The relationship between sex and recovery is closer than some people realize or want to discuss. Addiction can affect all aspects of a person’s well-being, including sexual health. It is not unusual for people who have a history of drug abuse to experience sexual dysfunction during their recovery.
Recovering from addiction, therefore, involves much more than merely stopping drug use and staying sober. It may be an uncomfortable topic to broach, but sexuality is a fundamental aspect of being integral to maintaining good health.
Regaining sexual health during addiction recovery can be challenging, but help is available, and we can guide you toward the assistance you need. Call us today at 706-480-8733 for more information on addiction treatment and sexual health counseling in your area.
Although sexual health can be an uncomfortable topic, it can have a major impact on addiction recovery. Substance abuse can lead to a variety of sexual difficulties, but treatment is possible through counseling and other methods.
How Drug Abuse Affects Men’s Sexual Health
Drug abuse can have a significant negative impact on sexual performance in men. Common issues include experiencing erectile dysfunction after quitting drinking and overall low libido. Several recent studies have explored the effects of drug abuse on male addicts’ sexual health.
In one study, 72% of the participants (men with alcohol dependence) reported at least one sexual dysfunction. Some common sexual health issues in men include erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and low sexual desire. Excessive use of alcohol and drugs, in general, has been linked with sexual difficulties, but various drugs can produce different effects. Marijuana and alcohol, in particular, can both lead to erectile dysfunction. Research also suggests a link between cocaine and impotence. Additionally, heroin use links with all three previously mentioned types of sexual dysfunction.
In another study, they compared groups of men with and without substance abuse histories in four areas regarding sexual performance: libido, sexual arousal, orgasm, and sexual satisfaction. Overall, the recovering drug abusers scored lower on sexual performance than the non-abusers, even after one year of sobriety. The researchers found that alcohol abuse had the most significant impact on sexual arousal. Meanwhile, cocaine and heroin commonly impaired sexual satisfaction and orgasm and had a slight effect on libido.
A further study aimed to examine the effects of addiction treatment on recovering sexual health. Specifically, it assessed men’s sexual performance who used heroin and then enrolled in a methadone treatment program. Before completing treatment, most men (69%) reported mild to moderate sexual dysfunction, while 23% reported severe problems. After six months of treatment, a slight improvement occurred. The majority of men still reported mild to moderate or severe sexual difficulties, but the numbers decreased to 61% and 20%, respectively.
How Drug Abuse Affects Women’s Sexual Health
Treatment of female addicts has often neglected the relationship between sex and recovery. This omission keeps clinicians from adequately addressing their female patients’ sexual issues and concerns, impeding full recovery. Sexual health impacts overall well-being and is an essential part of the addiction treatment process for both men and women.
Alcohol and other drugs can interfere with women’s sexual sensitivity and enjoyment. Substance abuse can also disrupt the hormonal system’s balance, which interferes with many different emotional, reproductive, and physiological functions. Certain substances, such as alcohol, heroin, and marijuana, can decrease sexual desire and numb sensations. Additionally, one study that compared a group of alcoholic women with a group of nonalcoholic women found that addicted women consistently suffered higher rates of sexual abuse. Therefore, the sexual issues women in recovery face may be psychological as well as physical.
In our culture, women generally harbor more shame about their sexuality than men. Thus, the work of regaining sexual health for women often involves more than addressing the apparent sexual dysfunctions. It may include healing both the inner and out aspects of one’s sexuality.
The Inner Journey of Sexual Recovery concerns a person’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about themselves. It encourages patients to:
- Recognize the effects of female socialization on sexuality
- Accept their bodies
- Feel good about their genitals
- Accept sexual pleasure from themselves.
- Become aware of their sexual feelings
- Face their fears of being sexual while sober
The Outer Journey of Sexual Recovery involves a person’s relationships with others. This area encourages patients to:
- Explore childhood and family sexual issues
- Honestly name the sexual events of their past.
- Examine their sexual behaviors
- Assess their selection of sexual partners
- Learn to live in the present
The PLISSIT Model of Sex Therapy
This model represents how therapists help patients regain control of their sexuality. It includes four levels of intervention, ordered from least to the most complex. This model was created with women in mind, but can still apply to any recovering addict seeking to regain sexual health.
