Why Are Sex And Drug Relapse Often Linked Together?


Both sex and drugs affect similar chemical pathways in the brain and both can superficially seem to fulfill similar emotional needs. However, part of the recovery process from addiction is ultimately realizing that, in the long run, your drug of choice (including sex) does not satisfy the emotional hole you are trying to fill and, in fact, creates more psychological turmoil.

In addition, for some individuals in recovery their substance abuse history was intimately tied with sex. The addiction process interlinks the two behaviors in the brain. When this happens then one of these behaviors, or the lack of one behavior, can trigger a craving for the other behavior. An individual may have done drugs with sexual partners or picked up people in clubs and bars while they were using. Or an addict might just understand that drugs and sex both produce similar highs. No matter the conscious connection made between drugs and sex by the individual with the addiction, the tie is there biologically. Understanding this link can help some individuals in recovery prevent an avoidable relapse.

The Biology of Sex-Linked Drug Relapse

Those with any addiction (e.g., drug, sex, gambling, etc.) are looking to alter their state of mind for any number of reasons. With drugs, a user can make this change in their emotional state in three different ways depending on the substance they choose. Narcotics can create:

  • Arousal when using stimulants (e.g., cocaine, Ecstasy or meth)
  • Satiation with the help of depressants (e.g., alcohol, sedatives or pain pills)
  • Fantasy when taking hallucinogens (e.g., LSD, marijuana or mushrooms)

Other addictions work with these same chemical pathways in the brain. Each of the emotional changes discussed above is also related to the following potentially addictive behaviors:


  • Sex
  • Gambling
  • Shoplifting
  • Sports
  • Work
  • Crises


  • Sex
  • TV
  • Shopping


  • Sex
  • Mystical Experience
  • Infatuation

Sex Stimulates the Pathways Associated With Substance Abuse

As you can see, sex is able to create any of these changes to an individual’s mental state. Therefore, sex is affecting the same pathways as any drug to which someone may be addicted. This is why sex can lead to relapse so easily. Whether it is getting into a relationship, leaving a relationship, or any number of situations where sex may be given or taken away during an unstable time in someone’s recovery, the individual may respond by craving their drug of choice. Understanding this connection may help you or someone you care about avoid this pitfall as you work to make healthy decisions that sustain sobriety.

If you know someone who has relapsed and needs additional support, we can help. Our evidence-based treatment programs can help you achieve a lasting recovery. Give us a call today.