Sex addiction treatment in rehabs

Sex addiction treatment in rehab


There are rehabs that specialize in sex addiction treatment. Sex addiction is now accepted as a mental health problem with a defined set of diagnostic criteria and patterns of behaviours. Rehabs such as Rustenburg Addiction Care can therefore help you and your loved ones face and work through your sex addiction in a supportive, compassionate and understanding environment. This article will look at some of the treatment objectives for sex addiction treatment in rehabs. In just six minutes, you will have a better understanding of what sex addiction is and what to expect during treatment in rehabs.


Rehabs that provide sex addiction treatment would help you to:


  1. Understand more about addiction, and sex addiction in particular will be explored while in rehab
  2. Rehabs will explore the diagnostic criteria / symptoms of sex addiction
  3. Identifying life events that contributed to the formation of your sexual arousal template will be explored with you in rehabs
  4. Learn about the three levels of sex addiction and the sex addiction cycle while in rehabs
  5. Complete a sex addiction inventory during your stay in rehabs
  6. Form a relapse prevention plan and abstinence contract during the final phase of your treatment in rehabs
  7. Rehabs should also provide the necessary support for your loved ones and this may include separate and joint counselling sessions.


What is addiction in general, and sex addiction in particular?


Addiction is characterised by an inability to consistently abstain from substance use or other addictive behaviours, impairment in behavioural control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviours and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Without treatment in rehabs, and engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive, resulting in more serious consequences and eventually premature death.


Rehabs use the following definition: Sex Addiction has been defined as….


Engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behaviour acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others. Furthermore it is a progressive intimacy disorder characterised by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts.

Like with all addictions, the negative consequences resulting from the sex addiction increases as the addiction progresses. Over time, the addictive behaviour usually intensifies with more risk taking behaviour involved, as you will learn in rehabs.


Rehabs - Frame of a head 


The ten criteria / symptoms of sex addiction as referred to in rehabs:


Am I an addict? Am I a sex addict?


It is important to note that addictions travel in pairs or groups. In other words, being cross-addicted (having co-occurring addictive behaviours at the same time) is a common occurrence that clients receive treatment for in rehabs. The symptoms may be the same but the behaviours can be very different. For example, sex addicts have also acknowledged struggling with the following addictive behaviours and rehabs should therefore make sure to complete a thorough assessment so as to identify any other cross addictions.

  • Chemical Dependency 42%
  • Compulsive Working 28%
  • Eating Disorders 38%
  • Compulsive Spending 26%
  • Compulsive Gambling 5%


Seen side by side, the diagnostic criteria for both a substance use addiction (from the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-version 5) and a sex addiction (developed by Patrick Carnes) are virtually identical and rehabs will usually use these diagnostic criteria to diagnose your addiction.


Let’s take a brief look at the 10 criteria / symptoms of sex addiction that rehabs use to diagnose a sex addiction:

Rehabs - Criteria for Substance use Disorder used in rehabs

Rehabs - Criteria for Sex addiction 


Loss of control

Engaging in sexual acting out behaviours more frequently than you intend to or want to.

“One is too little and a thousand is never enough applies here. You will have lost the ability to control or stop the sexual acting out behaviour. Loss of control = powerlessness.


Compulsive behaviour

Over time, a pattern of out-of-control behaviour emerges.

You engage in a set of behaviours that taken together provide a sense of relief (albeit temporary). Once the uncomfortable emotional state returns, you automatically return to the addictive behaviour for relief and an addiction cycle develops that you cannot break free from.


Efforts to stop

Repeated failed attempts to reduce, control, or stop the behaviour.

Even the best of intentions, serious negative consequences, or efforts to try and reduce the addictive behaviours or to stop altogether, doesn’t seem to work. You might often experience feelings of guilt and shame and then continue to engage in the addiction cycle in an attempt to relieve the emotional distress that you experience.


Loss of time

Significant amounts of time lost due to obsessing, fantasising, preparing, engaging in, and/or recovering from the addictive behaviour.



Obsessing about or because of the behaviour.

You may find that you spend a lot of time thinking about sexual behaviour. This then creates a strong urge or craving. This is the first phase in the sex addiction cycle.


Inability to fulfil obligations

Your behaviour will eventually interfere with work, school, family, and other social relationships and functioning. As your addictive behaviour progresses, so do the consequences.


