Impact of Addiction on Intimacy and Sexual Relationships
People who abuse substances often struggle with intimacy issues. Find out how recovery can help patients overcome these issues & build healthier relationships.
Intimacy and Addiction
Alcohol and drug abuse is the source of many problems for those who engage in this behavior. One of the earliest casualties from substance abuse will be intimacy. It is just not possible for people to abuse mind altering substances and maintain healthy relationships. As the individual falls deeper into addiction it will completely take over their life, and there will be no room for anyone else. The person falls into delusion and self absorption, and they will stay that way until they manage to escape their addiction. Once they enter recovery they will need to work hard in order to regain the ability to be intimate and enjoy healthy sexual relationships.
The word intimacy comes from a Latin word meaning inner. It can be defined as particularly close interpersonal relationships that usually involve both physical and emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy can vary in degree and it refers to the closeness that people feel for one another. Physical intimacy most often refers to sexual and romantic contact. An intimate relationship is said to include a number of elements such as:
* Each individual will have extensive knowledge about the other person.
* Those in an intimate relationship will feel affection and care for each other.
* There will be an expectation that the relationship will continue long term.
* An intimate relationship may mean that those involved think in terms of us rather than me.
* Those involved in such a relationship will be committed to each other.
* There is an expectation that the other partner will treat them fairly.
* They share many beliefs, experiences, and opinions – this is referred to as mutuality.
Importance of Intimacy
Intimacy is an important aspect of being human because:
* It is through intimacy that an individual gets to more fully understand who they are. This closeness with another person allows people to get in touch with who they really are.
* One of the most common reasons for why marriages and other romantic relationships break up is that there is a lack of intimacy. When relationships do not have this closeness they can feel stale and unfulfilling – it is often only one partner who notices that the relationship is lacking in intimacy.
* Intimacy can be a vital component of the spiritual path. It may not be possible to progress very far in spiritual terms if people feel closed off from others.
* Such relationships provide much needed support for the individual. They understand that they do not have to face life on their own.
* Self absorption can lead to a great deal of suffering. By becoming intimate with another human the individual is breaking down their own barriers and turning their focus away from themselves.
* People will tend to feel that something is missing in their life if they do not have an intimate sexual relationship. Promiscuous sex without this feeling of closeness can be a hollow substitute.
* If people lack intimacy in their life it can leave them feeling incomplete. When people suffer from this type of loneliness they are at risk of the symptoms of depression, and they may turn to maladaptive behaviors for solace.
* Intimacy and sexual relationships are one of the most rewarding parts of the human experience. It is a real shame if people miss out on these aspects of being alive.
Substance Abuse and Intimacy
If people are abusing alcohol and drugs then it can be almost impossible for them to maintain intimate relationships. This is because these substances will become their obsession, and there will be no room for anyone else. As the individual falls further into addiction they may even lose all interest in sex completely. Addiction drives the individual into a world of delusion and selfish action. It will not be possible for another human to trust them fully, and this will prove to be a barrier to intimacy. The addict is still likely to have people who love them, but there will be a sense of wariness mixed in with the affection. The person who is abusing alcohol or drugs may feel almost incapable of feeling true affection for other people – they are too self obsessed to think beyond their own needs.
Substance Abuse and Promiscuity
Many of those individuals who abuse alcohol or drugs will engage in promiscuous sex. This type of sex lacks intimacy and it usually involves multiple partners. The addict may regularly wake up in bed with a stranger with no memories of the night before. Deep down the individual may realize that this is a poor substitute for true intimacy, but it becomes a habit. When people are inebriated they are liable to make impulsive and poor decisions, and this often applies to the people they end up having sex with. Such behavior increases the risk of picking up a sexually transmitted disease. It can also lead to unplanned pregnancy.
Impact of Addiction on the Sex Drive
Alcohol and drug abuse can have a devastating impact on a person’s sexual health. Some drugs such as cocaine have the reputation for increasing sexual performance but such effects are short lived. Over any length of time the abuse of these substances will lead to decreased sexual functioning. As the individual falls further into addiction they may completely lose all interest in sex and intimacy. Males may find it difficult to become aroused and so engaging in sexual activity becomes almost impossible – they may be suffering from erectile dysfunction. Women will also suffer from decreased libido as a result of drug abuse.
Intimacy in Recovery
Once people give up an addiction they will be able to begin rebuilding their life. One of the areas that they will need to focus on will be intimacy and sexual relationships. For some people this will prove to be the hardest area of their life to fix, but things will improve if they give it time and make a serious effort to improve things. In some situations the individual will benefit from some type of counseling as they may have underlying issues that prevent them from developing satisfying intimate relationships.
Dangers of Loneliness in Recovery
Loneliness is not the same thing as being alone. There are some people who find great pleasure in solitude yet others who will feel lonely in a crowded room. It is strong sense of solitude and emptiness and an unbearable feeling of being separate from other people. The dangers of loneliness in recovery include:
* The individual may struggle with life in recovery because of a feeling of lack of support.
* Loneliness can easily lead to depression.
* Life can appear meaningless and the individual may consider suicide.
* Loneliness is s common relapse trigger.
* Loneliness can suck all the joy out of life.
How to Overcome Intimacy and Sexual Issues in Recovery
The individual may still have problems related to sex and intimacy in recovery. In order to overcome these problems it is recommended that:
* It is generally advised that people avoid beginning any new relationship within the first year of their recovery. The reason for this is that they will already have enough to concentrate on and an intimate relationship can easily knock people off course and back into addiction.
* When people who are married get sober there will need to be a period of adjustment. It is unrealistic to expect this relationship to be as intimate as it once was and any lost trust will need to be won back.
* The fall into addiction does not occur overnight and neither does recovery from it. It may take month or even years before the individual is fully able to be intimate with another human being – this is particularly likely if they had intimacy issues before they fell into addiction.
* When one half of a couple is addicted to drugs it will lead to a breakdown in communications between the two. It can take a good deal of effort to establish effective communications in recovery.
* The partner will have developed certain coping strategies to deal with the behavior of the addict. They may need to abandon these coping strategies before intimacy can be resumed – this will only happen if they can once again feel they trust their partner.
* If people have persistent problems with intimacy they may benefit from some type of counseling. A therapist will be able to help the individual dig deep to discover any underlying issues.
* In some cases addiction will have caused so much damage to a relationship that it become unsalvageable. If this is the case then the best choice might be to end the relationship – this is not something that should be done lightly especially if children are involved.
* If people continue to suffer from loss of libido beyond early recovery they should speak to their physician. There may be a medical issue that is at the root of the problem.
* Early recovery is often described as an emotional rollercoaster. Things tend to settle down once the individual has established themselves in sobriety, and they will then usually find it easier to manage their intimate relationships.
* Relationship counseling can be a big help for those who are serious about rebuilding their current partnership. It can be like giving the relationship a clean start.