Picture a woman kneeling down to measure a hem.  This sight could cause a sex addict to have immediate and raging fantasies about prostitutes and oral sex.  A temptation for a sex addict often involves a cue that creates a powerful drive toward their addictive behavior.  New research findings offer possible ways to understand how sexual cues work.

The sexual cue need not be sexual.  It is not the suggestive image on a screen or the stripper in front of you.  It is what leads up to that.  It is often the sight of the computer itself, or the act of driving down the street where the strip club is. For women addicts it can be putting on make-up and trying on clothes.

To understand temptation in addiction and relapse we look at the experiences that have come to be associated with the rewarding addictive behavior.

Addiction-prone rat

Studies reviewed in Monitor on Psychology (October 2012, Vol. 43, No. 9 “Overcoming Temptation”) have shown that some lab rats react much more strongly to the cue itself (in this case the thing that precedes food) than other rats.  The behavior of these more addictive rats is the result of a rapid spike in dopamine the neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s reward center.

The researchers term this a “dopamine-dependent motivational process.”  Other rats are not so fixated on the cue and keep their eye out for the ultimate goal, the food.  The researchers report that the “sign-tracking” rats as they call them are more prone to addictions and maladaptive behavior.

Sex addiction “rituals”

Addiction therapists have long been aware of the power of signs and cues, the power that everything leading up to the “acting out” behavior exerts over the sex addict.   This sequence of experiences is referred to as the addict’s “ritual.”  It can be deliberately executed or stumbled into.

The ritual serves to pave the way for the sexual behavior by putting the addict into a kind of trance.  In this state of detachment from reality the addict forgets about the risks or consequences involved in the behavior and can act out more easily.

Tools for avoiding temptation

  • Identify and avoid the things that are “fused” with your addictive behavior.  If you drink when you go to prostitutes, if you smoke when you watch internet porn, anything you typically do in combination with sexual acting out can be a trigger.  You will have to give up the one thing in order to recover from the other.
  • Be aware of your ritual and change your routine.   If you typically go to a certain store or coffee shop before you go home and binge on internet porn, don’t go to those places.  If you get into prostitutes or hook-ups when you are on business trips, take precautions to do things that will change the pattern.
  • Beware of what recovery people call “half measures.”  This can be allowing yourself mini-behaviors that are not as severe as some others of your sexual behaviors but are part of your addictive picture.  Giving yourself a hint of your acting out behavior is giving yourself a sexual trigger.
  • Use your mindfulness skills.  Practice the ability to look closely at how you are feeling.  This involves stopping and allowing a few seconds in which to reflect; even one second will give you the chance to get off auto-pilot!  You may notice that you feel anxious, that you want to do something to relax.  If that something is a part of the lead-up to sexual acting out then you can decide to change course.

Basically, you want to be the rat that is goal-directed (less addictive) rather than the rat that gets obsessed with the reward signals along the way.  That way you get to be in control instead of that spurt of dopamine in your brain.  Oh, and by the way the research study also found that the rats that were more susceptible to addiction were more often those that had experienced stressful or inadequate early life environments, in other words trauma.  Sound familiar?

 







    Last reviewed: 29 Oct 2012

APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2012). Avoiding Sexual Temptation: New Research and Some Practical Tips. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex-addiction/2012/10/avoiding-sexual-temptation-new-research-and-some-practical-tips/

 




Check Out Linda Hatch's books,
Relationships in Recovery & Living with a Sex Addict.


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