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Is Sex Addiction Real?

Addiction or Not? continued...

The causes are also unknown, or how similar it is to other addictions. That's one reason that Reid prefers the term hypersexual disorder (HD).

"We don't know if the [brain] mechanisms associated with HD behavior operate the same ways as a substance disorder or pathological gambling," Reid says.

Reid says HD behavior can appear similar to those associated with obsessive compulsive disorder. It also could be tied to abnormal levels of the brain chemical dopamine or serotonin. Or, problems related to attention, impulse control, or emotional regulation could also be involved.

"There are so many models or theories that we can look at to help us understand HD," Reid says. "An addiction model is just one of them."

Treating Hypersexual Disorder

There isn't much research on what treatments work best. Reid encourages his patients to challenge the thoughts that lead to their risky behavior.

"If a patient says he has a craving and he can't control it, I confront the 'can't,'" Reid says. "I ask, 'What's going to happen if you don't satisfy that craving? Is your penis going to fall off? No.' I try to get the patient to see things more realistically."

One-on-one counseling, support groups, and having a plan are key.

"You want to make connections with other people who are also struggling, and you have to know who you are going to call, what you are going to do, and how you are going to attend to your feelings," O'Neill says. "If they're willing to really follow through, work with their families and their support networks, in my experience, people can get significantly better and stay in recovery."

In some cases, medications used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder or impulse control disorders may be used to curb the compulsive nature of the sex addiction.

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Reviewed on March 27, 2013

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