Sex and drug addicts share similar brain activity finds research
A study executed by researchers from the University of Cambridge – funded by the Wellcome group – has revealed that the neurological responses of sex addicts to pornographic stimuli mimics that of drug addicts brain activity.
The researchers studied 19 males who suffered from compulsive sexual behaviour and interpersonal difficulties related to sex and an equal sized healthy control group of males without a sexual addiction.
The study used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to accurately measure brain activity in each group when exposed to pornographic stimuli.
The results, published in the journal PLoS One, showed that patients with compulsive sexual behaviour when exposed to pornographic images demonstrated brain activity similar to the one found in addicts when exposed to drug stimuli.
The three areas of a human brain: the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdale – collectively responsible for anticipating reward, managing cravings and measuring the significance of events and emotions – were found to be over-active in sex addicts than in healthy group of males.
The study also revealed greater crosstalk – interactions between these areas – in addicts than with the healthy control group.
Responses of the participants to the pornographic films were recorded and rated according to the levels of desire felt and how much they “liked” the video. The data showed patients struggling with compulsive sexual behaviour rated their levels of desire far higher than those in the control group.
Dr. Voon, from the University of Cambridge, told the BBC: “This is the first study of its kind to look at people suffering from these disorders and look at brain activity, but we don’t understand enough right now to say it is clearly an addiction.”
Awareness of sex addiction has grown over the last two or three decades, with online groups such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) highly attended across the country. However, the addiction has not yet been formally recognised as a psychiatric disorder and at present there is no diagnostic information or great formal acknowledgement of this subgroup addiction.
Research shows those who identify as sex addicts typically have engaged with pornographic material at a younger age and with greater frequency than those with a healthy relationship with sex.
These people are often at far greater risk of developing further addictions. Many individuals suffer from mental illnesses and have history of abuse or personality disorders such as bipolar.
Dr. John William, the head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust charity, commented: “Compulsive behaviours, including watching porn to excess, over-eating and gambling are increasingly common. This study takes us a step further to finding out why we carry on repeating behaviours that we know are potentially damaging to us. Whether we are tackling sex addiction, substance abuse or eating disorders, knowing how best, and when, to intervene in order to break the cycle is an important goal of this research.”