Last week, I shared how substance abuse is connected to love and sex addiction. [Read Substance Abuse Addiction or Love & Sex Addiction, which came first?] As mental health providers, we need to be more intentional about treating substance abuse without assessing and treating love and sex addiction, which is no longer acceptable. In my experience, I’ve discovered not all but the majority of men and women who struggle with substance abuse also struggle with knowing how to have healthy relationships.
This week, I also want my colleagues and clients to understand there is still more. Not only do substance abuse addicts struggle with love and/or sex addiction, but many also struggle with intimacy anorexia. Few of my colleagues understand sex addiction, and even fewer understand intimacy anorexia.
In my research and statistics of individuals and couples who come to our office to receive help for love and/or sex addiction, 64 percent of them also struggle with intimacy anorexia. [Read the article What Sex Addiction Treatment is Missing]. That is 6 out of every 10 individuals. The majority of the time as we are trying to help sex and love addicts, we are only dealing with half of the problem, as the other half is intimacy anorexia.
Many of my clients who struggle with alcohol, cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, marijuana, methamphetamines, oxides, prescription pain killers, steroids, synthetics, as well as social acceptable drugs like tobacco, caffeine, and sugar don’t realize how they have connected their substance to their sexual behaviors and personal relationships. This connection is generally not a positive but a negative. For example, an addict and their significant other enjoy drinking alcohol, but alcohol has been associated with promiscuity or flirting. As long as one or both are not drinking, the relationship is relatively functional. However, when the alcohol starts, the couple has a very contentious relationship full of distrust, hurtful words, and behaviors.
Many struggling with substance abuse also struggle with isolation or an inability to share their thoughts and feelings. They may be introverted, depressed, filled with social anxiety or self-criticism with secrets involving shame and guilt, which are all indicators of intimacy anorexia. Does intimacy anorexia feed the substance abuse, or did the substance abuse manifest the intimacy anorexia?
Some of my readers may be unfamiliar with intimacy anorexia, so I recommend you read the following blogs: Warning Signs you are in a Relationship with and Intimacy Anorexic and So you Married and Intimacy Anorexic.
The basic understanding is that intimacy anorexia is not a starvation of food but a starvation of love in a monogamous or marital relationship. The intimacy anorexic has an addiction to safety or keeping themselves at distance to prevent themselves from getting hurt. They have built a fortress around their heart. The only access inside this thick stone wall is yet another thick door with the doorknob and a lock on the inside. No one is getting in unless they let you in. They have been hurt by others and believe no one can be trusted. The only person who can keep them safe where others have failed is themselves.
When I teach this to individuals and couples who struggle with substance abuse issues, it is amazing to see the lights come on, as they begin to connect the dots between their use of drugs and their history of failed relationships and now intimacy anorexia. To their surprise, they also begin to realize that they are now the only problem in the relationship. Many addicts who struggle with substance abuse struggle with acting out with sex, but then realize they are married to an intimacy anorexic.
Not all substance abuse addicts are intimacy anorexics; however, they may have been subconsciously attracted to or married an intimacy anorexic. It is not uncommon for a love or sex addict to marry an intimacy anorexic. The addict begins to get well, and the partner or spouse begins to accuse and blame the addict to keep the spotlight on them. The intimacy anorexic is very good at making the substance abuse partner look like the crazy one. They will convince many clinicians or fire those who turn on or confront them. It is not uncommon to also have a couple in which both are intimacy anorexics, relationally and sexually dysfunctional.
Inpatient and outpatient substance abuse programs need to be aware of and educate themselves not only about sex and love addiction but also the issue of intimacy anorexia. It is a very real condition. Once defined and identified for the client, the typical response is, “Why hasn’t anyone ever told me about this? This answers so many questions about myself and my spouse. We need more information on this. This is so helpful.”
Many naysayers tell me; “Cory, you are just into pop psychology. We are evidence based. Intimacy anorexia is not found in the DSM.” Well, neither is love addiction, nor sex addiction. How many decades did it take for alcohol addiction to be recognized by the DSM? What are we to do to with gaming, social media, and technology addictions? Keep up DSM. Let’s think outside the box. Clinicians need practical tools to help real people in real pain.
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.