Continuation despite consequences

You will however not be able to stop the addictive behaviour without help and will unfortunately continue despite serious negative consequences because of it.

(Social, legal, financial, physical, and spiritual)



You will find that with time you may need to engage in sexual acting out behaviour that is more intense, riskier, and more frequent. It is a downward spiral into more risky behaviours that directly involve and/or violates your own boundaries and the boundaries of other people.



You will end up losing, limiting, or sacrificing valued parts of your life such as: hobbies, family, relationships and work. Unintentionally, your behaviour will result in the loss of important relationships. Now that important relationships are no longer important or are totally absent, the addictive behaviour rushes in to fill the vacuum.



Reducing or trying to stop the sexual acting out behaviour may cause considerable distress, anxiety, restlessness, irritability and physical discomfort. During withdrawal, denial is especially active because the mind and body have become dependent on the chemical release in the brain that the sexual acting out behaviour produces. Rehabs will help you with withdrawals.


Rehab - Hands in handcuffs 


 The sexual arousal template


It is important that you explore and gain an understanding of your sexual arousal template. This is part of the treatment process in rehabs for sex addiction treatment.


Between the ages of five and eight, most of us have already formed the map about what is sexually arousing to us, although we may not be consciously aware of it yet. It serves as a template with which we decide whether a specific situation is arousing – and then we act on that template.


Rehabs will teach you that problems occur when your sexual arousal template or map becomes distorted. For example, minimal distortion occurs when a family will not talk about sex or infers negative judgment regarding anything sexual. Early sexual experiences, especially if it involves shame or fear, can also distort your beliefs about sex. Physical and sexual abuse can have a profound effect on your arousal template. The tragic result can be that you may become aroused in ways that are self-destructive or dysfunctional.


When sex becomes addictive, it’s often because the arousal template, and your belief system have been distorted. Your counsellor at rehabs will help you to complete a sexual behaviour inventory and to explore and understand your sexual arousal template and beliefs that you have developed.


Rehabs - Flashcard in hand


Learning about the sex addiction cycle


An important part of understanding sex addiction is learning about the sex addiction cycle. Rehabs should therefore help you to explore how your sex addiction cycle works. By understanding your pattern or cycle of behaviour, you can then learn to make changes in order to stop the cycle from continuing and repeating.


The sex addiction cycle begins with your underlying belief system. This belief system was developed during your childhood, and includes faulty or impaired thinking. Impaired thinking is your beliefs about yourself (good or bad); your worth, and that of the world around you, attitudes about women, men or sex, past trauma, and many other things. You may have learned early on how to medicate your painful feelings through sexual acting out behaviour.


It is therefore important to explore your beliefs and to identify events that may have contributed to your sexual arousal template and development, as this is what results in the sex addiction cycle.


The rehabs sex addiction cycle consists of the following four phases:


Rehab - Sex addiction cycle


Preoccupation only fuels the desire. This is the phase where you marinate on the thoughts or behaviours or fantasy patterns that serve to heighten your arousal. This leads directly into the ritualisation stage.


Here you begin to engage in those behaviours that set the stage to engage in the compulsive sexual behaviour. For example, for someone who goes to sex workers, part of the ritual may be going to an ATM machine. These experiences begin to ramp up the excitement level. This is the early stage of engaging in the acting out behaviour. As you progress through each stage, it becomes more and more difficult to make the choice not to act out. By the time you are in the ritualisation phase, it becomes virtually impossible to change course.


The next phase is where the compulsive sexual behaviour is acted out. During this phase, you become numb to your emotions. You may experience short lived excitement similar to the ‘high’ as when using drugs. Once the relief has ended, feelings of shame, guilt and despair sets in.


A common question asked is “Why did I do this again?”. Similarly, common thoughts that are repeated continuously during this phase are “I am no good”, “I’ll never change”, I don’t deserve to be happy” and “Why can’t I stop?”. And before long, you will find yourself preoccupied again. And so the sex addiction cycle continues.


Hope for recovery in rehab


But there is hope. Rehabs can provide effective treatment to help you understand your sex addictions. Rehabs can help you break free form the sex addiction cycle and lastly, rehabs can not only help you but help the healing that is necessary for you and your loved ones. Rustenburg Addiction Care is one of the rehabs specialising in the treatment of sex addiction and we are here for You!


Are you worried that you may be addicted to sex? Click here for an online test that rehabs use to help diagnose a sex addiction.





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