Males who become addicted to many things have problematic ongoing issues with healthy emotional and sexual intimacy. This is hardly surprising when one understands that these males engage in their addictive behaviors not to have a good time (even if that’s how their use began), but to self-soothe and avoid the pain of life. In other words, these men drink, use, and act out not because they want to feel better, but because they want to feel less. Their ultimate goal is not to party, but to escape and dissociate from life stressors, emotional discomfort, and the pain of unresolved childhood or severe adult trauma. They don’t want to feel anything but numb from the emotional pain that they cannot contain in day to day life.
For the most part, people who are dealing with psychological issues caused by early-life trauma caused by the emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuse typically begin the process of self-medicating their emotional discomfort relatively early in life, most often during adolescence. Usually they rely on addictive substances, but escapist behaviors like masturbation, binging and purging, and other potentially compulsive activities are also common.
Addiction Stalls Emotional Growth
Interestingly, when self-medicating starts, the process of emotional growth stops. In fact, most sexual abuse survivors who are also addicted to a substance or other self-destructing behavior will tell you that when they entered recovery they felt like they were the emotional age of however old they were when they first started drinking, using, or acting out with an addictive behavior. So if a person starts drinking at age 14, that individual will continue relating to people emotionally as a 14-year-old kid would—at least until the process of recovery is well underway and the emotional maturation process can begin anew.
Basically, this person is unable to relate to other adults in a healthy, appropriate way because his addiction started in adolescence and stunted his emotional growth. Of course, there are many individuals who have become addicted,who have intimacy disorders even before the emotional maturation process halts, especially those who are dealing with childhood sexual abuse. Either way, for a surprisingly large number of sexually abused males, substance abuse issues and intimacy disorders travel hand-in-hand.
Sexual Abuse =Substance Abuse and Sex Addiction
Unfortunately, the link between sexual abuse. substance abuse and sexual acting out is drastically under-researched. Nevertheless, it is clear that many males fuse their substance abuse with an intimacy disorder such as sexual addiction, with each behavior reinforcing the other, creating over time a surefire “paired trigger” for relapse. Very often, for people with this dual disorder, the substance of choice is a stimulant like meth or cocaine, primarily because these drugs both lower inhibitions and enable marathon sex. Men will add Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and other erection-enhancing drugs to the mix, for obvious reasons. Males may abuse opiates, benzodiazepines, cold remedies, and other depressants as a way to “come down” when the party finally temporarily ends.
Often these males have extensive histories of substance abuse relapse, nearly always tied to their non-intimate sexual behaviors (porn, casual sex, anonymous sex, prostitutes, and the like). In the past, these individuals have gone into substance abuse treatment centers, but the facilities have not addressed the ways in which sex plays into their drug use. Then, post-treatment, uneducated about the full nature of their addiction, they look for the same type of sexual encounters they’re used to, and before they know it they’ve relapsed with drugs. This is because, for them, drugs and non-intimate sexuality are intricately linked. For these men, drugs and sex are not separate issues. Instead, they are a single, fused addiction. If they’re doing one, they’re almost certainly doing the other.
It’s vital to treat Addiction and any related Intimacy Disorders Concurrently
Even though we recognize that substance abuse and intimacy issues can be linked, and that treating one without treating the other rarely leads to any sort of lasting sobriety, there are very few Substance Abuse and Intimacy Disorders (SAID) programs in Canada. The main difference between what the Habitude Program will offer and what you’ll find at other rehab facilities is a conscious recognition of the ways in which substance abuse issues and intimacy disorders are often interrelated. BIO-PSYCHO-SOCIAL programming for our SAID clients is a common sense approach to physical, emotional, psychological healing and social planning (that includes family education).
Elsewhere, men with this dual addiction issue typically have their sexual behavior minimized or written off as something to be dealt with in their fourth and ninth steps (in a 12-step recovery program). So these individuals, despite their extensive histories of linking drug use with non-intimate sexuality, leave treatment having dealt with only half their problem. Their shame and secrets regarding past and present sexual behaviors are unaddressed, as is education about how they might be able to handle sex in sobriety without relapsing. The Habitude Program takes a more holistic view, recognizing and fully treating the drugs/sex connection, giving the male clients the best possible chance at lasting sobriety and a happier, healthier life. It is necessary for Male Survivors to work with experienced Therapists and an understanding medical team who understand the co-relationship the the substances, sex addiction and abuse in order to build a strong strategic on-going plan for recovery.
Be Realistic about Recovery
Unfortunately, with male survivors the memories don’t ever go away, but with support they can learn to empower themselves most of the time, and understand that because of their traumatic past it is detrimental that they develop tools to keep them safe and grounded. It is also essential that Families have a better understanding of how the abuse has changed their loved one’s DNA and learn how to support them in recovery. This validation, understanding and support is a necessity. The families must engage in helping their loved one to create healthy living plan that includes ongoing support for the rest of their lives. Every family and individual would love the trauma to just go away and for things to be normal and that is just not realistic. A healthy recovery requires a life long commitment and acknowledgement that things are going to be great sometimes and challenging at other times. Many things can be a trigger for a survivor of sexual abuse and for someone overcoming one or more addictions. Understanding the process is important. Don’t get caught up in quick fixes, or pie in the sky ideas. Understanding that things can be measured in various ways and quality of life must not be minimized just because the memories are still present or the cravings still occur from time to time. It may takes months or years to feel semi-normal and is it reasonable to say that today- they are feeling better than yesterday… or they have felt good for weeks and only had one bad day. But on that bad day they did not act out with substances or sex. They are involved in a continuum of care and changing their habits and attitudes one step at a time.