New Study Shows Neural Similarities Between Sex Addicts and Drug Addicts

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Deep Brain StimulationNumerous critics and skeptics have suggested that sex addiction is not a real condition, but a new study published in PLOS One shows that sex addicts show the same neural characteristics of individuals with substance abuse disorders.

The study focused on examining the neural correlation of sexual cues in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviors, hoping to find insight into the neural mechanisms behind this form of addiction.

The researchers from the University of Cambridge recruited 19 male patients being treated for sex addiction, as well as 19 control patients who did not have the disorder. According to the report, the sex addiction patients included in the study had to exhibit both hypersexuality and compulsive behavior in order to be considered for the study.

“The key features are that a person has to be using their addiction excessively, more so in an uncontrolled manner,” lead author Dr. Valerie Voon, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the University of Cambridge, told FoxNews.com. “They feel they want to stop it, but they are unable to do so. The second component is it has a functional impact on their lives and causes significant distress.”

Both groups of participants were shown videos containing either sexually explicit images or sports-related content. As the participants watched, the researchers monitored their brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

According to their findings, the patients with sex addiction showed greater activity in three specific brain regions when showed pornographic images compared to the control group. The three regions – the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior, cingulate, and amygdala – also show hyperactivity in drug addicts when they are given drug stimuli. The brain regions are also highly associated with processing rewards, motivations, and assigning importance to certain events.

The researchers also assessed the level of desire while watching the pornographic videos, as well as how much the individuals liked them. While the patients with compulsive sexual behavior had higher levels of desire towards the video, they did not necessarily enjoy them. Voon related this pattern of behavior with drug addicts.

“This is important, because desire is an index of wanting something, not because you actually like it, but because you obtain pleasure from it,” Voon said. “That’s one of the theories of drug addiction; when people are addicted to drugs, they’re working hard for the reward of the drug, but they don’t necessarily enjoy it.”

Addiction is one of the most widespread set of disorders throughout the world, and has particularly devastating consequences for individuals and families affected by it. Yet, sexual addiction is not included in the DSM-5 and many dismiss the condition outright.

Hopefully, studies such as this will provide better insight into how addiction functions within individuals no matter what material is the source of the addiction.

“There are a group of people that are suffering from this behavior…and they’re suffering is real and they’re having difficulties controlling it with significant consequences,” Voon said. “Being able to study it from a neuroscience standpoint allows us to understand it more, but it allows us to highlight that we should be recognizing it is a disorder.”

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