This Fleshy Hunger

In our sister blog Inside the Alcoholic Brain –  http://insidethealcoholicbrain.com/

I had a comment posted on one of the blogs about the pain and heartache that one person had faced as the result of her partner’s addictive behaviour.

The person who posted mentioned her ex partner who is a sex addict as well as alcoholic/addict. It really moved me what the person, who posted anonymously, said in her comment.

I identified with the breaking of her trust and her heart by the unacceptable behaviour of her ex.

Addicts can leave a wake of destruction, lies and deceit, broken promises and broken hearts. In the Big Book of AA it looks at the effects of the life with an alcoholic as akin to having had a tornado wreck havoc in  your life, with the alcoholic often causing so much wreckage  without fully realising it.

This comes across strongly in this post, which I use below, as it was posted publicly and the person was also anonymous.   I use this post to help me and help others understand more fully the damage addiction, especially sex addiction can cause others.

I failed to mention something in my reply, below, which I will now add.

I know where her ex partner is coming from because I too am a sex addict.

I have never admitted that to anyone other than my wife. I have been in recovery ten years but have only realised in the last 15 months or so that I too suffer from sex addiction, in addition to alcoholism, substance addiction, chronic attachment disorder and PTSD.

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Even now I find it difficult to be honest about my sex addiction. It seems to me much more shameful than saying I am a chronic alcoholic or addict.

Maybe that is irrational but I am just trying to be honest.

If any addiction could embody and illustrate the conditional love I was reared with it is my sex addiction.

As I mention in my reply to the post below, in sex addiction somewhere in one’s personal development the brain gets fused in a manner so profound that close intimate human affection can often be just about the most terrifying experience because we don’t really know what the hell it is.

If one has not experienced unconditional love in their primary attachment relationships to a primary care giver, e.g. one’s mother, then the brain may not develop in the same way as with unconditional love – it will be a brain that has distress and a excess of stress chemicals and a deficit in oxytocin,  the “love/cuddle” chemical of human bonding.

Intimacy can be frightening in the extreme.

The human heart is born to beat a beat of love and to have an automatic approach to the love of other humans. In fact we are not singular – we are born into the world as “I and one other”, as we would die otherwise, we need to be reared as we are helpless alone.

So when the heart is naturally moved towards a love attachment which is inconsistent, ambivalent, alternatively available then dismissive and distant, then the most basic survival instinct is impaired, warped, and love of the most basic fundamental type can be mixed with fear and stress chemicals with distress.

Love is the most  fundamental “glue” in the  brain and human development so when it is not consistently given it can have profound effect on the developing infant brain.

Some would say that being conditional it is  not real love but it is as close as some got. “Love” for some often had love mixed with or outweighed by fear, or oxytocin by stress chemicals in the brain.

While a child is looking to receive their love and “cuddle” chemical, that of oxytocin but it is not always available, in that it is shrunk away in the brain by stress chemicals. This reduces oxytocin and the heightened stress chemicals reduce this oxytocin even more.

I grew up then looking for “love” – this oxytocin but unfortunately it is not straight forward. This search is for a conditional loves as it is all I knew, it is not for a fullsome healthy unconditional love but for a “love” that will alleviate our distress and increase our oxytocin. I searched for this thing, this “love” in  sexual acts.

Sex, and reproduction, are fundamental to the human species so it is another “survival instinct” that gets impaired in the addiction cycle – in fact all addictions involve the usurping of systems essential for survival – eating, sex, money, motivation etc and all addictions take over the reward/motivational region of the brain.

Sex addiction does the same – this is also why we see cross addictions as different addictions all activate this same reward/motivational part of the brain.

Back to sex addiction, I grew up through puberty to adulthood with this  now constant battle in my heart between two chemicals that interact to help us survive via our human relationships and communities. Now they interact in the way most opposite to healthy survival. The compete and fight and are conditional on the behaviour of the other.

The are two partners in a dance of destruction. Their neuro-chemical offspring is dopamine – the chemical of wanting (needing). The battle between stress and oxytocin results in a pathological wanting (needing), peaks of dopamine when distressed with dopamine increase reflect the need to take action to relive distress. .

Distress is the result of never finding relief in human relationships, in human bonding, in healthy relationships, so healthy human love and bonding is replaced by the need relieve the inherent distress in an activity which guarantees a reduction in stress. In an activity guaranteed to increase in oxytocin. Sex with another human being, a fleeting physical intimacy.

