Sex addiction, while not officially listed in the DSM, is a condition characterized by an excessive preoccupation with sexual thoughts and behaviors that continues despite risks and negative consequences. Withdrawal from sex addiction involves a range of symptoms, both physical and psychological, as affected people cope with the cessation of these compulsive behaviors.
Therapy Utah offers support from trained and licensed therapists with specific experience helping people overcome sex addiction and move forward with their lives. Below, we list five common symptoms to help you and your loved ones recognize withdrawal from sex addiction so that you can find targeted and effective strategies for addressing its challenges.
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Emotional Instability or Mood Swings
A person might feel unusually irritable or angry when unable to engage in sexual behavior or view pornography, which previously served as a coping mechanism for stress. Mood swings can be more pronounced during withdrawal as the individual no longer has the same outlet for emotional regulation.
- Frequent shifts between emotional states like anger, fear, anxiety, and irritability.
- Feelings of depression, loneliness, or dissatisfaction with life (dysphoria).
Increased Anxiety or Panic Attacks
Situations that previously triggered a sexual response might now cause anxiety or panic, such as being alone with a computer or smartphone. This increased anxiety is a direct result of the brain’s craving for the dopamine release associated with sexual activity, which it is no longer receiving.
- Heightened feelings of stress and overthinking.
- Physical manifestations like muscle stiffness and headaches.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
Insomnia might occur as the individual struggles with an overactive mind, possibly filled with obsessive thoughts about sexual encounters or activities. Sleep disturbances often reflect the psychological turmoil and the body’s physical response to the lack of habitual sexual activity.
- Issues such as insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
- Disruptions in sleep quality, including sex-related dreams.
Physical Discomfort or Unexplained Aches
Physical discomfort, such as headaches or muscle tension, can arise in situations where the individual would have previously sought sexual release. These physical symptoms can be manifestations of the body’s stress response to the absence of its usual coping mechanism (i.e., sexual behavior).
- General feelings of being mentally and physically exhausted.
- Specific physical pains, potentially in muscle joints or even the genitals.
Intense Cravings or Obsessive Thoughts about Sexual Behavior
An individual may find themselves consumed with thoughts of past sexual encounters or planning future ones, especially in settings or times where they used to engage in sexual activities. These cravings and obsessive thoughts are akin to those experienced in other forms of addiction, where the brain seeks the ‘high’ it used to receive from the addictive behavior.
- Persistent sexual thoughts and urges.
- Cravings for sexual behavior or related activities like viewing pornography.
Managing the Symptoms of Sex Addiction Withdrawal: Coping in Healthy Ways
In addition to seeking help from therapeutic professionals, there are several steps people can take on their own to manage the effects of withdrawal from sex addiction. Here’s what we recommend:
Developing a Relapse Prevention Plan
- Identify Triggers: Recognize situations, emotions, or people that increase the urge to engage in sexual behavior.
- Have a Response Strategy: Plan how to respond when faced with triggers, such as calling a supportive friend or engaging in a distracting activity. For additional information, listen to the Real Talk Recovery podcast with Brannon Patrick, a Therapy Utah co-founder and leading voice in the field of sex addiction.
Engaging in Healthy Activities
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can help reduce stress and produce positive mood-boosting endorphins.
- Hobbies and Interests: Pursue hobbies or learn new skills to redirect focus and gain a sense of achievement.
Establishing Healthy Boundaries
- Avoid High-Risk Situations: Steer clear of environments or individuals that may tempt or pressure you into old behaviors.
- Communicate Boundaries: Clearly communicate your needs and limits to those around you, including friends and family. Learn more about why saying “no” is OK.
Staying Focused on Recovery Goals
- Set Short-Term and Long-Term Goals: Establish achievable objectives that guide your recovery journey.
- Celebrate Milestones: Acknowledge and celebrate progress, no matter how small, to stay motivated.
Maintaining a Support Network
- Build Your Circle: Surround yourself with people who understand and support your recovery. Group therapy can give you access to a community of people who understand what you’re going through and connect you to thought leaders in the field of sex addiction recovery.
- Stay Connected: Regularly communicate with your support network for encouragement and accountability.
When to Seek Professional Help
You can’t do it all by yourself, and you don’t have to. Learning when to approach qualified mental health professionals is the first step to getting the tools and strategies you need to overcome sex addiction. Here’s what to look for:
Recognizing Severe Symptoms
- Disruption in Daily Life: When symptoms significantly interfere with work, relationships, or daily activities.
- Persistent Physical Symptoms: Ongoing physical discomfort or health issues related to withdrawal.
Mental Health Concerns
- Severe Mood Disturbances: Extreme mood swings, depression, or anxiety that are difficult to manage.
- Suicidal Thoughts: Any thoughts of self-harm or suicide warrant immediate professional intervention.
Inability to Manage Withdrawal Alone
- Relapse: Frequent relapses or inability to abstain from sexual behavior despite efforts.
- Overwhelming Cravings: When cravings become too intense to handle without assistance.
The Journey to Wellbeing with Therapy Utah
Recovery is a long-term process that involves developing coping mechanisms, identifying and managing stressors, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Strong support networks, including therapy with mental health professionals, is integral to successful recovery.
At Therapy Utah, we work to find an appropriate therapeutic match for each client so that you can build a productive connection with your therapist and create effective strategies for achieving your recovery based on mutual respect. Trust, warmth, and empathy have been shown to lead to better outcomes for therapy clients—even when confronting challenges as potentially severe as sex addiction.
Contact us to schedule an intake that will match you or a loved one with a therapist whose methods and communication style will be compassionate and productive. Recovering from sex addiction is possible—and we’re here to help.