6 Ways Recovering Alcoholics Deny Sex and Intimacy Issues

Many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have problems with sex and intimacy.  Even though they have been in 12-step recovery, they may still have intimacy issues.

They may have great difficulty following through with relationships and instead go for repeated seductions in which they use the feeling of falling in love as a substitute high.  Other recovering chemical dependency people become sexually compulsive with online hook-ups or internet pornography as their new drug of choice.  Still others have intense, high drama relationships in which they seek to control the other person out of fear.  As they often say, “I don’t have relationships, I take prisoners.”

Denial mechanisms

Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts may use denial mechanisms to avoid seeing their problems with intimacy and sexuality.  When we talk about being “in denial” what we mean is that the addict is using one or more habitual ways of thinking about a situation which serve to eliminate the need to take the situation seriously or to do anything about it.



This is the tendency to see anything to do with sex and relationships as relatively minor and harmless.  The alcoholic/addict may argue that behaviors like compulsive porn use, preoccupation with online hook-ups, or frequent visits to prostitutes are not nearly as risky or life threatening as chemical dependency.  Also they may rely on the argument that sexual acting out is entirely legal and that it is victimless.


Sex addiction can creep into the recovering addict’s life because it is a drug that can substitute for the previous addiction.  The addict may “rationalize” this use of sex as a drug on the basis that it makes sense to rely on sex because it is a way to stay away from another addiction.  They may argue that “love” is a good thing and that being hooked on sexual behaviors “keeps me out of trouble.”


Recovering alcoholics and addicts can appear to be leading a normal life.  As practicing alcoholics and drug addicts, their daily functioning was probably much more compromised in a much more obvious way than that of the practicing sex addict.  Sex addicts can keep their sexual behavior compartmentalized and hidden.  Out of sight out of mind.  Thus the addict can convince himself and everyone else that there is nothing wrong.  There may be not obvious consequences and there may be no one in the addict’s life who ever calls him on his behavior.


Recovering addicts often take a superior and derisive attitude toward sex addicts.  This grandiosity is a part of a narcissistic defense system that many addicts have and that covers up a sense of inferiority.  It can also take the form of machismo and sexism in which recovering alcoholics or addicts may engage in seductive and sexually predatory behavior toward people in their recovery groups.  This is sometimes referred to as “13th stepping.”  It is a need to feed the ego and to feel better by seeing other people as worse off.  Thus recovering alcoholics and addicts may even take the attitude that sex addiction recovery is a kind of joke.


Recovering addicts and alcoholics often attribute their sexually compulsive behavior to something other than sex addiction.  They very commonly are aware that they behave in a sexually inappropriate manner prior to chemical dependency recovery and they attribute that to the fact that they were high on drugs or alcohol.  Drugs and alcohol allowed them to overcome their inhibitions and behave in overtly excessive ways sexually.

What they fail to see is that the sexually compulsive behavior is a drug in its own right and has the same roots and their chemical dependency.  They may also attribute their sexually addictive behavior to another psychological problem such as bipolar disorder.  In any case, these are ways of saying that a pattern of sexually addictive behavior doesn’t exist because it is really just a byproduct of something else.


This can take various forms in which the alcoholic uses semi-logical argument as to why they cannot or need not do anything about a problem.  One form is to take a victim role, i.e. to feel helpless and hopeless about changing how they relate to intimacy and relationships.  They argue that they have already worked a program and that there is nothing more they can do.  In other words this is as good as it gets.

Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts often have little or no experience with healthy intimate relationships.  Their primary relationship has been with a chemical and they are most often avoidant of true intimacy.

It is important for those of us in the sex addiction field to help educate chemical dependency professionals and people in the recovery community about the next phase in sobriety and about the importance of gaining relationship skills and becoming “intimacy-abled.”

Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource

Recovering Alcoholics Often Have Sex and Intimacy Issues

Sex addiction therapists as well as many in the recovery community believe that a sizable proportion of alcoholics are also sex addicts or move into sexual addiction once they are sober from alcohol.

Intimacy disability is at the heart of all addiction

Alcoholics and drug addicts who are abstinent from drug and alcohol use have most often “worked a program” in which they became aware of their own fears and insecurities.  They have probably learned how to be less self-conscious and more authentic in their every day dealings with people.  They have also been exposed to the idea that recovery means “rigorous honesty.”

However, sobriety from chemical dependency does not necessarily mean delving into the hang-ups that the addict has with regard to intimate relationships.  The recovering addict or alcoholic will have learned to trust a higher power and to accept the help and friendship of other people.  And yet they may still be incapable of being trusting and open in an intimate romantic/sexual relationship.

The alcoholic/addict may have had no experience with “healthy” intimate relationships.  Most if not all addicts have childhoods characterized by problems in their bonding with their parents or caregivers.  These may seem very obvious or more subtle, but these attachment issues produce addiction prone people who have a long-standing mistrust and avoidance of intimate bonding.

Alcoholics and addicts may have worked through their general social avoidance, self-consciousness and discomfort for which alcohol was the medication. But they may not be able to carry those skills over to the more threatening and less familiar area of dating and intimacy.  Often they are aware of the fact that in their alcoholism or drug addiction they did not have healthy relationships.  As they often put it they don’t have relationships, they “take hostages.”

Alcoholics and addicts resist looking at their intimacy issues

A lot of alcoholics/sex addicts will tell you that programs like SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) are “graduate school” compared to AA and the other chemical dependency support groups.

Sex addiction programs look a lot like drug and alcohol programs and they do have a lot in common.  But quitting drinking or drugs is often experienced as a simpler and easier process for many people than confronting sex addiction.  I have heard more than one AA member complain that when it comes to SAA: “the credits don’t transfer.”

Although recovering alcoholics are very well represented in the ranks of recovering sex addicts, there remain a very large number of recovering alcoholics who resist or pooh-pooh the idea of sex addiction recovery.

People recovering from chemical dependency use the same denial mechanisms about sex addiction that they used about drugs or alcohol prior to getting into recovery from chemical dependency.  These denial mechanisms have just changed their content but not their basic form.  They include things like minimizing, rationalizing, intellectualizing, and compartmentalizing.

The role of ego

In all of the above mentioned denial mechanisms, there is an element of ego that has crept back into the alcoholic or addicts thinking.  They can’t imagine what it is to feel safe and contented in an intimate relationship and instead they satisfy themselves with various behaviors such as one night stands, serial seductions, high drama relationships that do not last, or avoidance of intimate relating altogether and so on.

What the recovering addict in denial has failed to see is that other people can and do change and that their sexually addictive tendencies are out of their control.  They have forgotten that step one in 12-step work is admitting powerlessness and admitting that you need help.  The ego has crept in the form of “self-will” about sexuality and relationships.  The addict has forgotten about reaching out and having faith.