That is a role oxytocin has, to reduce stress/distress (and control dopamine)  via human contact. If that contact was never there fully it never played a role in our survival. Instead we have to find this oxytocin elsewhere, like alchemists, outside healthy human bonding.

I found it via a different  type of “love”. A so-called love making when it was really an approximate transient glimpse of intimacy, or the opposite of intimacy in fact, a refuting of intimacy, instead simply a transient increase in our love making chemical. It feels like a yearning for something always beyond one’s reach but something that feels somehow essential and has to be got.

A fleshy hunger.

But these fleeting “intimacies” didn’t work, it wasn’t enough to still our hearts and reassure us, it was a temporary harbour in a storm of distress.

When it calms, I was left with the receding tides of shame, shame and more shame. It wasn’t enough, I wasn’t enough. And the distress cycle begins again.

Every time I searched for this love I ended with less than before.

Anyway here are the comments.

“I discovered that he had been seeing a secret drinking/ sex partner the entire time, one 5 years older that his daughter who, by cultural standards, was not attractive. The phone I finally looked at showed that, in addition to worshiping him as a senior co-worker, she was a great devotee of 50 Shades and all night activity. I had noted only a lack of interest in me – which I attributed to his passing age 50. The crafty extremes he went to to hide this affair from me while cutting as close as possible the encounters he had with the two of us was completely out of character in terms of the persona he showed me. Still, I have felt stupid for the extent of my trust.

Reading this and Part 1 have offered me great comfort. He was definitely denied affection in his youth, and is definitely a late stage alcoholic, but is tested for drugs frequently by work. Sex does not show up in lab work, I guess. Thanks for this very helpful post.”

Part of my Reply –

“thank you Anonymous for your honest post – can I also suggest this post Looking for love in all the wrong places –http://insidethealcoholicbrain.com/2015/07/02/looking-for-love-in-all-the-wrong-places/ – which looks at how lack of attachment in childhood to a primary care giver has dire consequences in terms of later adult relationships – where sex is used instead of intimacy – it is also probably more common than mentioned, the cross addiction of sex and other addictive behaviours like alcoholism – anecdotally I know it to be an issue in recovery for many. There is often a migration from one addiction to another mainly because we generally use and have used external means to regulate negative emotions and negative self schema. We probably have done so one way or the other since childhood. Emotional relationships for some are terrifying, full of angst, conflict etc and have not been straightforward, unconditional love relationships like many people have experienced. In fact relationships with sex addicts often have an element of conditional love about them as this is generally how addicts have grown up to understand relationships, as being conditional, if you do this I will do that, type thinking. I give you this and you give me that etc etc Sex addiction runs very deep as it is linked to an impaired ability to form loving, healthy relationships throughout one’s life and the relationships in a sex addict sense are often abusive, often in a dominant/domineering sense. The sex addict brain can often fuse what should be affection with arousal. Often “good looks” are not that much of an issue, it is often what the person “can do” sexually that is the main consideration. What sort of “fix” that they can offer. Sex does show up in labs in the sense that sex addiction activates the same brain areas as any other addictions and similar neurotransmitters like dopamine. A fascinating thing however is that sex gives one a “shot” of oxytocin which is the “love/cuddle” brain chemical and which is there in major amounts during caring for a child and in human bonding, in attachment to another human being. In sex addicts this might actually be the so-called “hole in the soul” the “love” drug we have all been looking for. So the sex addict brain has been fused to confuse human affection with arousal as oxytocin is activated and prompts the addict to want more of what he/she does not have in great supply namely oxytocin. Sometimes addiction seems like it is a compulsion to “replenish” chemicals one is deficient in, e.g. natural opioids and heroin abuse. I hope you continue to have the compassion you seem to have through your understandable hurt and upset – it sounds like a real rollercoaster you have been through. He is a very very sick (mentally) sick person like all addicts of one hue or the other. The problem also is that we sometimes are the last to see how sick our behaviours can be. Forgiveness is maybe a long way off, but in the end this heals the pain of the past more than anything else. It helps you just as much if not more than the person who has really hurt you. Hope this comment helps you too. Paul

Explaining that “warm glow” of the first drink!?

The first drink does it!?

Some structural and functional differences in affective circuitry in the brain have been found in adolescents at risk of alcoholism compared to controls, and may precede alcoholism onset and thus constitute markers of  risk.

Thus, it is reasonable to hypothesize that pre-alcoholic differences in the functioning of relevant neural systems will be related to risk for alcoholism.

