In mid-July I published a blog discussing a recently released fMRI (brain imaging) study showing that the brain activity of sex addicts, when they are shown pornography, mirrors the brain activity of drug addicts when they are exposed to drug-related imagery. That research strongly suggested that sexual addiction not only exists, but that it manifests in the brain in profoundly similar ways to more readily accepted forms of addiction like alcoholism, drug addiction, and gambling addiction. Publication of this study was highly significant in light of the American Psychiatric Association’s unexplained and unexpected refusal to include Hypersexual Disorder (aka, sexual addiction) in the DSM-5 last year. This despite Harvard Professor Dr. Martin Kafka’s well-researched and elegantly presented argument, commissioned by the APA, in favor of such a diagnosis.
Margaret, a 29-year-old married mother of two preschool aged children, starts in therapy at the insistence of her husband, Jason, who wants her to stop drinking and popping pills. In the first session, she tells you there is nothing wrong with her behaviors, and it’s her husband who’s off-base. “He expects me to be this perfect little 1950s housewife. He doesn’t understand that women like that just don’t exist. I’m only coming to therapy to get him off my back.” And quietly, just before the session ends, she says, “You can refill my valium prescription, right?”
Best friends Eric and Thomas are 14 years old. They are from upper-middle-class families. They make good grades, play sports, and are getting interested in girls. At their eighth grade graduation Thomas tells Eric that his older brother has invited them to an end-of-school party. They know they’re only being invited so Thomas won’t rat on his brother for being at a party where kids are drinking, but they don’t care because they’re invited to their first-ever high school party. As a further inducement to silence, Thomas receives a bottle of rum from his older sibling.
If you’ve got kids or grandchildren, you know that they love technology. They’ve got televisions, gaming consoles, and laptops in their bedrooms, pads and tablets in their book-bags, iPods and smartphones in their pockets. And wherever they are, whenever they are, no matter how old they are, they are probably using one or more of these devices. In fact, one well-researched study estimates that children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend 11.5 hours per day using various forms of digital technology. Since most kids are awake only 15 or 16 hours per day, somewhere between 71 and 76 percent of the typical young child’s day is digital. And, let’s face it, this 24/7 tech-fest usually kicks in well before the study’s low-end cutoff age of 8.
Addiction: The Myth
Addicts are very easy to spot. They are those dirty, smelly, unkempt men hanging out under bridges, in front of convenience stores, in back alleys, and in all the other unsavory places that “healthy” people never go. Addicts sleep in the gutter. Addicts get arrested a lot. Addicts are completely estranged from their families. Addicts definitely do not have jobs. Nor do they have friends.
Addiction: The Reality
Only about 10 percent of addicts fall into the easily identified “low bottom” stereotype described above. The other 90 percent are people that most of us deal with in our day-to-day lives, often regularly, without our knowing about their addiction. This is because the vast majority of addicts work very hard to hide their problem, be it alcoholism, drug addiction, or a behavioral addiction like eating, shopping, gambling, or sex. The simple truth is most addicts are functional for long periods of time, maintaining jobs and even marriages while keeping their problem relatively hidden.
Who is the Addict?
Devon is 22 years old. He started drinking alcohol and smoking pot in his early teens. At first this was a way to socialize, but soon he was isolating in his bedroom with the door locked – getting high, listening to music, and playing video games. His grades dropped, he fell away from his friends, and he lost interest in sports, girls, and other activities. Now he has no money, his family is no longer willing to support his drug habit, and the only people he hangs out with are also heavy drug users.
Jane is 51 years old and married. She first went to a casino while in Las Vegas on her second honeymoon at the age of 49. There, she sat with her new husband Jon at the blackjack table placing $2 bets with him, laughing and joking whether they won or lost. After the honeymoon Jane and Jon returned to the East Coast and he went back to his demanding job, leaving her alone at home during the day. To pass the time she started playing online poker. Before she knew it, she was gambling all the time, ignoring both the household and Jon. Recently, Jon learned that she had depleted their retirement accounts and run up $100,000 in credit card bills. Now he’s threatening to leave her.
Interestingly, Devon’s family knows exactly what to do with him. They want to send him to rehab for substance abuse treatment. Whether Devon is willing to go, and to participate in recovery once there, is another story entirely, and one that is outside the scope of this blog. The point is that it’s clear to everyone (including Devon) that he is an addict and needs outside assistance if he’s ever going to get his life on track. On the other hand, Jane’s husband Jon is completely at a loss. He just can’t understand what has happened to the bright, funny, smart, and sensible woman he married. The best plan he can come up with is to tell her, “If you don’t stop wasting money, I’m leaving you.”
Dan Griffin is a mental health and addictions treatment specialist working in Minneapolis, MN. He has been in the field for nearly 20 years. Currently he does fulltime training, consulting with treatment programs throughout the country, primarily about re-conceptualizing and redesigning treatment for men. At the inaugural Males, Trauma, and Addiction Summit in May of 2013, Dan helped craft the Eight Agreements regarding males, trauma, and addiction treatment. Additionally, he is the author of A Man’s Way through the Twelve Steps, and co-author, with Stephanie Covington and Rick Dauer, of Helping Men Recover, the first trauma-informed curriculum to specifically deal with men’s unique issues and needs. I recently spoke with Dan about his groundbreaking work, and I wanted to share his thoughts here. This is part two of a two-part blog. Part one, focusing on trauma, can be found here. This second portion talks more about male sexuality and addressing that concept in treatment.
Dan Griffin is a mental health and addictions treatment specialist working in Minneapolis, MN. He has been in the treatment world for nearly 20 years. Currently he does fulltime training, consulting with major addiction treatment programs, primarily about re-conceptualizing and redesigning treatment to suit the specialized needs of men. At the inaugural Males, Trauma, and Addiction Summit in May of 2013, Dan helped craft the Eight Agreements regarding males, trauma, and addiction treatment. Additionally, he is the author of A Man’s Way through the Twelve Steps, and co-author, with Stephanie Covington and Rick Dauer, of Helping Men Recover, the first trauma-informed curriculum to specifically deal with men’s unique issues and needs. I recently interviewed Dan about his groundbreaking work, and I wanted to share his thoughts here. This is part one of a two-part post.
Some readers may remember the film Shame, released in 2011. Shame was a gritty portrayal of an active sex addict (Michael Fassbender). The movie was wonderfully accurate in its depiction of sexual addiction. However, because it only showed an active addict at his nadir, it was somewhat difficult to watch, even for sex addicts. And non-addicted viewers often walked away shocked and appalled by what they’d seen. Now we have a new sex and love addiction themed film, Thanks for Sharing, released last weekend. Rather than focusing on active addiction, Thanks for Sharing examines the next step in the process – recovery, sobriety, and the pathway toward sexual/romantic health. Happily, the film is every bit as accurate in its portrayal as Shame was – quite a feat when one considers how generally misunderstood sexual and romantic disorders are – while also being entertaining and easy to watch.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that many addicts in early recovery are challenged by the need to invigorate and grow healthy relationship intimacy of all types (sponsors, friends, family, etc.) After all, alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases of isolation, secrecy, and dissociation. In other words, people who consistently abuse substances do so not because they’re looking to connect and engage; rather, they do so to escape from the discomfort of life and relationships. Think of the alcoholic who is miserable socializing at a party until he is drunk enough to put the proverbial lampshade on his head, becoming everyone’s best pal and the life of the party. Of course, by the time he looks and feels like he is finally relating to the other people there, he is completely unavailable to do so.