Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

The Apocryphal Debate About Sex Addiction

A debate carried out in the wrong terms turns crazy

Is he real?
As the person who created the debate about love and sex addiction with my book Love and Addiction (which I published in 1975 with Archie Brodsky), I am delighted by the apocryphal debate that is now taking place around the term-concept "sex addiction."

As I made (tried to make) clear in L&A—and following it The Meaning of Addiction (1985)—the science of addiction does not mean chasing the holy grail of a brain mechanism with the label "addiction" on it.  This has never been possible.  It will never be possible.  The pursuit of this vessel will always find that it's made of fool's gold.

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Here's the way it goes.  Someone does a brain scan of likely candidates for sexual (or any other kind of) addiction, and says, "Look—they have reactions in the part of the brain that shows addiction."  Or, "Look, they don't have reactions in the part of the brain that shows addiction."

There IS NO part of the brain that shows addiction, and no one in the world believes that there is. How do I know this?  Because 0 human beings in the world are diagnosed/placed in rehab because of an MRI.  Nothing in DSM-5 in relation to SUDs (substance use disorders) or behavioral addictions relates to brain scans—but only to EXPERIENCED dysfunctions. (And don't get me started on how the DSM-5 addiction committee first says, "gambling is a real addiction because of the brain"/"it's a behavioral addiction beause we don't think it's real like heroin addiction.")

Brain-disease-sex-addict self-debater Benoit Denizet-Lewis presents himself as the best example of how addictive sex is because of how crazily he pursued sex.  But, in order to establish himself as an addiction expert, he first bowed down to all the crappy brain research that said addiction is a "real" brain disease on the verge of being cured by a pill. 

(That was in 2006 -- but give it a few more months/years/decades/eons and you'll be able to get something over the counter to avoid trysts at New Jersey Turnpike rest stops.  Of course, neurologist Richard Restak said we were on the verge of curing addiction with the discovery of the endorphins in 1977.  But give it a few more months/years/decades/eons.)

Here is the epitome of the fake argument now going on about sex addiction, in Time Healthland (in re, of course, Anthony Weiner):

Weiner himself has not accepted the label of sex addict, but the candidate’s behavior meets a fundamental criterion for addiction: his exhibitionist acts continued despite negative consequences. It’s hard to imagine a better example of compulsive repetition: although he lost his job and put his marriage, family and entire political future at risk, the former Congressman nonetheless engaged again in the exact type of online behavior that brought him to public humiliation.

Even so, it’s still not clear whether sexual compulsions qualify as an addiction. The latest study argued that they don’t, because hypersexual people process sexual cues just like normal people do— and differently from the way addicts respond to drug cues. But the question is far from resolved.  And whatever you want to call the issue, Weiner still has a problem, since compulsions can be just as disruptive as addictions, and equally difficult to overcome.

Did you get it?  Sex isn't an addiction, but a destructive compulsion.

Okay, I'll say it once, and then you can ignore it and go on fighting in the streets over "great taste"/"less filling."

Addiction exists at the experiential level.  There is nothing more scientific about how attached people become to an addictive object—yes, heroin and alcohol included right along with sex, eating, video games, and shopping—than to understand how subjectively captivating and powerful it is for them.

Quoting Bugs Bunny, "That's all folks!"—meaning, this experiential analysis (and all the factors that contribute to it) IS the science of addiction.

Follow Stanton on Twitter and his Life Process Program

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

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