When we think of Labor Day, maybe the first thing that comes to mind is that nice three-day weekend right after the kids start back to school when everything is feeling tense and busy. Next, we probably think of picnics or BBQs or boating – last-ditch efforts to suck up the summer before it vanishes entirely in a poof of bright dry leaves we have to rake. But if we’re honest, we think of parties, and by parties of course we mean booze. Day parties, night parties – really just any excuse to boost the shares over at Bacardi Limited. It’s no secret that American summer holidays – from Memorial Day to July 4to Labor Day – all come with their share of drinking, not unlike every single other major U.S. holiday. So why is this intro about alcohol when the title clearly indicates it’s about sex addiction?
Because alcohol abuse and sex addiction frequently fuel each other. They are like a double-edged sword; both sides can cut.
Alcohol Hides and Accelerates Addictive Shame
For someone struggling with sex addiction, alcohol is like an accelerant or a booster pack. See, the psychological engine of any given sex addict is running overtime with defense mechanisms. Imagine denial as an all-pervasive app, running in the background at all times. The main job of this denial app is to shut out potentially debilitating feelings of shame, which are, unfortunately, the essential by-products of sex addiction (and really all addictions). But alcohol reduces inhibition, which works magic on feelings of shame so that our psyche stops having to work so hard defending itself. Shame seems to have vanished! We’re suddenly (and drunkenly) free to do whatever we want.
Of course there’s a catch (there’s always a catch), and every magic trick is hiding something. Alcohol only conceals the shame from our awareness temporarily. It doesn’t eradicate it. And, what’s worse, all the while that we’re drinking and engaging our addiction, we’re building up more shame. This shame cycle can become exponential in regard to alcohol abuse, though the problem we can’t see when we’re feeling it is that shame really does serve an adaptive purpose: it lets us know when to stop, when our behavior isn’t working to our advantage.
The Problem of Multiple Addictions
What many don’t understand about addiction is that an alcoholic and a gambling addict, for example, aren’t experiencing a terrible problem with alcohol and casino slots. Their problem is one of addiction – full stop. That insatiable craving that keeps them reaching for objects or people, anything that will numb their pain just a little longer. What happens nearly every time an alcoholic decides to give up drinking is that he unconsciously switches to something else. His daily cigarette habit becomes a chain-smoking issue; he can’t stop eating.
When one addiction is switched out for another it is called crossover addiction, a very common tendency. The ultimate problem for addicts, again, is one simply of addiction.
The Risk of Relapse When All Addictions Are Not Treated
Clinicians and recovering addicts themselves find that when addicts accept treatment for sex addiction without addressing other addictive behaviors or substance use issues, their relapse rate is much higher. A sex addict who is abstaining from compulsive sex, but who decides to imbibe, will often find her sexual sobriety compromised. The alcohol increases her cravings to act out sexually, and she becomes less inhibited, thus less able to pull back. Likewise, individuals seeking treatment for alcoholism who neglect to abstain from sex and relationships while focusing solely on recovery for the period of at least a year, find themselves in murky waters too. If they decide to date or hook-up, they may experience a new anxiety. It all feels really weird now without the aid of alcohol. Where before, drinking lubricated the social awkwardness and made them much more carefree, dating and sex feel suddenly strained. Very often, newly recovering alcoholics relapse for this reason.
So Labor Day and other times like it when alcohol consumption is a culturally conditioned expectation of the reverie, a part of the tradition, sex addicts need to be just a little more aware, a little more on point. Active recovery gives addicts the tools to work through strong urges and social pressures and teaches an awareness of self and environment useful for avoiding pitfalls. This Labor Day, enjoy your time off, and celebrate yourself a little. Do this in whatever way feels right to you. But maybe take it easy on the alcohol. And be on the lookout for other addictive behaviors that could trip you up.