What Is Porn Addiction?
While few would argue the addictiveness of drugs like Heroin, or the damage caused by alcohol abuse, the categorization of excessive porn consumption as an addiction is still hotly debated. Several studies in the field of addiction have shown that the brains of excessive pornography viewers react similarly to those with a substance use disorder. Still, others assert the results are not clear enough to classify it as an addiction yet. Consequently, the symptoms of a potential compulsion or porn addiction are rarely discussed.
Many people believe that because watching porn is neither illegal nor inherently unsafe, that it cannot cause an addiction. Yet, as with alcohol, the excessive use or abuse of it can lead to impaired personal and professional relationships as well as the neglect of various responsibilities. Key porn addiction studies estimate that between 50% and 99% of men and 30% to 86% of women watch porn. However, as with other addictive behaviors, between 1% and 10% of users develop a compulsion to view porn excessively.
Signs of a Porn Addiction
With the release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-V), psychiatrists introduced a number of behavioral addictions that require further study, including gambling, internet gaming, and food addictions. Hypersexual disorder and internet addictions were added to the appendix “pending further research” and were not explicitly defined as addictions at the time. The American Society of Addiction Medicine, however, classifies all addiction as having some change in the way the brain functions and includes sexual behavior addictions.
Common signs of a possible porn addiction include:
- Hiding/lying about the amount of porn you watch
- Being abnormally rough/demanding during sex
- Reduced response to physical pleasure
- Withdrawing emotionally from an intimate partner
- Hyper-sensitivity to porn-related cues
- Escalation of porn consumption
- Losing interest in intimacy with your partner
- Abandoning social activities
- Feeling anxiety about others discovering your habit
What Happens to the Brain While Watching Porn?
Addiction is categorized as a primary illness, and not simply a coping mechanism, because of alterations in brain pathways. These changes short-circuit reward responses that cause individuals to continue the behavior despite negative consequences. As an addictive behavior, watching porn also targets all three pleasure systems in the brain–arousal, satiation, and fantasy. Moreover, cravings, “highs,” and withdrawals associated with porn consumption can help medical professionals recognize a porn addiction.
Not everyone who suffers from a porn addiction chooses to masturbate while watching it. However, individuals who do so are more likely to form a “bond” with porn due to chemicals released in the brain during orgasm. Dopamine-oxytocin (also known as the biochemical “love potion”) is typically released during orgasm in order to create an emotional attachment between two people–an evolved response to encourage mating. When dopamine-oxytocin is released while watching porn, an individual can instead become emotionally attached to those images in lieu of another human being.
Anecdotal reports of men and women “dating” porn (or frequently setting aside time to view a particular favorite) are a result of this attachment. This form of attachment can have negative effects on a person’s romantic relationships and connection to other people.
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Porn Addiction Statistics
Up to 75% of porn viewers are males, although female consumption rates are growing.
Up to 10% of porn viewers develop a compulsion to repeatedly watch porn that can negatively impact their lives.
By 2010, an estimated 40 million people watched porn regularly.
Treating Porn Addiction
People suffering from behavioral addictions, including porn addiction, have responded positively to pharmacological and psychosocial treatment. For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy and 12-step programs–commonly used to treat substance use disorders–have helped a number of people recover from porn addictions.
Additionally, Naltrexone (used to treat alcoholism and opioid addictions) has been used successfully in clinical trials to curb compulsive sexual behavior and internet addictions. This evidence suggests that the receptors in the brain responsible for substance use disorders may also be involved in behavioral addictions.
Porn addiction can also have profound effects on an individual’s romantic relationships. Partners of individuals with a porn addiction have reported lower self-esteem, poorer relationship quality, and lower sexual satisfaction. Accordingly, couple’s and/or individual counseling may be required to mend damaged relationships.
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Get Help for a Porn Addiction Today
Like substance use disorders, the onset of a porn addiction may be aggravated by other, underlying and untreated mental health issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or borderline personality disorder. Thus, receiving treatment has the potential to alleviate a spectrum of negative symptoms.
If you’re ready to change destructive behaviors, reach out to a dedicated treatment specialist today.
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