How to Stop Porn Addiction: Signs and Treatment

End Porn Addiction Now

Learn the Signs and Find the Right Treatment

Before there was widespread access to the internet and the emergence of online porn sites, if someone wanted to make use of pornography, they needed to leave their house and purchase a magazine from a local store, many hoping not to be seen by someone in their community.

The advent and proliferation of internet technology, smart devices, and almost ubiquitous connection to the internet now provide unfettered access to pornography in and out of our homes. Pornography is just a click away. 

When an emotional or physical connection is either desired but unavailable or unwanted, the use of porn provides a perceived quick and convenient means by which to have those needs met. However, for some porn use can evolve from a quick vehicle for pleasure to a behavioural compulsion that may lead to isolation, loneliness, depression, shame, deception, and other negative life consequences.

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What Is Porn Addiction?

Porn addiction is the application of an addiction model to the use of pornography and may be part of compulsive sexual behaviour with negative consequences to physical, mental, social, or financial well-being. 

Porn addiction is, in theory, when you can’t stop viewing porn even if you want to which can cause withdrawal from social interaction, procrastination, feelings of depression, career loss, decreased productivity, and even debt. The widespread availability of internet porn today makes this easy to understand. As an example, a popular pornography site recently recorded 115 million visits a day.

However, despite causing huge pain for some and the prevalent use of one porn site alone, there is still much debate as to whether compulsive viewing of sexual images can be addictive. The World Health Organization has recognised compulsive sexual behaviour disorder (CSBD) as a disorder, but CSBD is not seen as an addiction. In addition, The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 (2013) and the DSM-5-TR (2022) do not classify compulsive pornography consumption as a mental disorder or a behavioural addiction.

Why Do We Get Addicted to Porn?

Viewing porn releases dopamine in the brain which is a chemical that makes us feel good. When a substance or behaviour, such as porn, produces an unusually strong dopamine release on a regular basis, an increasing need to repeat the experience is felt. 

The reliability, speed, and intensity of the release of dopamine influence the likelihood of an addiction developing. The immediacy of the high caused by viewing porn overrides the brain’s natural reward system and teaches it to prioritise that activity over other less efficient highs leading to a craving for more. 

How Does Porn Addiction Rewire the Brain?

This brain is not designed to handle the high levels of dopamine that the use of porn or other compulsive behaviours generate. In response, the brain produces less dopamine and so essentially the brain is ‘rewired.’ This results in a reliance on an external trigger for dopamine release, which necessitates an increased engagement in viewing pornographic images to get the same result.

As the cycle of craving continues, the reward and judgement centres of the brain are altered, inhibiting the ability to control engagement in addictive behaviours. Despite the harm an addiction to porn may be inflicting on those suffering from the illness, the use of porn may now feel non-negotiable. 

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Porn Addiction Symptoms & Signs

Whether compulsive viewing of porn is classed by the medical profession as an addiction or not, people are suffering from addiction-related consequences due to porn use. Those who regularly view pornography may experience intense urges for sexual relations, view porn when anxious or generally distressed, struggle with fulfilling the responsibilities of everyday life, and may experience dissatisfaction with romantic relationships.

There is no number of viewing hours that defines a problematic use of porn, but addiction to any substance or behaviour is accompanied by a preoccupation at the expense of health, social life, career, and relationships. Some common signs of problematic porn use that you may recognise in yourself include: 

  • Preoccupation with viewing porn, feeling excited about it, and planning time for it
  • Porn becoming a central part of life
  • Loss of interest in social encounters
  • Discontinuation of engagement in hobbies 
  • Damage to personal relationships both platonic and romantic
  • Not showing up for work or education 
  • Decrease in professional performance
  • Viewing porn in inappropriate places and/or when there is a risk of being caught
  • Neglect of personal care such as washing and dressing 
  • Unfulfilling sex life 
  • Inability to discontinue looking at porn, even when you want to or try

How Often Watching Porn Classified as an Addiction?

What defines addiction is not necessarily how much someone uses a substance or engages in a behaviour. Addiction is characterised by the continued and increasing use of a substance or engagement in a behaviour despite negative consequences in one’s life. 

Research suggests that around 35% of all internet downloads are pornographic, and problematic pornography use affects approximately 3% to 6% of adults, statistics that are indicative of the prevalence of porn consumption. 

​​Possible signs that porn use has become an addiction, beyond time spent viewing porn, include:

  • compulsive porn viewing
  • viewing more extreme porn for the same level of satisfaction as once experienced
  • continuing to watch porn after experiencing feelings of frustration or shame 
  • spending money on porn that needs to be spent elsewhere
  • making the viewing of porn a central part of your day

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Porn Addiction Causes and Risk Factors

As previously mentioned, whether porn is an addiction or not is controversial, but some factors are thought to contribute to compulsive sexual behaviour such as porn addiction.

Chemical Imbalances in the Brain

The release of brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine control mood and imbalances may be tied to compulsive sexual behaviour.

Changes to the Brain

The reward systems of the brain are affected by the flooding of dopamine that results from addictive behaviour. Regular use of porn means you may need to watch increasing amounts or increasingly extreme types of porn to achieve the desired effect.  

Ease of Access

Today, due to video streaming, laptops and smartphones, porn can be accessed anywhere using a device with an internet connection. Stimulating sexual imagery of every kind is almost unlimited and instantly streamable and/or downloadable for free. 

Unstable Family Life

Compulsive sexual behaviours such as porn misuse are also prevalent within families that experience drug and alcohol problems, mental health issues, frequent conflict, financial insecurity, or abuse.

