Dr. David Fawcett
Addictions create consequences that are beyond the imagination of most users when they first experiment with an addictive substance or behavior. Users are initially attracted to these substances or behaviors by the powerful and immediate psychological rewards (including both feelings of pleasure and relief/distraction from emotional discomfort). But when addiction sets in (and even before that), things can rather quickly fall apart. Users eventually and inevitably experience physical, psychological, interpersonal, and spiritual consequences. In previous posts, we discussed physical consequences and psychological impacts. This week, we are focused on interpersonal impacts.
Drug addiction, sex addiction, and sexualized drug use inevitably result in complications between the addict and those around the addict, whether they have an intimate romantic relationship, a family bond, a social relationship, a work relationship, or barely know one another.
One relatively common relational issue involves a loss of the ability to correctly read and interpret social cues. This is especially prevalent in stimulant drug users, but individuals addicted to other substances and to behaviors may also experience this difficulty.
If sex is part of the addiction, interpersonal strife will inevitably arise around the objectification (the sexualization) of other people. Basically, other people are viewed as sexual objects or sexual body parts. Any person encountered by the addict is seen through a sexual filter that strains out that person’s humanity. The fact that the objectified person has thoughts, feelings, and needs are no longer relevant to the addict.
A third interpersonal consequence is related to both the misreading of social cues and the tendency toward objectification. This consequence is a decrease in empathy. Empathy is the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes and experience what they are feeling. Empathy is an essential human quality that allows us to collaborate and cooperate, to love and feel loved, and ultimately to share a sense of connection.
As humans, we are hardwired for empathy, thanks to built-in parts of our brains called mirror neurons, which truly give us the power to feel what other people are feeling. However, drug addiction, sex addiction, and sexualized drug use rob us of this ability. Addicts who enter recovery for these issues almost universally discover that in their current state they lack empathy for the hurtful and often traumatizing effects of their actions.
A final interpersonal consequence of drug, sex, and paired drug/sex addiction is that the addiction becomes the primary relationship for the addict. The addict may have a spouse or children, but ultimately it is the addiction that takes emotional and physical priority. Manipulation, deceit, and rationalization are utilized to protect the addiction – no matter the impact of those behaviors on others.
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If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex, porn, or substance/sex addiction, help is available. Seeking Integrity offers inpatient treatment for sex, porn, and substance/sex addicts, as well as low-cost online workgroups. At the same time, SexandRelationshipHealing.com offers a variety of free webinars and drop-in discussion groups, podcasts, and more.