Alcohol dependency and sexual dysfunction
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Aoife Drury- BSc, MSc, PgDip, PgCert, Dip
21st March, 20180 Comments
As most of us know, psychoactive substances are believed to be aphrodisiacs, but in reality they have damaging effects on all aspects of sexual function. The interrelationship of alcohol use and sexual activity is well established, but in reality it was not until the 1970's that alcoholism was universally recognised as a cause or contributor to sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction, inhibited sexual desire and anorgasmia.
The contemporary western world has embraced a perspective, that alcohol is "cool" and associated with both physical and sexual attractiveness and ease of sexual interaction. The marketing for alcohol suggests that it is a powerful sexual facilitator and aphrodisiac due to its dis-inhibition properties. We are led to believe that being around alcohol and consuming alcohol will make it easier to be relaxed in opening up to sexual activity and to a world where sex is easier, acceptable and enjoyable.
Confidence and self esteem would contribute to more positive sexual experiences. But, as alcoholism develops, this initial positive sense will be eroded as the effect of a growing dependency on alcohol on the body, the mind and on an individual's sexual desires takes hold. Sexual desire will diminish, ability to become aroused during sexual contact will be reduced and many will find it difficult to reach orgasm.
Unfortunately, sexual problems with alcohol dependency are multi-faceted and constant. The extent to which the abuse of alcohol can have a psychological effect on a man's sexual functionality should not be underestimated. Mandell et al (1984) interviewed 44 alcohol dependant men and found that 59% experienced ED during periods of heavy drinking and 84% reported some level of sexual dysfunction related to alcohol abuse. Whalley (1979) found that men with alcohol dependency (54%) experienced greater sexual dysfunction than (heavy) social drinkers (28%).
For women there has been similar research. Many state that they use alcohol to reduce their inhibitions, anxieties and fears about sex (Marsh;1984). Alcohol can be a depressant and it may reduce desire, creating diminished capacity to feel and a general sense of disconnection. Types of sexual dysfunctions caused by dependency include lack of desire, arousal, lubrication, and orgasm; dyspareunia and vaginismus (Covington and Kohen 1984). One study reported that 69% of alcoholic women indicated an experience of sexual dysfunction prior to addiction, 85% while addicted and 74% suffered from continued sexual dysfunction during early recovery (Covington,2000).
Literature would report that to receive the best care and support, a brief and behaviourally-orientated form of therapy would be the most suitable and would report that this would have better results than any lengthy reconstructive therapy. Alongside this, treatment must be holistic and may need to incorporate general medical treatment, treatment centres or AA meetings depending on the individual's preference.
If you are someone who is experiencing any of the above issues, it’s important to know that you are not alone and that there is help out there. Treatment may feel daunting and overwhelming but starting simply by booking a session with your GP or contacting a relevant therapist is paramount to receiving treatment.
About the author
I am a Psychosexual and Relationship therapist with over 10 years in the psychiatric field. My specialism is in sexual dysfunction and couple work, however I enjoy working with clients from various backgrounds!
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