Substance use disorders and sexual behavior; the effects of alcohol and drugs on patients' sexual thoughts, feelings and behavior

Addict Behav. 2018 Dec;87:231-237. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.07.005. Epub 2018 Jul 6.


Introduction: Hardly any research exists on the relationship between substance use and sexual behaviors in patients with a substance use disorder. This study aimed to examine this relation by looking into perceived positive effects on sexual behavior, perceived negative effects and risky sexual behavior due to substance use in patient groups of users of alcohol, stimulants, sedatives and Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB). In addition, the current study aimed to address the question whether sexual behavior (e.g. number of sexual partners, sexual activity) differs between these patient groups.

Method: A total of 180 patients with a substance use disorder (i.e. alcohol, amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, GHB and opiates) participated. A self-report questionnaire was administered with questions on substance use, sexual behaviors (e.g. sexual activity, masturbation, use of pornography) and statements about the perceived changes in sexual functioning and behavior under influence of the primary substance of abuse.

Results: All four groups reported changes in sexual thoughts, feelings and behavior due to the use of their primary substance. More than half of the patients reported enhancements in sexual domains (i.e. sexual pleasure, sexual arousal, sexual behavior), but also decrements or risky behaviors and about a quarter stated that their sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviors were often associated with the use of their primary substance of abuse. Patients with a GHB use disorder reported the strongest relation between drug use and sexual behavior. Users of GHB not only reported more enhancement in several sexual domains, but also less decline in sexual domains compared to the other patient groups and more risky behavior or more sexual activity than some of the other groups of patients.

Conclusions: The results underline the importance of addressing the relationship between substance use and sexual behavior in treatment programs, as patients may be hesitant to stop their use of substances when they experience many positive effects in their sexual behavior. Future research directions are suggested.

Keywords: Addictive behavior; Recovery treatment programs; Sex; Sexual behavior; Substance abuse.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude to Health
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult