Sex Rehab vs. Alcohol Rehab

By Joshua Laurent 10/02/15

The shame of seeking help, or even understanding help is needed and available, is likely what causes the average age of one seeking recovery for sex addiction to be several years older than one seeking help for drugs.

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Sex Rehab vs Alcohol Rehab
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Telling friends, family and co-workers I was heading off to inpatient rehab for sexual addiction elicited quite a different response than when I told them a year earlier that I was entering a facility for my alcoholism. When I admitted the bottle was my demon, I was treated as a hero and got plenty of pats on the back; when it was my sexual issues, people looked at me like they’d just smelled cow manure and the pats on the back only came if they were wearing gloves...and they likely still used hand sanitizer afterward.

Alcoholism and sex addiction are very different maladies, each with their own host of issues and problems, but they are also similar in their brain chemistry and destruction.

People knew I was a drunk, or at least had issues around alcohol. I took great strides to hide the true extent of the problem, but few seemed surprised when I told them it was time for me to get help. My sexual addiction was hidden, played out online in the middle of the night through pornographic websites and chat rooms, away from my “real life.”

Neither of the facilities I went to, first in California and then in Texas, catered to the overly wealthy addict, nor were they bottom-shelf dives. Finding a facility for alcoholism was easy. It was more a matter of deciding where in the country I wanted to be and what was within my price range. 

Sexual addiction isn’t as easy. There are plenty of facilities that list “sexual issues” as one of their areas of treatment, but after preliminary questioning of their intake coordinators, most admit they don’t have the programming or expertise to treat actual sexual addiction. Once my alcoholism was reined in, it was clear just how much the sex addiction had taken over and that I needed treatment exclusive to the condition. After an exhaustive search, I had a list of only 8-10 reputable, accredited facilities with multiple CSATs (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist) on staff.

I was told when searching for a rehab center for alcoholism that I had terrible insurance, yet my carrier allowed me to stay a total of 70 days, only having to pick-up 15% of the price once my deductible was met. Between rehab stints, my wife got a job with a larger company resulting in better health insurance for our family. The facility I ended up choosing in Texas was ecstatic with the insurance I had since it was one of the few carriers that took sex addiction seriously. I don’t know if this was the typical pitch addicts need to be leery of when talking to intake coordinators, but as it turns out, there is no “sexual addiction” designation when it comes to insurance. I was technically at rehab with “chronic impulsivity disorder” with a secondary diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which I’d been dealing with for almost 15 years and was already well-documented by the insurance company. Three weeks into my stay at rehab, I was called to the business office and told my insurance company had dropped me completely. The other four weeks were all out-of-pocket, an almost unfathomable increase from the 10% of the overall cost I was already picking up. 

The facility in California catered to drug addicts and alcoholics. Many of the younger addicts, most of whom will hopefully come to recognize they also have drinking problems, often dismissed those of us who were exclusively alcoholic.

“The reason I never graduated to heroin,” I would explain when alcoholism was laughed at as a problem, “is because alcohol did what I needed it to. I’m lucky in that I didn’t have to use hard drugs to get relief, but keep in mind, when we get out of here, my drug of choice is at every 7-11. My drug of choice is on almost every restaurant menu, and my drug of choice is socially acceptable.” Sometimes this explanation was understood, sometimes it fell on deaf ears.

At my second treatment facility in Texas, which housed around 40 patients, most were seeking help for drugs and alcohol, but about 10 of us were there for sex addiction and a half-dozen were struggling with eating disorders. Once again, those with chemical dependency issues questioned why the rest of us were there.

“It’s easy to understand the goal of your addiction because I’m an alcoholic,” was how I’d launch into the explanation. “Stop using X. X can be heroin, X can be whiskey, X can be meth, but the goal is to stop. There is no healthy use for a chemical addict. You can’t tell one of these eating disorder girls that they need to stop eating. You can’t tell me to no longer be a sexual being. It’s part of our DNA and managing it in a healthy way is the goal, not complete abstinence.” Sometimes this explanation was understood, sometimes it fell on deaf ears.

Having spent seven weeks around-the-clock with so many admitted sex addicts, it was clear there is far more shame associated with the addiction than among those suffering with chemical dependency. This has also rung true for me post-treatment in attending 12-step meetings. While almost every kind of addict can rattle off a litany of horrible things that happened to them in their youth that likely contributed to their addiction and desire to seek treatment to deal with its negative results, the actual physical act of their addiction (drinking, shooting up, smoking) is barely mentioned when sharing their stories.

Most sex addicts simply use the phrase “acting out” when describing what caused them to seek treatment. Be it cheating on a spouse, engaging prostitutes, over-indulging pornography or darker, illegal behavior, I never witnessed a moment of romanticizing their journey to inpatient rehabilitation. Unlike me, most could hold their liquor and, like me, almost none had ever tried drugs beyond marijuana. The shame of seeking help, or even understanding help is needed and available, is likely what causes the average age of one seeking recovery for sex addiction to be several years older than one seeking help for drugs.

It’s not fair to compare the actual treatment of the two facilities, nor to make sweeping generalizations of all alcohol or sexual addiction rehabs. The California center favored a group dynamic and 12-step meetings off campus, while the Texas facility featured a heavy dose of one-on-one counseling and took a more holistic approach to recovery.

I’m proud to say that I haven’t strayed from my sobriety with either addiction and don’t ever plan on it. Alcoholism and sex addiction are very different maladies, each with their own host of issues and problems, but they are also similar in their brain chemistry and destruction. I would not have been able to address my negative sexual behavior had I not got the alcoholism under control first. I don’t know if that means one addiction was worse than the other, or which that would be, but I’m grateful I was able to experience inpatient care for both. It’s a shame attempting to overcome one addiction puts me on a pedestal and the other causes recoiling and disgusted faces, but I’ll take all of the adulation and all of the scorn if it continues to result in the healthy road of recovery I currently enjoy.

Joshua Laurent is the pseudonym of a New England-based writer who has spent nearly 20 years as a journalist for a variety of magazines and newspapers.

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