Sexual Addiction

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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 11/9/2015

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