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Is it Bipolar Hypersexuality or Sex Addiction?


It is often difficult to tell the difference from someone who is a sex addict with bipolar disorder, or if hypersexuality is just a result of bipolar mania.  It is important to researchers to discover how the two are related in order to come up with better treatment options.

What is Bipolar Hypersexuality?

According to WebMD, hypersexuality is an increased need, even pressure, for sexual gratification and is often a symptom of mania.  It may also include decreased inhibitions or a need for “forbidden” sex.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that the prevalence of hypersexuality among people with bipolar disorder is anywhere from 25 to 80% with an average estimate of 57%.  “Despite its primal role in human behavior, sexuality remains one of the hardest, most sensitive subjects to dredge up in any but the most cursory details. Which explains why, while hypersexuality is listed as one of the primary symptoms of bipolar in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition), many psychiatrists refer to it almost as an afterthought—if at all—when forming a diagnosis,” NAMI states. “Though hypersexuality may present itself as just one aspect in a constellation of problems, it is often the most destructive and challenging part of bipolar disorder—troubling families of young children suffering from juvenile hypersexuality, ruining marriages, generating life-threatening health problems.”

Bipolar Disorder and General Addiction

It is common knowledge that bipolar disorder and addiction oftentimes go hand-in-hand.  According to NAMI, about 60 percent of people with bipolar disorder will also have some form of substance abuse disorder within their lifetime.

The connection between bipolar disorder and addiction is not completely understood; however, the Mayo Clinic offers some insight into what factors may influence this connection:

  • Inherited traits: Genetic differences appear to affect brain chemistry linked to bipolar disorder. These same traits may also affect the way the brain responds to alcohol and other drugs, increasing the risk of alcoholism and addiction.
  • Depression and anxiety: Some people drink to ease depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of bipolar disorder.  Drinking may seem to help, but in the long run it generally makes symptoms worse.  This can lead to more drinking — a vicious cycle that’s difficult to overcome.
  • Mania: This upswing from depression is usually characterized by euphoric mood and hyperactivity.  It commonly causes bad judgment and lowered inhibitions, which can lead to increased alcohol use or drug abuse.

Bipolar Disorder and Sex Addiction

Given what we now know about hypersexuality in bipolar disorder and the propensity for people with bipolar to suffer from addiction, it comes as no surprise that there would be a positive correlation between bipolar disorder and sex addiction.

It is important to note that sex addiction is not just about the sex.  Rory Reid, PhD, LCSW, a research psychologist at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior states, “It is no more about sex than an eating disorder is about food or pathological gambling is about money.  Sex addicts, in other words, are not simply people who crave lots of sex. Instead, they have underlying problems — stress, anxiety, depression, shame — that drive their often risky sexual behavior” (McMillen).

Diagnosis and Treatment

Due to the complex issues that underlie hypersexuality in bipolar disorder, it is important to be properly diagnosed by a professional.  Once a diagnosis has been made, the person can seek the appropriate help and treatment.  There is hope!


Works Cited:

1. “Bipolar disorder and alcoholism: Are they related?” 10 April 2013. Web. 18 April 2013.

2. McMillen, Matt. “Is Sex Addiction Real?” WebMD. n.d. Web. 8 April 2013.

3. “Opening the Door on Hypersexuality.” NAMI. n.d. Web. 8 April 2013.

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