“Hookups” have been seemingly prevalent from the heyday of counterculture to the modern digital age, particularly on American college campuses. Many students live fast-paced, high-stress lifestyles which may nurture a culture of impatience and instant gratification. Perhaps this contributes to an environment in which casual sex is widely accepted or even considered the norm. After all, most individuals find casual sex desirable: one study reported that 60% of female college students had experienced a casual sexual encounter by the end of their first semester. Moreover, alcohol was involved in 64% of these hookups (Fielder & Carey, 2010). Considering how casual sex and drug use (such as alcohol) appear to go hand-in-hand, one intoxicated night out in college could reasonably end in a one-night stand.
Both drugs and sex act on the brain’s natural reward system. Furthermore, addiction to drugs and sex can develop separately as a result of their individual actions on this system (Fong, 2006). Drug addiction is understood as a behavioral disorder characterized by an overwhelming, sometimes irrational, urge to use drugs even when the outcome of that decision has unfavorable or negative consequences. Of those living with a drug addiction, 41% also show an abnormally heightened pursuit of sex – regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and drug of choice (Kraus et al., 2016; Kuiper et al., 2018). This begs the question, could having sex while high increase the addictive potential of that drug?
A group of researchers from the University of Mississippi sought to answer this question.
They allowed male rats to self-administer methamphetamine and gave them access to a sexual partner. In this task, they measured whether sex increased subsequent drug-seeking behavior.
Surprisingly, they found that being high on meth while having sex could enhance one’s desire to use the drug again and increase the time it takes to subdue drug-seeking behavior. Moreover, this desire for meth was re-evoked more readily by the drug after a period of abstinence. Notably, given the aforementioned circumstances, the very act of having sex could also re-evoke this desire (Kuiper et al., 2018).
Together, these findings suggest that having sex while high on meth (and perhaps other substances) could heighten one’s vulnerability for addiction (Kuiper et al., 2018).
What does this imply for the numerous college students partaking in drunken hookups? Routinely pairing sex with an intoxicated state could produce some level of craving for alcohol, regardless of context. Conceivably underlying these cravings is the association formed between using the drug and partaking in a naturally rewarding activity (sex).
However, these individuals are not necessarily doomed for addiction. Addiction is more than just craving a substance or behavior, and it takes time to develop. Nevertheless, cravings can promote further alcohol consumption of larger amount and frequency, known as binge drinking: a notorious problem on college campuses (Kreiger et al., 2018).
Alcohol also impairs decision-making, amplifying the risk of health and social complications: individuals might engage in riskier sexual behavior which could lead to STDs, put themselves in dangerous situations, and form unhealthy relationships (Rehm, 2011). Although having sex while intoxicated is likely to heighten one’s susceptibility to addiction rather than produce addiction, it could nonetheless be the first step in a problematic direction.
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