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Ask Jane, Column 19

Awash in Dopamine

Dear Jane,

Do you believe that cross-dressing can be addictive? I can't stop. I've quit dozens of times but when I do I'm always thinking about it and inevitably go back to doing it. What makes it so hard to quit?

Cravings that Never Stop

Dear Cravings,

Does a compulsion to engage in an activity make that activity an addiction? According to most dictionaries, yes. As defined by the American Heritage Science Dictionary, an addiction is: "1) A physical or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, such as a drug or alcohol….; 2) A habitual or compulsive involvement in an activity, such as gambling."

Or cross-dressing.

Compulsive behaviors are linked to impulse control, with an enormous psychological dimension. That is, you don't know why you want and need to do it, but every time your physical self "swears off" dressing, your psychological and emotional selves prevail and the behavior returns.

It's possible that the same dopamine-release theorized to be at work in the brain of a compulsive shoplifter is at work in a cross-dresser's as well. Tests show that when shoplifters scope out a store and plan their theft and exit route, their heart rates rise as much as at the moment of escape from the heist itself.

I've found among cross-dressers that planning an occurrence offers almost as much of a high as the occurrence itself. This makes quitting particularly difficult because a cross-dresser doesn't require the actual clothing or even a private place in order to plan.

Shoplifters and cross-dressers aren't the only addicts affected by the dopamine high that comes from planning; sex addicts refer to the arousal they get from driving around looking for targets, and coke addicts say that laying out a line of cocaine is a large part of their ultimate hit.

Denying yourself your favorite activity gooses your desire to do it, of course. As does, perhaps, the thrill of secrecy that may be involved. And, of course,the psychological complexities of cross-dressing tie into one's self-concept and gender identification in ways other compulsions do not. So it's not just the dopamine at work in a cross-dresser's brain that acts as the siren of desire.

But even if it were just the feel-good hormone dopamine at work, dear heart, you are experiencing what so many have told me over the years: that it's impossible to resist the lure of cross-dressing forever.



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