Sex Addiction Cycle
In one of our Question and Answer calls, we had an individual call in to share their personal story.
‘After two to three months clean, sober, I relapsed for two, three weeks.
I thought I was okay but it turns out I was cocky, and arrogant, about my victory over porn.
I now realize that I must adopt the addict or alcoholic stance. That is that I am, and always will be, a porn addict, who must be humble and admit his weakness, if I am truly to control the urge.
I’m doing well now but I know nothing is for sure.
I must work on this every day, and I will for a long, long time, if not forever. ‘
We get so excited when we hear comments like this and we commend this individual for their statement. It truly shows that they’ve surrendered to the process of mastery and healthy living.
Predisposed to Addiction
Human beings, by nature, have a part of our brain that is predisposed to addiction. It‘s called the limbic system. This mid-brain that we have has three prime directives:
- avoid pain
- seek pleasure
It is amoral. This part of our brain does not have values. It doesn‘t think, it doesn‘t process information on a higher level. That‘s the job of our prefrontal cortex. It’s what separates us as a species from all other species.
We do have another part of the brain that houses values, morals, higher functioning – the thinking brain.
These two parts of the brain are constantly striving to work together to create a healthy life. When the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex get out of sync, there‘s conflict within our system. As human beings, we‘re born with a brain that is keeping us alive. We go into cycles. For example, every night you go to sleep your brain goes into the cycles of sleep.
You wake up brush your teeth, and probably brush your teeth the same way every day. You become very comfortable in your cycles and this part of the brain is keeping us alive by nature. This part of your brain, the limbic system, can also take a substance or material and begin to prioritize whatever that behavior or substance is, as necessary to survival, based upon what ‘IT‘, perceives as giving it the highest ability to overcome pain quickly.
Here’s a question I want you to answer:
If I‘m tired I should….? (Fill in the blank)
Most people would probably say, ‘Sleep‘.
If you said, ‘Drink a caffeinated beverage‘, you’re probably addicted to caffeine.
If I’m tired and I should get sleep, if I try caffeine, all of a sudden my brain says, ‘Oh. I don’t need to sleep right now‘.
A chemical has infused adrenals and whatever else my brain produces through caffeine that gives me a temporary sensation that I am not sleepy. Nothing’s changed. I haven’t all of a sudden taken a nap or done something different. I’ve just drank a substance.
It’s a drug that’s creating or exciting my brain enough to keep it awake.
With this example, our limbic system, or that three-stage (survival, avoid pain, seek pleasure), now says, ‘
Hmm..Next time I‘m tired, (BOOM!)I will be triggered to drink a caffeinated beverage‘.
That doesn’t mean I’m always going to. I could say,
‘You know what, I should really take a nap.‘
And that would be me processing a trigger in a healthy way and taking a nap, instead of drinking a caffeinated beverage which science has shown, over time can have harmful effects on our body.
I’m not here preaching against caffeine; I drink my coke every once in awhile and my wife teases me for that.
She says, ‘
You‘re a therapist with a caffeine addiction.‘ (laughing) ‘
I would respond with something like this,
Ohh my gosh. I haven’t drank caffeine for three months, I can stop any time.’
Are you listening to yourself in your own behaviors?
Are you justifying things?
Are you owning them?
One Time Is Too Many; 1000 Times Is Not Enough
In the comment made at the very beginning of this article, they said they got so confident in their sobriety that they thought, they were good and can do this and stop any time’.
What happens is those pathways and those new addictive cycles that have been created inside your limbic system will jump-start right back again.
After that very first slip, after you‘ve been sober for three months, you go into a two-week relapse cycle because your brain is trying to feed on that addictive pattern that it once participated in. Those triggers come back and the relapse and the withdrawal cycle starts back up again.
The Sex Addiction Epic Battle
What addicts learn is that one time truly is too many and a thousand is never enough for the limbic system. The limbic system is never going to say,
‘Yeah that’ s enough. We can process this morally’.
That’s the prefrontal cortex’s job!
What happens is the limbic system and the prefrontal start clashing and battling each other.
The prefrontal cortex is saying, ‘Stop using. This is harmful!’.
The limbic system says, ‘Shut up! I need to survive.’
The limbic system will start literally shutting down the prefrontal cortex so that it can get what it perceives as a healthy behavior – or, not even healthy, a survival behavior, and that’s how addiction develops.
I’m Not Strong Enough
When we as human beings can say, ‘You know what? I’m simply not strong enough to participate in certain behaviors’, It’s a good thing.
I watch individuals who become alcoholics and I simply say to myself, ‘I don’t even want to try a drink. I come from a family with alcoholics so there’s a high chance that I’m going to be one, if I start drinking. I don’t even want to tempt my limbic system to start perceiving that as a survival need.’
Once you have developed an addiction, it really becomes important to surrender to that fact that you are going to be triggered, that it could hit you at any time.
Stay engaged in activities that will keep you sober.
Utah Family Therapy is located in American Fork, UT and helps individuals struggling with sex addiction find sobriety and hope in their life. If you live outside of Utah, call us 801.901.0279 to learn about the options we have for you.