Sexual Addiction (cont.)

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What are sexual addiction symptoms and signs?

While the DSM has yet to describe specific diagnostic criteria for nonparaphilic sex addictions, some researchers have suggested symptoms and signs that are similar to other addictions for both paraphilic and nonparaphilic sex addictions. Specifically, sex addicts have been described as suffering from a negative pattern of sexual behavior that leads to significant problems or distress that may include the following:

  • A need for more amount or intensity of behavior to achieve the desired effect (tolerance)
  • Physical or psychological feelings of withdrawal when unable to engage in the addictive behavior
  • The person making plans for, engaging in, or recovering from the behavior more or longer than planned
  • Desire or unsuccessful attempts to decrease or stop the behavior
  • Neglecting important social, work, or school activities because of the behavior
  • Continuing the behavior despite suffering physical or psychological problems because of or worsened by the sexual behavior.

How is sexual addiction diagnosed?

As is true with virtually any mental-health diagnosis, there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has a sexual addiction. Therefore, health-care practitioners diagnose these disorders by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental-health information. The psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, or certified counselor will also either perform a physical examination or request that the individual's primary-care doctor perform one. The medical examination will usually include lab tests to evaluate the person's general health and to explore whether or not the individual has a medical condition that might have mental-health symptoms.

In asking questions about mental-health symptoms, mental-health professionals are often exploring if the individual suffers from sexual obsession or compulsions but also depression or manic symptoms, anxiety, substance abuse, hallucinations or delusions, as well as some personality and behavioral disorders that may have excessive sexual behavior as part of the associated symptoms. Practitioners may provide the people they evaluate with a quiz or self-test as a screening tool for sexual addiction. Since some of the symptoms of sex addiction can also occur in other mental illnesses, the mental-health screening is to determine if the individual suffers from an anxiety disorder like panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or the cyclical mood swings of bipolar disorder. The examiner also explores whether the person with a sex addiction suffers from other mental illnesses like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and other psychotic disorders or a substance abuse, personality, or behavior disorder like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Any disorder that is associated with hypersexual behavior, like some developmental disorders, borderline personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or multiple personality disorder (MPD), may be particularly challenging to distinguish from a sex addiction. In order to assess the person's current emotional state, health-care practitioners perform a mental-status examination as well.

In an effort to accurately establish a sexual addiction diagnosis, health-care professionals will work to distinguish sexual addictions from medical conditions that may include hypersexual symptoms. Examples of such conditions include seizures, tumors, dementia, and Huntington's disease, which may involve injuries to certain areas of the brain like the frontal or temporal lobes and therefore affect behavior.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/22/2013


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