One aspect of the at risk argument that struck a chord was how difficulties in the regulation of stress in the offspring of alcoholics has a pronounced affect on how alcohol effects them.

This we believe may partly explain that rosy or golden glow of the first drink, which appears to often alter the perception of at risk alcoholics to such a profound effect, especially compared to those not at risk to later alcoholism.

We know that dopamine rises in relation to the “rewarding” properties of drugs and alcohol, rising in a more pronounced way in drugs such as cocaine than in alcohol so perhaps alcohol does something else to alcoholics than to non-alcoholics, perhaps it effects something other than dopamine or natural opioids or other neurochemicals in the brain, perhaps it hits us via our hearts and in reducing heightened stress levels?

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For example in terms of inherent stress regulation, offspring of alcoholics tend to have higher baseline heart rates (1,2) and show increased cardiovascular reactivity to aversive stimuli  (3-6).

In simple terms those at risk have inherent difficulties in stress regulation, react more than those not at risk,  studies have shown that cortisol (stress chemical) response to psychosocial stress is significantly increased in offspring with a family history of alcoholism compared to those with no family history of alcoholism (7,8)

Interestingly, this stress dysregulation may potentiate (heighten) the rewarding properties of alcohol as we have also seen in emotion dysregulation. Alcohol appears to not only be rewarding but is doubly so in that it provides a release from stress also.

In fact, offspring from families with alcoholics may be hypersensitive to the effects of alcohol on cardiovascular activity (3,5,9,10)

Alcohol may serve to dampen heart rate and electrodermal reactivity to stress more in young adults with a family history of alcoholism than in offspring without a family history.

Slowing of heart rate may be associated with increased perception of relaxation making alcohol more rewarding to high risk offspring.

In offspring of alcohol dependent individuals, ethanol (alcohol) consumption results in significantly lower stress chemicals like adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol levels compared to control subjects and these are  predictive of future alcoholism (11).

Initial alcohol use may have a double whammy effect on alcoholics, possibly right from the first drink. It may be the reason some alcoholics say they were alcoholic from their first drink, that the drink could do for them what they could not do for themselves.

Alcohol may involve a profound a release from self, a self prone to stress difficulties and more susceptible to the releasing, stress reducing properties of alcohol.

References

1. Harden PW, Pihl RO. Cognitive function, cardiovascular reactivity, and behavior in boys at high risk for alcoholism.Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 1995;104(1):94–103.

2. Hill SY. Absence of paternal sociopathy in the etiology of severe alcoholism: is there a type III alcoholism? Journal of Studies Alcohol. 1992;53(2):161–169.

3. Finn PR, Pihl RO. Risk for alcoholism: a comparison between two different groups of sons of alcoholics on cardiovascular reactivity and sensitivity to alcohol. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research. 1988;12(6):742–747.

4.  Finn PR, Zeitouni NC, Pihl RO. Effects of alcohol on psychophysiological hyperreactivity to nonaversive and aversive stimuli in men at high risk for alcoholism. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 1990;99(1):79–85.

5.  Peterson JB, Pihl RO, Séguin JR, Finn PR, Stewart SH. Heart-rate reactivity and alcohol consumption among sons of male alcoholics and sons of non-alcoholics. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience. 1993;18(4):190–198. [PMC free article]

6. Stewart SH, Finn PR, Pihl RO. The effects of alcohol on the cardiovascular stress response in men at high risk for alcoholism: a dose response study. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 1992;53(5):499–506.

7. Uhart M, Oswald L, McCaul ME, Chong R, Wand GS. Hormonal responses to psychological stress and family history of alcoholism. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2006;31(10):2255–2263.

8. Zimmermann U, Spring K, Kunz-Ebrecht SR, Uhr M, Wittchen HU, Holsboer F. Effect of ethanol on hypothalamicpituitary-adrenal system response to psychosocial stress in sons of alcohol-dependent fathers. Neuropsychopharmacology.2004;29(6):1156–1165.

9. Schuckit MA. Low level of response to alcohol as a predictor of future alcoholism. American Journal of Psychiatry.1994;151(2):184–189.
10. Schuckit MA, Tsuang JW, Anthenelli RM, Tipp JE, Nurnberger JI., Jr. Alcohol challenges in young men from alcoholic pedigrees and control families: a report from the COGA project. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 1996;57(4):368–377.
11. Schuckit MA, Smith TL. Assessing the risk for alcoholism among sons of alcoholics. Journal of Studies on Alcohol.1997;58(2):141–145.