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The Connection Between Addiction and Sexuality: Understanding the Risks

Connection Between Addiction and Sexuality

Addiction is defined as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.” Substance use disorder (SUD), also known as addiction, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic brain disorder. While the cause of addiction remains unknown, several risk factors (e.g., environmental risk factors, genetic risk factors, psychological risk factors, socioeconomic risk factors, etc.) have been reported to increase one’s susceptibility to substance use disorder. Addiction is a disease that compels an individual to prioritize satisfying his or her substance cravings above all else. This can wreak havoc in all facets of one’s life, causing a plethora of negative consequences. Addiction, for example, can lead to engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors, which can increase the risk of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, rape and sexual assault, prostitution, and other violent crimes.

Addiction and sexuality are connected because consistently abusing drugs and/ or alcohol can lead to lowered inhibitions, impaired judgment, and promote reckless behaviors. One study investigating the association between peer influence, school attachment, and substance abuse concluded that substance abuse was the best predictor of sexual misconduct. Risky sexual behavior, or high risk sexual behavior, have been defined by researchers as “sexual activities which expose the person to risk of contracting STIs including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), thus affecting their health.” Those who are abusing drugs or alcohol may engage in promiscuous behavior when they are intoxicated. This not only creates an association of being intoxicated with sex, but also intensifies one’s physiological response because neural pathways are being affected by both behaviors. 

The relation between risky sexual behavior and substance use has been hypothesized in either direction, meaning substance use may either precede risky sexual behavior or occur subsequent to it. Studies conducted among teens, as asserted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have identified an “association between substance use and sexual risk behaviors such as ever having sex, having multiple sex partners, not using a condom, and pregnancy before the age of 15 years of age.” Healthy Women reports that teens who abuse prescription drugs are: 

  • 26% more likely to be currently sexually active.
  • 14% more likely to not use protection during sex.
  • 32% more likely to use drugs or alcohol before they have sex.
  • 45% more likely to have four plus previous sexual partners.

Researchers have found that as the frequency of substance use increases, the likelihood of sexual risk and adverse sexual health outcomes also increase. Although the association between high-risk sexual behavior and substance use has been well established, it is important to bear in mind that the connection between addiction and sexuality is complex and multifaceted.

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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