How Substance Abuse Can Ruin Your Sex Life


    6 Min Read


    Candles, a glass of wine, and a romantic evening – sounds perfect, right? But what happens when that glass of wine turns into a bottle or more? Or when it’s a drug and not wine? Suddenly substance use has become substance abuse and has ruined your evening and possibly your sex life.

    Addiction and general substance abuse can cause problems in a number of areas including health, career, and relationships. But an area that’s often overlooked are the problems that substance abuse can cause in your sex life.


    If you’re sitting back saying, “Oh this doesn’t apply to me, I’m not an addict, I just indulge occasionally,” think again.

    The Difference Between Substance Use, Abuse, And Addiction

    People often interchange the terms substance abuse and substance addiction. Conversely, people will justify their actions by claiming that certain overindulgent (abusive) behaviors are one-offs and not an addiction, therefore they’re fine.

    While there is a distinction between substance abuse and addiction, both behaviors are dangerous and can have dire consequences.


    Substance abuse is defined as overusing a substance or using for other than its intended purpose. Whether this happens once or on a regular basis it’s still abuse.

    Addiction on the other hand is chronic reliance on a substance to the point where chemical changes create a need for that substance in order to function or feel “normal.”

    So, while substance abuse doesn’t have to mean addiction (although that’s often the end result of regular abuse), it does mean that you’re behaving irresponsibly and in a detrimental way. Binge drinking, going on a bender, a night of illegal drug use – these all qualify as substance abuse and they can ruin many things including your sex life.

    Ways Substance Abuse Can Affect Your Sex Life

    The idea that alcohol or drugs will enhance your sex life is a myth. In fact, it’s really the opposite. Substance abuse actually affects your sex life in overwhelmingly negative ways. Don’t believe me? Here are just a few ways your substance abuse may be ruining your sex life.

    • Dampens libido. Many believe that alcohol or drugs can enhance your sex life by making you more desirous of your partner and more romantic overall. This just isn’t the case. Substance abuse affects you not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. The effects of these substances on your brain can mean that you are less interested in sex, distracted, or find it hard to become aroused. Alcohol in particular is also a depressant which means that finding the excitement and passion that makes sex satisfying can be much harder to do.
    • Impedes performance. Substance abuse can also mean that your ability to perform sexually is compromised. For men erectile dysfunction is a real side-effect of substance abuse. For women it can become hard to achieve orgasm or take pleasure in your sexual experience. Ruining the pleasure of sex through substance abuse is a losing situation in all respects.
    • Lessens your appeal to your partner. There’s nothing attractive about a drunken, sloppy partner. Or one that smells like booze, is slurring their words, or is clearly high or impaired. An individual in this state is unlikely to inspire the desired sexual response in their partner. When this happens, especially if it’s a regular occurrence, that partner will eventually lose any interest in or attraction to the other.
    • Destroys intimacy. Someone who’s impaired can feel like a stranger to their partner. That means there’s no real intimacy or trust during a sexual experience. Lack of intimacy, especially for women, is a big reason that couples experience persistent sexual problems in their relationships.

    Getting the picture? Do any of these side effects of substance abuse sound like the makings of a healthy, satisfying sex life? Nope.

    Why Do People Think Alcohol Or Drugs And Sex Are A Good Combination?

    Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll – that’s an amazing combination, isn’t it? No, it really isn’t. So, if substance abuse negatively affects your sex life why does it factor into sex so often?

    For many, alcohol or drugs act as a crutch for lowering inhibitions and providing a false sense of courage and confidence. If a person is insecure in their relationship, or unsure of themselves or their commitment, or perhaps even unsure of whether they want to have sex, they may use one of these substances to allow them to detach from those feelings and move forward.


    Others may assume that it gives them some advantage in performance or prowess, making them better in bed and a more desirable partner.

    None of that is actually true. The perceptions brought on by substance abuse are like playing pretend in a situation where there should be no pretending (unless that’s part of the agreed upon fun). When the affects wear off you are left with the same feelings you started with and without having had a meaningful sexual experience.

    It’s not just men who ruin their sex lives with substance abuse.

    While men are more likely to have issues with alcohol or drugs, women are affected as well. One of the biggest differences between the genders and substance abuse is their physiology and the way the substances are are metabolized.

    Women can be affected more quickly and differently than men by alcohol and drugs. This means that the potential for substance abuse and for that substance abuse to affect their relationships is a huge risk. What can seem like moderate and controllable consumption can cross the line quickly and that line can be hard to see for many women.

    For most women sex and intimacy are deeply linked. Consequently, women who abuse substances are also more likely to be psychologically affected by the negative effects on their sex lives and the lack of intimacy in their relationships that can be a result.

    Substance Abuse Can Ruin More Than Your Sex Life

    There are many casualties of substance abuse as well as addiction. Because these substances can affect your mood, ability to fulfill responsibilities and cause changes to your personality they can also destroy careers and relationships.

    I spoke with a woman recently who said that her husband didn’t drink often, but when he did it was like he left their marriage and a placeholder filled his space until he was sober again. He was a stranger to her during that time.

    In her words,

    I would never have sex with a stranger, why would I have sex with him when he’s been drinking?”

    Sadly, his occasional drinking is more likely to increase rather than decrease without intervention. And along with an increase in drinking will come a breakdown in his marriage if he doesn’t change this behavior.


    Dr. Kurt deals with couples facing substance abuse issues quite often. In his years as a counselor, he’s observed that,

    Substance use doesn't just affect sexual performance and enjoyment, but overall relationship happiness as well. I've worked with a number of men who've left their wives over her drinking or drug use (often prescription). And have worked with many more women who've done the same because of their man's substance abuse. An increasing problem is now arising with marijuana abuse and its regular use affecting a couple's sex life. And pot is an even more complicated one for partner's to question because of the medicinal use justification.

    And it’s not just your romantic relationships that can be affected. Because substance abuse can be random or in binge form, it can also affect people in the workplace and jeopardize careers and livelihoods. This in turn can have further effects on romantic relationships and family creating a vicious cycle.

    How To Get Your Mojo On Without Getting Drunk Or High

    If you feel like you need alcohol or drugs to “get you in the mood,” “take the edge off,” or make you somehow more amorous and better in bed, you are doing yourself and your partner a disservice.

    Sex without substances involved is more intimate and vulnerable and infinitely more rewarding. If the thought of that scares you, it’s quite likely that there are other things for you individually or in your relationship that need to be worked on and solidified.

    So, before you let substance abuse ruin your relationship consider what it is that you value in your relationship and what you might eventually lose if you continue your indulgent behavior. Think about trying some of the following.

    • Make a “sober sex only” rule. If you and your partner agree that sex is off the table unless you’re each sober, it can increase your comfort with each other, improve intimacy, and lead to more satisfying sex overall.
    • Consider just touching or kissing without sex. Sometimes the most intimate thing you can do is just be together without the pressure of going to bed. Creating appreciation for one another and anticipation can put you both in a place where neither alcohol nor drugs is as appealing as the thought of being together.
    • Make talking and having fun together a priority. Creating greater trust and comfort with each other through talking and mutually enjoyed activities can take away any need to get drunk or high.

    If you find these things difficult, or your find that you’re having problems with self-control when it comes to substance abuse, consider getting help. There are many resources available that can help you gain perspective on your substance abuse and keep it from ruining your sex life or any other part of your life that’s being affected.


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