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Archive for February 11th, 2011

Addiction (Psychiatry):  A preoccupation with and compulsive use of a substance despite recurrent adverse consequences; addiction often involves a loss of control and tolerance, and may be associated with a biological predisposition to addiction. –  The McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine, 2002 edition

An addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on some psychoactive substance (such as alcohol, tobacco or an opiate) which affects brain chemistry; if there is no gross physiological change in the body’s function which renders normal function impossible without the substance, there is no addiction.  It’s normal for words to shift their meanings in common usage; sometimes they become more specific (“stench” once meant any odor, but now it specifically means a very bad odor) and sometimes less.  The word “addiction” has, in common usage, become confused with the related concepts of habituation (psychological reliance on a substance which is not physiologically addictive) and obsession (psychological fixation on a behavior).  And while that sort of confusion is OK for common words, it becomes a problem when the word in question has a specific scientific or academic meaning because legislators and special interest groups often use the popular meaning of such a word in a context where only the scientific meaning should be permitted, thus intentionally or unintentionally creating confusion in the minds of listeners.  For example, in the recent defeated attempt to decriminalize marijuana possession in California, opponents repeatedly called it an addictive substance when in fact it is not.  Though marijuana is certainly habituating (long-time users crave it and experience psychological symptoms when deprived), it is not addictive to a normal physiology and the pothead deprived of his weed will not experience any medical withdrawal symptoms worth noting.

The same is true of the plethora of behaviors people to which people now claim “addiction” such as computers, television, work, gambling or shopping; I guarantee you that if I locked up a compulsive gambler and denied him access to casinos, he would become upset, erratic or even highly depressed, but he would not die and blood tests would reveal only the neurochemical changes one would expect to result from his mood shifts.  An even stupider claim is that of “food addiction”; every last person on the face of the Earth is a “food addict”, because food deprivation will grossly affect our moods, behavior and physiological function and if we are deprived for long enough we eventually die.  One might as well claim to be an “oxygen addict”.  Craving something the body (food, water and oxygen) or mind (sex and companionship) actually needs is not and cannot be an “addiction”, though it can certainly become an obsession if one thinks about it to the exclusion of all else and indulges in erratic, inappropriate or even dangerous behavior to gain access to whatever it is he is obsessed with.

In the late ‘90s certain pop psychologists started throwing the term “sex addiction” around, and though it is totally impossible to be “addicted” to sex (as explained above) the term has nonetheless become very popular in the general public and even a few psychological professionals have adopted it (though only for use in popular articles).  What makes this improper term even more damaging than such asininity as “internet addiction” is that A) it is confused with the real and serious psychological disorder which the DSM-IV calls “hypersexuality” (and which was previously called “nymphomania” in women and “satyriasis” in men); and B) it has been co-opted by neofeminists to mean “sexual behavior which falls well within the normal range of male behavior but outside the normal range of female behavior.”  We’ve previously discussed the damage done to society by neofeminist pathologization of normal male behavior; the application of the very strong term “addiction” to behavior characteristic of two-thirds of men is more of the same and should be fought by every man and every woman who loves men.

Here’s a recent example of a professional unethically catering to this misconception of “addiction” in order to make a fast buck from Match.com; though the author states near the beginning of her article that DSM-IV doesn’t recognize the concept of “sex addiction” as valid, she undermines the statement by claiming it’s being considered for DSM-V (it isn’t, though a form of sexual obsession less serious than hypersexuality might be).  And since she then for the rest of the article proceeds to use the term to refer to any man who cheats, you can be sure most of her readers will forget she ever said otherwise long before reaching the last sentence.

The news has overflowed lately with salacious tales of cheating husbands…while each of these guys acted despicably toward the women they’d married, do they really fit the “sex addict” stereotype?  What, technically, is sex addiction?  Counselors say errors in judgment do not classify someone as sexually “addicted.”  The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health reports that “sex addicts” comprise only 3-5% of overall the population.  The official handbook of psychiatric diagnoses, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), doesn’t include a diagnosis for this ailment, although it is being considered for inclusion in the 2012 edition.

With the professionals themselves disagreeing on who is and is not a sex addict, how can a single woman assess whether the guy she’s dating will be faithful?  Daniel Amen, M.D. reveals that if a man’s fourth finger is longer than his second finger, he is likely to stray…[and] brain scans can identify who will cheat.  While the finger test is easy…who would shell out the cash for a brain scan? …Researcher Arthur Aron speculates that a man’s level of commitment grows stronger depending on how much his romantic partner enhances his life.  While this discovery won’t change an addict’s history (and altering addictive behavior is difficult), if an addict is dedicated to building an expanded future together with his romantic partner, changing his cheating behaviors may be possible.  Morris Halperin, Ph.D., adds that a sex addict is someone whose compulsive behavior prevents him from functioning in his own life…So who is a genuine sex addict — and who is just a very bad partner who struggles to remain faithful?  And should the difference matter to a woman who is suffering with the fallout from a cheating mate?

I’m going to interrupt for a moment here to point out how much this article panders to unhealthy female preconceptions.  A “test” can uncover if a man is in the third who won’t cheat, if he “really loves you” he won’t stray, and any infidelity makes a man a “very bad partner” no matter how he behaves in other ways.

Sexual addiction is usually accompanied by other addictions.  For this reason, single women must be good detectives in regards to potential romantic partners…This CNN report by Elizabeth Cohen warns, “If you continue your sexual activities even under threat of being divorced, dead, fired, or arrested, you’re an addict.”

Yes, she’s advising women to spy, pry and do background checks, because the way to prevent a man from betraying your trust is obviously to betray his first.  And we all know how accurate and well-researched CNN’s stories are.

…Elle…chose to stay with her cheating husband.  When Elle discovered her husband romping with women and men…she demanded he tell her everything…he revealed that he was secretly working with a sex therapist because, like other sex addicts I interviewed, he hated his hidden life.  Elle is still working to eliminate the “mind movies” of her husband engaging in sex outside of their marriage.  Both of them continue to pursue therapy together, and he regularly attends 12-step programs…Elle said she saw her mother get sober after 25 years of drinking, so she knew addiction can be overcome…

Are 12-step programs helpful with obsessions as well as true addictions?  Well, Overeaters Anonymous and Fundamentalists Anonymous think so.  But do women like Elle deserve to know the truth about the real reasons for undesirable male behaviors instead of being told they are “addictions”?  Absolutely; it’s called “informed consent”.

Elle tells single women to beware of three red flags:

-“Frat boy” humor consisting of inappropriate comments
-Pawing at your body sexually, despite your objections
-Blatant objectification of women as only being useful for sex

My own suggestions for women who suspect their man may have a sex addiction include:

-Ask questions about your guy’s parents, their relationship dynamic, and explore any possible stories or memories he might have of early molestation.
-Check out the length of your guy’s fourth finger…Even if you’re skeptical about this finding, use the information as a guide nonetheless.

Yes, if your man makes dirty jokes or gropes you while you’re trying to wash the dishes, if his ring finger is longer than his index finger or if he denies he was ever molested or objects when you keep obsessing about it, he’s probably a “sex addict” despite the fact that at least one of those statements applies to probably 95% of heterosexual males.

When people make grandiose, inflated claims, the critical thinker asks “what’s in it for them?”  And in this case, the answer lies in the very last line: “If you seek out dates that have the potential for true, caring mates, you may save yourself from broken heart in the end.”  And how do you seek out such dates?  Why, on Match.com of course, whose links are conveniently located before, after and in the middle of the article.

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