PALM SPRINGS — Sex addiction has emerged as a destructive disorder similar to alcoholism, a researcher reports, and a growing number of Sex Addicts Anonymous groups have formed nationwide to deal with the problem.
An addict is preoccupied with sex from the moment he or she awakes, Dr. Eli Coleman, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, said recently. He said the addicts cannot control themselves and suffer both at home and at work.
"People are addicted to sex in the same way people get addicted to drugs or alcohol," Coleman said in an interview before presenting his findings to the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex.
"Sex has become a way of escape . . . an anesthetic to pain," he said.
Coleman, who has been studying the concept of sex addiction for four years, said there is clearly psychological addiction in such cases, but it is not yet known whether there are physiological components.
He noted there are physiological changes during sexual arousal, and said it is possible that there could be an addiction to the adrenaline that increases during sex.
Coleman said Sex Addicts Anonymous groups started operating about five years ago. He was unsure how many groups there are nationwide, but noted that 500 to 1,000 people belong to about 20 chapters in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area alone.
His research has also shown that a sex addict will go through withdrawal symptoms, which he called "a sexual hangover."
Coleman said the addiction affects men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals.
He said a typical addict is "a professional who is spending much of his day away from his work responsibilities and carrying on six different affairs including his wife.
"He's making the rounds before work, then at lunch and after work. He is spending half of his day planning and the other half concealing his affairs," Coleman said.
He said a sex addict knows his behavior is abnormal, but simply cannot stop.
"Every time they say they're going to end an affair, they either can't do it or they start up another one to replace it."