Addictions to drugs and alcohol have caused great harm to society, and this has raised the question of whether other compulsive behavior conforms to the addiction model. Some workers in the field of alcohol and drug addiction have expanded the definition of "addiction" to include behaviors that do not involve the ingestion of mind altering chemicals. Programs and groups based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have formed for such maladies as gambling addiction, food addiction, Internet addiction and even sex addiction.
Dr. Patrick Carnes, of SexHelp.com and author and clinical director of sexual disorders services at The Meadows in Wickenburg, Arizona, wrote that sex addiction can lead to divorce, job loss, financial disaster and risk to one’s life. “Even the healthiest forms of human sexual expression can turn into self-defeating behaviors,” the Web site said. Sex addiction affects 3 to 6 percent of the population, according to SexHelp.com.
Carnes popularized the concept of sex addiction in his 1989 book "Contrary to Love." His program is based on the 12 Steps from Alcoholics Anonymous. According to the program, sex addicts first have to admit there is a problem. Then they begin a “one-day-at-a-time” lifelong recovery. Sex addiction is never cured. Partners of sex addicts are co-dependent and need counseling as well.
Unlike the alcoholic, a sex addict does not have to abstain from sex but can be led back to healthy sexual behavior just as a food addict can be led back to healthy eating. SexHelp.com said other people suffer from Sexual Anorexia, a condition in which a person feels sexually deprived but dreads sexual pleasure.
Other researchers have questioned the usefulness of the ever- expanding definition of the word "addiction." They question whether an illness brought on by biological dependence on a foreign substance can really be meaningfully compared to complex, compulsive behaviors which do not involve ingesting a foreign chemical. Others point out the disagreements over what constitutes "compulsive" sexual behavior, especially given society's history of socially condemning that which was later to be discovered as normal and harmless.
Howard Fienberg, a research analyst at the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), wrote that even cyber sex is labeled an addiction and explained that it may be a fictional ailment used as a marketing device to sell books and treatment services. Researchers advocating the idea have provided neither a good definition of addiction, nor a good definition of healthy cyber sex use. They also rely on weak research methods such as the use of anecdotal evidence and case studies.
Fienberg criticizes the Sexual Addiction Screening Test at SexHelp.com. The quiz uses “yes” answers to any of the questions as markers for sexual addiction. Two of the questions are “"Do you feel that your sexual behavior is normal?" and "Do you hide some of your sexual behavior from others?" Even those who score zero are at 8.6% risk of addiction, according to the quiz.
The American Psychological Association has stopped formally using the word addiction because of the confusion. Dr. Peter Nathan, a psychology professor at the University of Iowa, said it’s "confusing when such excessive behaviours as gambling ... [and] overeating are included." Fienberg quotes Dr. Sara Kiesler of Carnegie Mellon University as saying that calling a behavior an “addiction” because someone does too much of it is misleading.