Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Interactions between Substance Use and Sexual Behaviours for Women Receiving Alcohol and Other Drugs Services

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Interactions between Substance Use and Sexual Behaviours for Women Receiving Alcohol and Other Drugs Services

Article excerpt

Literature indicates that addressing interactions between substance use and compulsive behaviours can improve outcomes for chemical addiction counselling, mental health and physical health. This paper presents the results of a survey that explored (a) how frequently interactions between problematic sexual behaviour and substance use are presented by women receiving Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Services, (b) how sexual behaviour is assessed in AOD Services, and (c) what treatment options are available. All respondents indicated having observed at least one interaction between substance use and problematic sexual behaviours, though responses were variable. However, there was not a consistent approach to assessment or treatment for interactions of substance use and sexual behaviour. To enhance the therapeutic value of AOD Services, counsellors may benefit from continuing education about the interactions of addictions, and development of a standardised method to address problematic sexual behaviour.


While working in a New Zealand AOD Service in 2006, the author worked with female clients who discussed individual interactions between sexual behaviour and their substance use. For example, one client relied on a combination of alcohol, sex and a hot tub to manage her arthritic symptoms. Another female client reported that she had sex with men who would provide her with alcohol, a behaviour that potentially put her physical health at risk. Having encountered these scenarios, and feeling relatively unprepared and underqualified to address the issues linked to sexual behaviour, the author began to seek therapeutic resources, with little success.

A review of the current literature addressing sexual addiction revealed an emerging area of research, particularly in regards to interactions with substance dependence. This information will be presented, followed by a summary of a survey that was sent to AOD counsellors in New Zealand exploring their professional interactions with female clients who presented with problematic sexual behaviours interacting with problematic substance use. Future implications will be discussed.

Behaviours, such as gambling, overeating, sex, exercise, videogame playing, internet use, work (Griffiths, 2005), acts of kleptomania, compulsive buying and acts of pyromania (Schmidt, 2005) can be addictive and can interact with chemical addictions (Carnes, Murray & Charpentier, 2005; Eisenman, 2004; Schneider, Sealy, Montgomery & Irons, 2005). In order to provide the most effective treatment for substance use disorders, health care providers need to identify and address all chemical and behavioural addictions that a person has, rather than one addiction in isolation (Carnes, et al., 2005; Schneider, et al., 2005).

The literature reveals important parallels and interactions between substance dependency and problematic sexual behaviours (Appel, Piculell, Jansky & Griffy, 2006; Lin, Li, Yang, Fang, Stanton, Chen, Abbey & Liu, 2005; Plant & Plant, 2003). For example, both give pleasure, both serve social, cultural and emotional purposes and both may become problematic and/or compulsive. Griffith (2005) argues that behavioural addictions and chemical addictions share characteristics of salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse. Salience means that the activity becomes the most important activity in a person's life and dominates thinking and behaviour. Mood modification is defined as a subjective experience ("buzz" "high" "escape" "numbing") and/or a consistent shift in mood. The development of a tolerance means that an increased amount of the same activity is required to achieve desired effects. Withdrawal describes the unpleasant feelings or physical effects when an activity is discontinued or suddenly reduced. For example, it is reported that 65 percent of pathological gamblers experience withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, headaches, breathing difficulty, chills, heart racing, loss of appetite, physical weakness, upset stomach and muscle aches. …

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