A frequently asked first question for men who are considering spending time in treatment and beginning the journey of recovery is: what about sex? There are unspoken rules about maintaining abstinence for the first year of recovery, especially during months spent in treatment. While some men are more than willing to take whatever suggestions are given to them for staying sober, other men are hesitant when it comes to the idea of temporary abstinence. There is a simple answer which comes to men who ask this question. Abstinence from sexual activity and/or dating in the first year of recovery isn’t a deadly choice. However, making choices which the recovering brain isn’t yet ready for, getting caught up in new and overwhelming emotions, or becoming the center of a drama fueled relationship, can be deadly. It is a sad and unfortunately common tale for men and women to get caught up in what they hope to be a “casual” encounter, only to relapse shortly thereafter. Abstinence doesn’t guarantee immunity from relapse, but it does ban a common contributor to it. Relapse never guarantees a return to recovery. The weight of the choice will always lean toward what is best for recovery.
Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, spoke with VOX about all things sex and love. “…When you have sex with somebody, and it’s pleasurable, it drives up the dopamine system in the brain. That can push you over the threshold into falling in love,” she explains. Furthermore, reaching climax during sexual activity floods the brain with oxytocin and vasopressin, neurochemicals which create attachment in the brain. Simply stated, Fisher explains, sex “…can trigger these brain systems for romantic love and feelings of attachment.” The bottom line, Fisher emphasizes: having sex without falling in love is hard to do.
Consider the pleasure cycle of the brain on drugs or alcohol. Many men have described their relationship to mind altering substances as a romantic one, even including sensual descriptions. Addiction is, among many other things, a matter of attachment. Drugs and alcohol stimulate the production of dopamine in the brain. As physical and psychological tolerance and dependency build, the brain as well as the body absolutely become attached to mind altering substances.
Sex in early recovery can be a drug. Men can turn to sex to cope with difficult experiences. Trying to achieve that same dopamine surge, or the feeling of being high, men become attached to either the act of sex itself or the person they are having sex with. Instead of focusing on their recovery and learning how to live life without a constant dopamine surge, men perpetuate the cycle of addiction in a different form. When the relationship ends and the sex is cut off, men can feel as if they are going through withdrawal again. Withdrawal is one of the most vulnerable times for relapse, putting men at risk once more.
Tree House Recovery offers men the opportunity to find freedom from addiction. Call us today for information on our treatment programs in Portland, Oregon and how we are helping men transform their lives, inside and out: (503) 850-2474