The Brain Chemistry of Sex and Love Addiction
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The idea that sex can be an addiction is new to many people. The term “addiction” has become a popular metaphor to describe any form of self-destructive behavior that one is unable to stop despite known and predictable adverse consequences. For some people, sexual behavior fits that description. It involves frequent self-destructive or high risk activity that is not emotionally fulfilling, that one is ashamed of, and that one is unable to stop despite it causing repeated problems in the areas of marriage, social relationships, health, employment, finances, or the law. Recognition that self-destructive sexual behavior can be an addiction has spawned the rapid growth of four nationwide self-help organizations for persons trying to recover from this problem. All are 12-step recovery programs patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous.
One might ask how sex can be an addiction when it is doing what comes naturally and does not involve abuse of a psychoactive substance like drugs or alcohol. The scientific argument for addiction is based, in part, on recent advances in neurochemistry that suggest we carry within us our own source of addictive chemicals.
When pleasure centers in the human brain are stimulated, chemicals called endorphins are released into the blood stream. Endorphins are believed to be associated with the mood changes that follow sexual release. Any chemical that causes mood changes can be addictive, with repeated exposure altering brain chemistry to the point that more of the chemical is “required” in order to feel “normal.”
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