Why Do Addicts Need to Hit Bottom?

“Hitting bottom” is a well known concept among those in the drug and alcohol recovery community which originally gained currency in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program (AA).  It is also commonly referred to among sex addicts and in Sex Addicts Anonymous 12-step groups.  Hitting bottom is a very individual concept and means roughly that point in your life at which you were so broken down and desperate that you were forced to admit that you needed help. 

The original AA concept of hitting bottom was based on the idea that a true addiction is so powerful that by definition it takes something dramatic to make a person seek help.  In other words, for any addict, sex addicts included, the last thing the addict wants to do is stop engaging in the addictive activity.  Against that overwhelming need, a motivation for seeking help will have to be monumentally powerful.  Furthermore, the concept of needing to hit bottom includes the idea that change is impossible without first admitting that you yourself cannot solve the problem, that the addiction is bigger than you are.  The first step to overcoming the addiction, i.e. step 1 in all the 12-step addiction programs, is admitting this powerlessness.

Sex Addicts are Powerless over the Addiction

Those of us who work with sex addicts have no problem with the idea that sex addiction is just as overwhelmingly powerful as any other addiction—we see it every day. Sex addicts no less than drug and alcohol addicts need to reach a point where they are up against the wall and can no longer believe that they can quit on their own.  It makes no difference what the specific sexual addictive behavior is.  Internet pornography is called the “crack cocaine of sex addiction” because it hooks so many people so easily and so quickly, but other sexual addictive behaviors such as anonymous sex, serial seductions, sexual massage parlors, strip clubs, sexual chat rooms and prostitutes are experienced as just as addictive.  All addictive behaviors escalate as the addiction progresses and the addict finds that despite the best intentions, fiercest exertion of will power and the promises to himself or others, he (or she) continues to give in to the urge to sexually “act out.”

What is an “Intervention” for a Sex Addict?

An intervention is an arranged confrontation of the addict aimed at making him/her see the need for help before they hit a more devastating, absolute bottom.  A large number of the sex addicts who come for help do so because of pressure from outside.  This can take the form of a spouse or partner who finds out about the addiction and pressures the addict into getting help, or it can be an arrest for behavior related to the sex addiction or a brush with the law, or it can be losing a job or being at risk for losing a job due to the addictive behavior or its consequences.  This route into treatment does not guarantee that the addict will automatically believe that he/she needs help or that treatment can cure him/her.  But most sex addiction treatment is geared toward overcoming the initial denial of the addict first and it therefore paves the way for the addict to accept the need for help and ultimately to embrace a program recovery.

Some addicts do “hit bottom” without outside pressure.  They suddenly realize that they have no life, that they are incapable of a good intimate relationship, or that they don’t want grow old and die an addict.  But the pressure from a spouse or partner can be an invaluable tool in creating a “bottom” and propelling the addict into treatment.  Instead of hiring an intervention expert, the partner of a sex addict can often get the same results by saying “get help or else,” that is assuming they mean what they say.

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  1. My sex addict husband “hit bottom” when I discovered his double life as a TG/TS/TV participant in a transsexual dating web site. A little over a month ago, I saw my husband of 20+ years texting in our living room. With all of the kids in the house, I couldn’t imagine who he was texting. Later that same night, I walked into our bedroom and saw that he had removed all of the hair from his chest and abdomen. I immediately started Googling all sorts of crazy (to me) phrases. Ultimately, I did something I had never thought to do in all of our time together–I looked at his smart phone, read the horrifying text messages…”Thinking about hooking up again,” “Can’t wait to have you ___ my ___ again!” And on and on. In addition, he had a separate email address that lead me to the web site where he had posted numerous pictures of himself dressed as a woman seeking men for sex. In contacting a therapist and researching the behaviors, a diagnosis of sex addiction was made by a therapist my husband now sees. What I do not understand is how a man who swears he is neither gay nor interested in homosexual relationships chooses this type of outlet or gratification.

    • Thank you so much for your post and for sharing your experience. Many times addictive behaviors have nothing to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with unresolved trauma and related psychological issues. You might find my blog “Can a Straight Man be Addicted to Gay Sex?” useful in understanding this. I wish you and your husband all the best.

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