to have? Make sure that you are completely clear about why you are on this path. Getting healthy for people that you love is very important, but ultimately you need to be fully connected to the drive to heal and move forward. When you struggle with withdrawal, go back to this letter and remember why you are in this.
Get Outside and Exercise
Whether withdrawal has you feeling an overwhelming amount of anxiety and nervous energy or you are totally floored by lack of energy, exercise can help. Not only does it naturally boost endorphins (and improve your mood in the process), it can also help relieve stress and help you sleep better. Some research has suggested that exercise can reduce cravings for people recovering from addiction. If the gym is a trigger for your addiction, consider taking your exercise outside, where you get the added benefit of sunshine and fresh air.
Addiction crumbles whatever boundaries we previously had, or exploits weak boundaries underdeveloped due to previous trauma or abuse. This is why in recovery it is so important to identify the boundaries you need to set in order to keep yourself safe and healthy. This may include ending toxic relationships, putting content blocks on your phone or internet, and avoiding places that are triggering. It can also mean setting limitations around things that may cause you undue stress. For example, if pressure at work was one factor underlying your addiction, then you’ll need to think of how to structure your time and responsibilities in a healthier way.
Lean on Your Support System
Drink all the coffee, go on all the walks, cook all the dinners – and do it with good company. Addictions are isolating and damaging to the positive relationships we have in our life. Mentally list out the people who love you, look out for you and have your best interests at heart, and spend time with them. Don’t be silent about your struggles – sharing what you are feeling makes it real and helps it heal.
If you are unsure of who to turn to, or you’re trying to cope but are afraid of relapse, talking to a professional addiction specialist is a good next step. A specialist not only offers experienced guidance through the process of recovery, but can also identify positive coping mechanisms specific to your needs and personality. This type of support can make a significant difference in your recovery, and aid in preventing relapse.
Finding Relief at The Dawn
At The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand, we treat every type of addiction as well as co-occurring disorders. The Dawn employs a unique “Twin Pillars” approach to treatment, balancing a programme of effective psychotherapies with regular wellness practices like yoga, meditation, and strength training to address root causes of addiction and heal both the mind and body. Our internationally-trained team of specialists will work closely with you from the moment you arrive to develop a customised treatment plan built towards your needs and goals.
If you are not sure of what to do next for your addiction, call us today to learn more about your next steps and how we can support your sustainable recovery.