It can be helpful for those in recovery to realize how many other people share their same difficulties. Because sexual health is not widely discussed, it can seem that sexual dysfunction is not a very common issue. But in fact, many of the sexual difficulties that addicts in recovery encounter are relatively widespread. Hearing a counselor affirm can be highly reassuring and can encourage people to continue with their recovery. Permission means assuring the patient that they can talk about sexual health and that it’s okay to stay in their comfort zone for a little while.
For instance, many recovering addicts who have had most of their sexual experiences while intoxicated are hesitant to have sex while sober. A counselor can reassure them that this is a common fear and let them know that it is okay (give permission) to abstain from sexual activity if they do not feel ready. This is typical in the early stages of recovery. Regaining intimacy in addiction recovery will take time. Counselors can permit them to engage in a broader variety of sexual behaviors when the time comes.
This treatment method can also be useful in peer-group settings, where patients can share common issues and feel less isolated. Although some people prefer to discuss such matters privately, group therapy can be vital to the treatment process. It enables patients to view other recovering addicts as resources, enhancing their support network, and helping them see their strengths.
This treatment goes a step further than permission. Now, instead of merely assuring a patient that their sexual difficulties are not unusual, counselors can provide factual information that directly relates to the patient’s experience to prove this. The purpose of this step is to provide education about the topic and dispel misconceptions to help patients understand their issues and feel more comfortable discussing them.
At this level of treatment, counselors and patients can discuss possible solutions to their specific problems. They will work together to assess the patient’s goals and develop a plan to treat particular issues. This allows the patient to participate in problem-solving and choosing specific strategies to implement.
Not all patients will require intensive therapy. However, it can be helpful to those who have not responded to other forms of treatment. At this stage, a therapist would take a more thorough account of the patient’s sexual history and provide long-term therapy to explore and resolve problem areas.
Further Treatments for Sexual Dysfunction
Along with the PLISSIT Model, recovering addicts can take additional steps to address the relationship between sex and recovery. A thorough medical exam from a doctor can identify the causes of some sexual health issues. A doctor may offer treatments and strategies for coping with any changes in sexual health that can occur during recovery. Drugs and alcohol can take a toll on your health in many ways, and co-occurring health issues can sometimes cause sexual dysfunction. Making specific lifestyle changes, such as eating well and exercising regularly, can improve your well-being up to and including sexual health.
Certain medications can also have sexual side effects. For instance, methadone, used in recovery from opiate addictions, can lower testosterone levels in men. Antidepressants can similarly lower libido and cause erectile dysfunction. Sometimes adjustments may need to be made to medications to lessen these effects, but you should never adjust medications independently. You must consult a medical professional about these issues.
Some people in recovery may have used drugs to cope with the effects of sexual abuse or other sexual trauma, such as struggling with one’s sexuality or gender identity. Even when they have stopped using drugs, this trauma can remain unaddressed and continue to cause pain. Counseling and sex therapy can help people process their emotions surrounding their sexual health. Counselors can help patients build their confidence and self-esteem and teach safer sex practices and strategies for repairing intimate relationships. In any case, it is a good idea to take it slow when starting new sexual relationships. Like any treatment, restoring sexual health takes time.
Recovery is Possible
Recovery of sexual health is not through sobriety alone. When recovering from a disease like addiction, it is crucial to address and heal all parts of yourself that have been hurt. Even if your sexual health has been affected by addiction, you may be hesitant to approach the topic of sex and recovery. But healthy sexuality is an integral part of self-worth and overall health, so it cannot be left unaddressed. Leaving sexual health out of the conversation surrounding addiction treatment can impair recovery. Furthermore, it is a much more common issue than you may believe.
Substance abuse can negatively affect the sexual performance of women and men in varying ways, but all genders can benefit from sexual health counseling. The PLISSIT Model can help you confront the causes of sexual health issues and get comfortable discussing your sexuality. Sometimes, other physical or mental health issues can impact sexual health. You can also get help with these in recovery.
Recovering from addiction can be a challenge, and there are many factors involved in a healthy recovery, but we can help ease the process. Call us today at 706-480-8733 to learn more about regaining sexual health during addiction recovery. We can guide you to the treatment options that are right for you and keep you on track for a happier, healthier addiction-free life.
Written by Alina Gonzalez