Benoit Denizet-Lewis Faces His Obsession in the Flesh

Author and journalist Benoit Denizet-Lewis writes about his sex addiction in the NYT in an excerpt adapted from his book America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life:

Americaanonymous“If you ask alcoholics about the first time they became drunk, many will say it was the moment they finally felt O.K. in the world. I never had that sensation while drunk or stoned, but I did feel it the first time I entered a gay men’s chat room, while in college. In a kind of hypnotic trance, I sent out photos of myself to rave reviews. But there were never enough reviews, never enough guys, never enough validation. Within three months, I had hooked up with 20 guys from online. Within six months, I was routinely skipping out on friends so I could spend nights in chat rooms. Within a year, I had essentially lost the ability to control the time I spent on the Internet. For the life of me, I couldn’t sign off. It took another five years before my life completely fell apart…”

Read the entire excerpt here.

The HuffPost gives the book a further review here.


  1. Paul R says

    All addictions are horrible. And it’s striking how similar the approaches to and responses are for treating all of them.

    I wonder how long it will be before they come up with a pill to target the area of the brain responsible for addiction—I know they’ve identified that area, though don’t yet fully understand how it works or why it differs across people.

  2. says

    I can’t believe they gave a sophomoric piece of crap like that square footage in the NYT. I don’t really have a problem calling sexual addiction an illness–well, not much of a problem–but I have a MAJOR issue with bad writing. What’s the 2009 equivalent of 2008’s “FAIL”?

  3. David D. says

    One thing I’ve always found a little irritating: To me, the term ‘addiction’ describes a biochemical process, an actual physical dependency, and refers to substances like heroin, cocaine, morphine, barbituates, crystal meth, etc.

    I can see how one can become obsessed with or emotionally dependent on sex, porn, websites, videogames, gambling and so on, but to me the purely psychological nature of these issues disqualify them from being actual addictions.

  4. johnejeffers says

    I read this piece in the Times on Sunday. Why was it it the “Fashion & Style” section?
    The section on drinking and alcoholic addiction during the Holidays has been in the “Opinion” section. Seems odd to me.

  5. JOE 2 says

    David D. – This may just be an issue of semantics, or a matter of debate regarding whether or not “the mind” and “the body” are separate entities, but there is evidence that the process of engaging in compulsive sexual acting-out behavior releases a potent combination of neurotransmitters in the brain that behaves like a drug, and to which sexually compulsive individuals become physically addicted. Regardless, the origins and treatment of both behavioral and pharmacological addictions are currently understood to be equivalent.

  6. Charlie says

    Many twelve step programs use the concept of powerlessness. If you cannot stop a behavior then you are addicted. This might be alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, etc.

    I once knew a crack addict who struggled with staying clean. One of the problems he had is that the high from crack was so much like an orgasm that having sex would trigger a relapse.

  7. Paul R says

    Also, David D., of the substances you list, only heroin and morphine are truly physically addictive—meaning that if you quit them, you will have clear physical responses (nausea, hot/cold flashes, aches and pains, etc.) in addition to the psychological desire to use. Alcohol can be added to this list as well: quitting heroin can’t kill you, but long-term, severe alcoholics can easily die if they quit cold turkey and receive no treatment.

    Quitting cocaine and barbituates may be extremely difficult and can certainly affect mood, but the only physical side effect I can think of with them is a potential disruption to sleep patterns. Though that is a physical response, it’s not nearly in the same category as withdrawal from opiates.

    Meth is more complicated. Long-term use can cause changes in the brain that induce a powerful desire to use, so I guess in a sense that’s partly a physical effect. But I would still group it with cocaine and barbituates—the problems of quitting mainly involve the absence of the habit/pattern of use and the feeling associated with it. In any case, such problems can be just as strong as any physical effects.

    That said, I too put sex, food, gambling, and some other things commonly labeled as “addictions” in a different category, since these are behaviors that don’t involve ingesting something that warps your ability to think straight. But Joe 2 makes a valid, accurate point too. Our brain and its chemistry are far from being understood, with addiction and a host of other issues. Hell, scientists and psychiatrists don’t even fully understand how antidepressants work (and, in some people, why they don’t).

  8. gr8guyca says

    David D and Joe 2: I have had bouts of severe clinical depression for years and, during one of them, became sexually addicted. The hookups became a way of self-medicating and gave me a shot of adrenalin – a rush – that relieved my depression. It certainly released some neurotransmitter, as Joe 2 suggests. But I was using sex in exactly the same way that heroin addicts use their drug. I needed bigger and bigger hits to get the same “high.” It wasn’t a choice, it became a physical need, as powerful as any narcotic. And when my depression lifted, thanks to medication, my addiction went away. So I believe, from my experience, that sexual addiction should be treated in the same way that any other addiction is.

  9. Cameron Johnson says

    Haters. I don’t think you get to be mad at someone for honestly, and openly admitting their compulsions in an attempt to change. So, more power to you, Benoit.

  10. says

    i second or third mostof the comments in defense of the addiction label.

    i have worked in the addictions field for over 20 of the past 25 years, and am myself a recovering alcoholic.

    in the simplest terms, the distinction most often made is addictions of ingestion or addictions of behavior. the physiological responses to shoplifting are similar to those of a food binge or a meth rush.

    what one addicts TO seems to be a matter of personal physiology and life experience. many addicts (alcoholics etc) have multipleconcurrent addictions, or switch addictions in the course of trying to recover. for some, otherwise positive activities such as religion or work have a narcotising effect as well, both on them, and on the effects on family.

    the addiction is within the addict, not the substance or behavior.

    (compulsive on line activity is now being treated as addiction as well, but try and get me off my computer and you die).

  11. Thomasina says

    @johnejeffers: my guess is that the column was in the Fashion & Style section of the Times because that’s where the “Modern Love” columns always are.

  12. David says

    The NYT piece is just marketing. The important piece of writing is the book, which I bought and began reading yesterday. I think it’s a milestone because as we evolve as a society, so will our addictions, and we have never in this country had a useful, honest dialogue about addiction, and how to deal constructively with its consequences. Denizet-Lewis is trying to explain to the general public what addiction is like on a day to day basis — how it starts, what’s it looks like from the beginning to its nadir and back again through recovery, not as an appeal for sympathy, but as an appeal to constructive dialogue. The anonymity of addiction recovery makes addiction largely invisible to the public at large, so Denizet-Lewis should be commended for a well-written work that tries to get the conversation going.

Leave A Reply