Addiction & Sexual Health – They Are Linked

By Paige Taylor

While there may be some drugs that initially enhance the sexual experience, even that increase of pleasure is only temporary. Once an addiction begins to take hold, an individual’s sexuality can be deeply affected and in some very negative ways.  People can lose interest in sexual activity altogether or may be unable to perform. There are a few factors that can contribute to the sexual dysfunction caused by addiction.

Addiction Causes Stress and Emotional Turmoil
Even before substance abuse develops into a diagnosable addiction, it can be a problem.  Starting to use drugs or alcohol may be a means of coping with a pre-existing mental disorder, which suggests some difficulty in managing emotions.  This self-medication can make people think they feel better, but the underlying problems are still there. This type of emotional turmoil can squash interest in sex to the point where they may attempt to avoid sexual activity, or ability to truly engage in it.

As someone attempts to hide their substance abuse problem, overall stress can increase.  The individual will be overly concerned with hiding the substance use from family members, friends, and co-workers, which will cause the person to feel more tense and overstressed. A person suffering from too much stress, even where substance abuse isn’t a problem, will be disinterested in sexuality.

There May Be No Time for Sex
The individual may also find that they don’t have enough time in the day for sexual interests between work, social responsibilities, and their substance use. Simply obtaining drugs or alcohol is a very time consuming activity. Even after the substance is obtained, the user will likely spend the rest of that day using the substance and hiding from his or her loved ones. This leaves little or no time for sexual activity, even if the individual doesn’t end up passing out from the effects of the substance use.

In some cases, an addiction can lead to a loss of employment, but that doesn’t leave any more time for sexual activity. Instead, the individual will be busy looking for another source of income, which may ultimately lead them to crime. The added stress of turning to criminal activities can also inhibit interest in sex. They may spend much of their time trying to make money to spend on their habit, so, even if they do have an interest in sexual intercourse, they won’t have the time for it.

Physical Effects of Substance Use
Sexuality can be impacted by the physical effects of addiction or substance use.  For instance, drinking alcohol can make it difficult for men to achieve or maintain an erection. While this is usually a temporary condition, prolonged abuse of alcohol can have lasting effects and may contribute to a more serious type of erectile dysfunction.

The overuse of some drugs can result in a loss of the ability to experience physical sensation or may cause heart-related medical conditions. Opiates in particular can cause an individual to develop pulmonary distress, which inhibits the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the lungs. These are just a few of the issues that can affect one’s physical ability to perform sexually.

Drug Use and Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Unsafe sex practices are common among alcohol and drug addicts opening them up to contracting a number of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.  Gonorrhea, hepatitis, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS are just a few of the diseases to which people become more susceptible through high risk behaviors.

When an individual does contract one of these illnesses, their ability to have sex may be curtailed or prohibited altogether. Many sexually transmitted diseases still cannot be cured. While medication can treat the symptoms of the disease in many cases, it still cannot prevent the individual from spreading the disease.

While substance use may seem to enhance the sexual experience in some cases, it can ultimately have lasting negative effects on one’s sexuality. Both libido and the ability to perform can be affected, causing conditions that may require medical treatment to resolve. This is another reason it’s important to seek treatment for an addiction as soon as possible. If an individual enters recovery early enough, some of these conditions may be reversible.

If you or someone you know needs help in kicking an addition, you may want to start looking at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for some resources near you.

Paige Taylor, Awareness Advocate, The Recovery Village