Over the years, it has been my observation that many, if not most, men who struggle with alcohol are also sex addicts. This is not only my observation, as it is also the admission of many of my recovering alcoholics that I work with who are being treated for sex addiction. The majority of alcoholics do not address their sex addiction until years after or even decades into their alcohol treatment. Rarely do I have a client who willingly addresses sexual addiction before his alcoholism.
Drug and alcohol abuse are much more socially acceptable than sexual indiscretions. This is true for both genders. Sexual addiction carries much more social shame and misunderstanding. Many people think of sex addicts as pedophiles, which the majority of the time is not true, as most sex addicts are not pedophiles. Now, a pedophile can be a sex addict, which is often more true, as they have trained their sexual appetite biochemically to minors. Pedophiles can be alcoholics or drug addicts as much as an alcoholic or drug addict can be a pedophile.
There are always exceptions; however, I believe that many alcoholics were sex addicts before they were ever alcoholics. Most boys start masturbating long before they start drinking alcohol. I see this becoming true for girls as well. Most children grow up discovering their sexuality accidentally, intentionally with others, or on their own. It may have been introduced by someone else in a healthy or unhealthy traumatic way, which can be very painful and shaming.
Even in a best case scenario, such as one innocently discovering their sexuality on their own with excitement and good feelings from masturbation, they can still experience shame. They may experience shame from parents who never speak about sexuality or from overhearing parents talk about how bad and dirty sex is. They may feel shame thinking and feeling their sexuality is also bad and dirty, yet it feels so good. The child then begins to develop beliefs about sex and their own sexuality that might be opposite of the good feelings masturbation can create causing confusion.
As time passes and the child now becomes a teen, most move from innocent masturbation for a physical release to masturbating to images or pornography. After hundreds, if not thousands, of episodes rehearsed in their mind, they begin sexual encounters with others, because what you think about is what you become. During this time, shame continues to grow, because the sexual behavior is in more conflict with the child’s core beliefs and values. Peer pressure reinforces them to continue in the behavior. Head, heart and behaviors are all in conflict. Anxiety and depression begin to grow if it has not already. The teenager has to change the behavior to match their core beliefs or change their beliefs about sex and sexuality to match their behavior.
Alcohol is discovered which “fixes” this problem, as it allows them to betray themselves by becoming numb to their core beliefs, which makes it easier to get their sexual appetite or addiction satisfied. Not only is alcohol a social lubricant, it is a value and core belief lubricant which temporary allows the person to change values and core beliefs to match the desired sexual behavior. However, it medicates the shame which begins to grow even larger. For a brief moment with the help of alcohol, head, heart and behaviors all slip into unison.
Now, the teenager is an adult who is married with children. The alcohol becomes the scapegoat for all infidelity, which makes sense as it always occurs before infidelity. “The alcohol made me do it. I was intoxicated. I don’t remember. I blacked out.” Now, the adult is identified as an alcoholic. Sexual history and behaviors are minimized if ever discussed at all. The alcoholic may now have years of sobriety but cannot figure out why masturbation, pornography, and the desire for other sexual partners has not resolved itself.
The next step for many in alcohol treatment programs is to better address human sexuality and start having a conversation about this issue. They may need to consider a new paradigm, a new way of thinking so that the addict might be driven by the sex addiction to drink rather than the alcohol driving the sexual addict to have sex. In essence, “My sexual addiction drove me to drink.”
To do so, we are going to have to create a safer environment for alcoholics to freely share their sexual history without judgement or shame from others. Begin taking a sexual history inventory as a key and more central part of recovery. We need to better educate programs and leaders about human sexuality that has good quality information not misinformation with an agenda. Sex and sexuality is one of the most talked about issues of our day yet least understood. We need to start being honest with ourselves that this a problem in many programs. In order for change to occur, we have to admit that we need help.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.