Addicts of all types almost universally experience an increasing tolerance to the mood-altering effects of their substance/behavior of choice. As a result, they must, over time, use more of that addictive substance/behavior or a more intense substance/behavior to achieve and maintain the escapist high they seek.

If you’re struggling to understand this, consider drug addiction. Almost nobody shoots heroin right out of the gate. Instead, drug addicts ease into things by smoking marijuana or abusing a prescription medication. As time passes, their tolerance increases, and in response their habits escalate. Maybe they start smoking pot around the clock, or maybe they start popping pills by the handful, or whatever. Eventually, as their brain continues to adapt, even that level of usage doesn’t get or keep them high the way they’d like. At some point, they “discover” drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin, and they use these stronger substances in an effort to feel high the way they used to. At first, they might just sprinkle a bit of cocaine or meth into a joint or cigarette, or they mix a tiny bit of heroin into the pills they’ve learned to crush and snort (for faster effect). In the end, without ever making a conscious decision to do so, they find themselves cooking and injecting their new drug of choice.

Sex addicts escalate their behavior in similar fashion. For instance, occasionally viewing and masturbating to generic (i.e., vanilla) online porn is typically regarded as an enjoyable and relatively innocuous activity, akin to drinking a beer or inhaling a few puffs of marijuana. However, for some people what begins as harmless recreation can become an all-consuming activity, pushing the user away from relationships, family, work, hobbies, and other life-affirming activities. Hours and sometimes even days are lost to sexual intensity. Over time, the user may find that he or she is looking at and being turned on by increasingly more intense sexual imagery or engaging in other sexual activities (such as webcam sex, casual sex, anonymous sex, prostitution, and the like).

The simple truth is sex addiction nearly always escalates in terms of time and/or content. And sooner or later, without intervention, these escalated behaviors result in profound and repeated negative life consequences. Over time, sex addicts neglect people important to them (children, spouses, friends), interests (recreation, self-care, creativity), and responsibilities (work, finances, family) to spend hours, sometimes even days, in a fantasy-based, emotionally elevated state of emotional escape (referred to by sex addicts as “the bubble” or “the trance”). As their addiction continually gets worse, their sexual activities might even start to go against their inherent values and beliefs (relationship fidelity, safer sex, not lying to or hurting others, etc.)


Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW is Chief Clinical Officer of Seeking Integrity LLC, a unified group of online and real-world communities helping people to heal from intimacy disorders like compulsive sexual behavior and related drug abuse. As Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Rob led the development and implementation of Seeking Integrity’s residential treatment programming and serves as an integral part of the treatment team. He is the author of ten books on sexuality, technology, and intimate relationships, including Sex Addiction 101, Out of the Doghouse, and Prodependence. His Sex, Love, and Addiction Podcast is currently in the Top 10 of US Addiction-Health Podcasts. Dr. Rob hosts a no-cost weekly Sex and Intimacy Q&A on Seeking Integrity’s self-help website, (@SexandHealing). The Sex and Relationship Healing website provides free information for addicts, partners of addicts, and therapists dealing with sex addiction, porn addiction, and substance abuse issues. Dr. Rob can be contacted via Seeking and All his writing is available on Amazon, while he can also be found on Twitter (@RobWeissMSW), on LinkedIn (Robert Weiss LCSW), and on Facebook (Rob Weiss MSW).

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