Eric Pierni, a Registered psychotherapist and a Certified Sex Addiction therapist and the Founder of Men Therapy Toronto understands the complexity and challenges of helping men through sexual addiction, “The most difficult paradigm shift for the individual suffering with a sexual addiction is coming to terms with the stark reality that the sexually compulsive behaviours are not the core problem., Pierni states. Millions (yes, millions) of men invest most of their energy focused exclusively on trying to stop their compulsive behaviours, almost always unsuccessfully.”
After years of controversy and near-tragedies, NBA champion Lamar Odom shared something that he had been struggling with for his entire adult life: he’s a sex addict.
Odom told his story in his autobiography, Darkness to Light, and opened up about how his addiction to sex led to him abusing drugs and ultimately caused him to hit rock bottom in 2015. He admitted to sleeping with more than 2000 women and cheating on his ex-wife, Khloe Kardashian, multiple times.
Odom said he realized he had a problem when he found himself watching R rated videos to satisfy his addiction, claiming he’d run out of pornographic movies to view. But it wasn’t until he began taking cocaine that things got truly out of control. He says the sex addiction triggered his substance abuse because the combination resulted in twice the pleasure.
Rock bottom came for Odom when he was found unconscious at Dennis Hof’s Love Ranch, a brothel in Las Vegas. He’d overdosed and fallen into a coma and suffered a number of strokes and heart attacks while unconscious. He also experienced kidney failure.
It took him four years after that incident to go public with his sex addiction. He says he regrets cheating on Kardashian and has described his problem as one that goes beyond infidelity. Kardashian nursed him threw his recovery after the Las Vegas incident even though they were separated at the time and Odom later realized the event was his “wake-up call.”
Sex Obsession was a Lifelong Struggle
Odom admits to being obsessed with sex for as long as he can remember. He refers to himself as an addict and describes how he felt shocked and embarrassed having to deal with his ex’s discovery of his behavior. Odom says he wanted to take it back or hide it, but couldn’t because he had a problem.
He still struggles even though his addiction is currently under control, but Odom knows there is risk. In a recent interview for Parle Magazine in May 2019, He says, “I’m still an addict. I still struggle. But I will not go into darkness… ever again.”
He also acknowledges the link between his sex addiction and his abuse of cocaine. According to medical experts, the two addictions are closely linked. There are cravings and in both cases, people seek pleasure from their behavior.
The feelings of guilt and shame that are a part of sex addiction can lead to depression and some people turn to drugs to cope with that. This act of “self-medicating” helps them feel better temporarily, but it just causes their situation to worsen and they often end up with two addictions. Odom described his experience as a cycle of highs and lows, but also admits he used cocaine to heighten the sexual experience, not just to self-medicate.
Stigma of Sex Addiction
Like most addictions and mental health issues, including those linked to substance abuse, there is a stigma attached to sex addiction.
But with sex addiction, there’s an additional dynamic of shame. Because people who have been caught in compromising situations sometimes use sex addiction as an excuse, so it can be even more difficult for those dealing with a true problem to speak openly about it. They wonder if they’ll be accused of making up an excuse for their bad behavior and not viewed as someone who is truly struggling.
Making matters worse for them, neither sex addiction nor hyper-sexuality are included in the DSM-5, so by many it’s not yet considered a “true” mental illness. Sex addiction is also not on the docket with other disorders deemed to need further research. This makes it tempting for people to dismiss it as a mental health problem or even something real.
Opinions differ among medical professionals about sex addiction, but those who treat people dealing with hypersexual behavior firmly believe it is an addiction issue. And many believe that because sex affects the brain in a similar way as drugs, it’s easy to see how it could become addictive.
According to Robert Weiss, social worker, certified sex addiction therapist, and author of six books on sex and relationship issues, “Both drugs and orgasm flood the brain with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates the brain’s motivation, reward and pleasure response system. That excess dopamine means a high, but that high gets harder to achieve once drug use becomes habitual and the brain gets used to a dopamine surplus.”
Weiss says the mind sees both addictions the same since both build anticipation and release dopamine keeping the person hooked.
As far as Odom, he knows that every day is an opportunity to deal with his challenges. He is currently engaged and he and his fiancé made public their desire to postpone sex until after the wedding.
Eric Pierni of Men Therapy Toronto offers the last word, “The movement from Darkness to Light only formally takes root once there is an acceptance that the compulsive sexuality has been nothing more than a symptom masking significant core wounds. These core wounds, accessed through emotional awareness, are the ultimate gateway to a living with an empowered heart. Recovery is very hard work. However, the alternative is much harder.”