Co-occurring disorders

Viewing porn may be used as a way to soothe the painful symptoms of pre-existing mental health disorders related to depression, anxiety, PTSD, complex PTSD, eating disorders, and other addictions to drugs, alcohol, and gambling. 

Porn misuse is a serious health concern that requires treatment like any other compulsion or addiction. Without support, continued use could lead to significant consequences such as: 

  • breakdown of relationships 
  • low self-worth and loss of a sense of self
  • loss of work 
  • loss of reputation 
  • depression, anxiety, and suicidality
  • incurrence of debt 
  • high-risk sexual behaviour and poor sexual health 
  • substance misuse 

Who Can Develop Porn Addiction?

Anyone regularly viewing porn can start to experience compulsions around its use and the common negative impacts. 

Porn addiction tends to be misunderstood which not only stigmatises the mental health concern but makes it difficult to identify, meaning many continue to suffer without asking for or receiving help. 

As such, those struggling with porn are often reluctant to seek help due to embarrassment or because they don’t view this behaviour as the cause of their unhappiness. Often when such people do seek help, it is for related symptoms such as depression, loneliness, and relationship difficulties. Some may have psychotherapy for extended periods without ever discussing their use of porn or masturbation. 

If you feel your use of pornography may have become problematic and it is important to seek help there are safe places to go to explore your initial thoughts on this and receive help if needed. 

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How Can I Support a Loved One Suffering From Porn Addiction?

When the problematic use of porn is uncovered in a relationship, feelings of betrayal, shame, rejection, and even disgust may be evoked.

At this point, porn addiction within a relationship may have caused unrealistic sexual expectations, a breakdown in trust, feelings of being objectified, and impacted sexual performance. Sexual intimacy with a partner may have stopped altogether bringing its own host of issues with communication, desire, unmet needs, and lack of fulfilment. 

Communication

Despite these difficulties, for healing to begin, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with your loved one, even if it means taking some time apart so you can receive help with your feelings about the porn addiction. It can be helpful to remember that addiction is an illness that sufferers are powerless over. 

Professional help

When approaching recovery from any addiction it is best to seek professional help not only for yourself but also for your loved one. This might prove difficult if your loved one has shame about the nature of their problem and is unwilling to discuss something so intimate. The right professional will create a safe space for both of you to talk freely and without shame. 

Setting boundaries 

Setting boundaries is a powerful tool in helping someone resistant to seeking help access the care they need. With the help of a therapist, this might look like telling your loved one about the impact that their use of porn is having on you and your relationship. You may be encouraged to relay that despite understanding this isn’t a chosen behaviour, you won’t let the behaviour continue within the context of your relationship. If your loved one is unwilling to receive help, then a therapist can help you set boundaries so that you are able to take care of your needs and mental health. 

Is Porn Addiction a Coping Mechanism?

We all have coping mechanisms to deal with feelings when facing the challenges and complexities of human existence whether these behaviours lead to addictions or not. Coping mechanisms can be as common as having a glass of wine after work, eating more when we are sad, and smoking a cigarette to take the edge off social anxiety at a party. But coping mechanisms can be problematic when they become more extreme leading to negative impacts on us, our family, coworkers and friends. 

Porn is a coping mechanism for many and the reasons porn is used in such a way are as numerous as those that view it. Porn is commonly used as a coping mechanism to deal with experiences associated with relationships or lack thereof such as sexual desire, loneliness and the need for companionship. Porn can also be a coping mechanism when someone might be sexualising intense emotions unrelated to relationships, feelings evoked by issues at work, finances, parenting, or global events.

The use of porn can be very shame-based so it is important to understand that porn use can indeed be a coping mechanism but there are healthier ways to ‘cope’ with our feelings and life’s difficulties.

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How Do You Overcome Addiction to Porn?

If your partner or someone close to you is challenging your use of porn, you might be looking into receiving help. But, due to the stigma around the use of porn, the thought of opening up about your porn addiction with someone you don’t know may feel daunting. The fear of judgement holds many back.

A good place to start might be to speak to someone at a treatment centre who is used to discussing addictions and speaking with people who may be ashamed of their behaviour. Those working in addiction understand that it is an illness that people struggling with are powerless over, not a moral issue, and those acting out addictively aren’t bad or wrong.  

At CATCH Recovery in London, we offer a confidential assessment with an addictions specialist which will give you the time and space to discuss your porn use in a safe, completely confidential, and non-judgemental environment. The assessment can help us and you decide the type of treatment that is going to best support your recovery from an addiction to porn. This might be outpatient treatment, online treatment, or inpatient treatment. 

Porn addiction treatment at CATCH Recovery will either take place in-person on an outpatient basis in London or online. If we think inpatient treatment is required, we may refer you to one of our sister clinics Castle Craig or Smarmore Castle. If the latter is recommended we can guarantee continuity of care by organising admission. 

Your treatment plan for porn addiction will most likely involve individual therapy to look at the underlying reasons for addiction, group therapy, 12-step meetings, and couples or family therapy further down the line of your recovery journey. Porn addiction may also be an indicator of trauma and difficult life events. If it appears you are struggling with trauma, trauma-informed therapy will be discussed with you. Should any co-occurring disorders or addictions come to light during the assessment or treatment, these will be treated alongside porn addiction to ensure long-term freedom.

Next Steps

It is important to note that if you are struggling with the negative effects of porn use, you are not alone. We have treated many who struggle with compulsive sexual behaviours and you will find individuals in 12-step meetings and our treatment groups who are no longer viewing porn having done so addictively.

If you would like to discuss treatment for porn addiction, please do contact us. Our trained team of professionals is available to have a confidential chat with you, listen to your story, and explain possible next steps.

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