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Yes, love and sex can be addictiveâ€”and as destructive, at least socially, as compulsive substance use. The high hinges on physical or psychological arousal, and relationships can be marked by desperation.
Love addicts go through life with desperate hopes and constant fears. Fearing rejection, pain, unfamiliar experiences, and having little faith in their ability or right to inspire love, they wait and wish for love, perhaps their least familiar real experience.
Addictive sexuality is like most other compulsive behaviors: a destructive twist on a normal life-enhancing activity. Defining sex addiction depends less on the behavior itself than on the person's motivation. Sex addicts lack the ability to control or postpone sexual feelings and actions, with the need for arousal often replacing the need for intimacy. Eventually, thrill seeking becomes more important than family, career, even personal health and safety.
The sex addict follows a routine or ritual leading to acting out on desires, and is then fraught by feelings of denial then shame, despair, and confusion. Addiction is characterized by the repeated, compulsive seeking or use of a substance or activity despite negative social, psychological and/or physical consequences. It is often (but not always) accompanied by physical dependence, withdrawal syndrome and tolerance.
Withdrawal consists of a predictable group of signs resulting from abrupt removal of, or a rapid decrease in the dosage of, a psychoactive substance or activity. The syndrome is often characterized by overactivity of the physiologic functions that were suppressed by the drug and/or depression of the functions that were stimulated by the object of addiction.
Tolerance is a state in which a drug or activity produces a diminishing response. That is to say, higher doses (or in the case of sex addicts, riskier behavior) is needed to produce the same effect that the user experienced initially.