There are so many issues that go along with addiction that few people stop to consider that sexual dysfunction can be a side effect of the disease as well. Many addictive drugs can impair a person’s sex drive or sexual functioning. A person living with an addiction may not be aware that what they are taking is causing these problems.
Sexual Dysfunction as a Side Effect of Addiction
Generally speaking, addiction is a disease that develops over time. (In some instances, a person will take one dose of a drug and immediately develop a desire to want to use it repeatedly to the extent that they will do anything to acquire more.) In most cases, the use of an addictive drug (which includes alcohol) over an extended period is part of the slippery slope where enjoying an experience turns into a physical and emotional craving for it.
The sexual side effects of drug use are connected to the amount used. As the amount used increases, which happens as the person slides down the slope toward addiction, the likelihood of experiencing sexual problems also increases.
Sexual Dysfunction and Specific Drug Use
Different types of drugs can affect users’ sexual functioning in specific ways. People who are using more than one may be putting themselves at increased risk for sexual dysfunction. Each drug causes side effects on the body; introducing more than one substance into the mix heightens the level of risk.
In relatively low doses, alcohol takes away inhibitions. On the surface, it seems as though that would be helpful for someone anxious or nervous about sexual activity. If someone is drinking heavily, though (more than two alcoholic drinks per hour), then alcohol acts as a depressant.
Most people think of this in terms of mood and how higher amounts of alcohol can make someone feel down, bitter or angry. But alcohol also depresses the nervous system, making it difficult for women to respond sexually and for men to get and sustain an erection.
The nicotine in tobacco products is a highly-addictive substance. It narrows blood vessels with use, including the arteries carrying blood to the genital area. Men who smoke have a significant risk of erectile dysfunction (ED). Women smokers experience inhibited blood flow to the vaginal wall, leading to increased vaginal dryness.
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs used to treat sleep disorders like insomnia and seizures. They are also used to treat panic and anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal. These prescription medications are sold under several brand names, including Ativan, Klonopin, Valium and Xanax.
All of them act as central nervous system depressants. These drugs have a sedating affect, and their use can lead to a reduced sex drive.
Opioids include prescription pain medications, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, codeine, morphine and more. Drugs in this class also include fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, and heroin, which is an illegal substance. Researchers have found that using long-acting opioids daily for more than one month can affect the endocrine system negatively.
In women, this endocrine issue can lead to abnormal menstrual periods. In men and women, long-term opioid use can lead to a testosterone deficiency. The symptoms of this health issue include fatigue, depression, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction. Many people living with substance use disorder experience decreased sex drive; however, irregular menstrual periods for women and ED in men are “especially common in those with opioid dependence.” (PracticalPainManagement.com)
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