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Episode 28: Addiction & Intimacy – From Harm to Healing (1/2)

In our interview with Dr. Robert Weiss, we learn what it means to be an “addict,” how narcissistic tendencies perpetuate addiction, and what our upbringing has subconsciously taught us about healthy relationships and dependency. We also discuss the importance of a support system in the process of recovery, how to support a loved one, and what lessons about ourselves and how our past experiences have shaped us that everyone — regardless of being an addict or not — can learn from addiction.  Dr. Rob is an expert in the treatment of addiction and adult intimacy disorders and the author of “Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency,” which seeks to move from a word and a culture that casts blame on those who are struggling to help a loved one navigate mental illness or addiction, to a space where they are allowed to be close to that person and encourage their recovery — yet not enable their addiction.
The transcript wasn’t added for this episode.

In this week’s two-part episode, we discuss the topic of addiction and how it relates to intimacy with Dr. Robert Weiss, a clinical sexologist, practicing psychotherapist, and published author who is an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions. 

We dive into what it means to be an “addict,” how narcissistic tendencies perpetuate addiction, and what our upbringing has subconsciously taught us about healthy relationships and dependency.

Failure to Trust in Childhood

The vast majority of addicts grew up with unstable, toxic, and/or emotionally detached caregivers. As a result, many addicts never learned the basic skill of trust during their crucial developmental stages. Failing to learn how to trust at a young age often leads to self-sabotaging behaviors as an adult — distrust of others, defensive behavior, isolation, and extreme self-reliance. For more research on the intersection between child abuse and alcohol and drug addiction, click here.

Why “Chemical Dependency” May Be Better Term than “Addiction”

There is an old-term for drug addiction called chemical dependency that is no longer widely used. Dr. Weiss explains his preference for this term because it emphasizes the issue of “dependence” — people become addicted to substances or behaviors because they do not feel safe depending on people. 

People are meant to depend on people. We are meant to be connected. We are at our healthiest when we are pair-bonded and deeply embedded in meaningful community.

Addiction is a Neurological Disorder

After decades of research and discussion, the American Society of Addiction Medicine has stated that addiction is not a personality trait or behavioral problem, but a chronic brain disorder. Like diabetes and any other chronic disorder, addiction “must be treated, managed, and monitored over a person’s lifetime.”

An Addict’s Brain Circuity 

The trauma — whether emotional, physical, or both — that occurs very early in an addict’s life shapes their brain circuitry. Although genetic factors are recognized as potential contributors to addiction, early childhood trauma can severely damage key dopamine-modulated brain circuits that result in addictive behavior.

Responding to Stress through Fantasy & Dissociation

Children who cannot rely on their caregivers for support and guidance often respond to emotionally turbulent experiences through escapism and dissociation, which is a detachment from a person’s physical surroundings and/or physical and emotional experiences. This coping mechanism can seriously harm identity formation and often manifests itself as addiction in adulthood. 

Families & Partners in Addiction

“No one recovers alone,” Dr. Weiss emphasizes. But it’s important to realize that a partner or loved one is not responsible for an addict’s recovery. Boundaries are essential for anyone dealing with a loved one who struggles with addiction, and Dr. Weiss suggests that anyone closely involved with an addict should seek out therapy for themselves, like Al-Anon, to be able to support both themselves and their loved ones. 

It’s not a partner’s responsibility to get somebody well, it’s a partner’s responsibility to love someone the best that they can and hope that they’ll get love back in return.

About the Expert

Robert Weiss

Robert Weiss

Robert Weiss PhD, MSW is an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions, most notably sex/porn/relationship addictions along with co-occurring drug/sex addiction.