How to Break a Porn Addiction

Pornography addiction can seriously damage relationships and take precedence over important functions and responsibilities in someone's life. If you have a porn addiction, the behavior is compulsive.

What separates a porn addiction from a keen interest in porn is the negative consequences of your behavior.

With porn addiction, you spend an inordinate amount of time watching porn instead of interacting with others or completing important tasks. The behavior persists even if it harms your career, relationships, or state of well-being.

How to break a pornography addiction
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Is Porn Addiction Real?

While many health and psychiatric professionals do not consider porn addiction to an "addiction" in the clinical sense of the word, the signs and symptoms are often strikingly similar to those of alcohol or drug addiction.

While the American Psychiatric Association (APA) made some effort to categorize porn addiction in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—proposing that it be a subcategory of hypersexual disorder— the scientific board eventually concluded that there was not enough evidence to support the diagnosis.

What Research Says

Some psychiatrists have questioned whether porn addiction should be classified as a compulsive disorder along the lines of a drug or alcohol addiction. Their argument largely stems from changes in brain activity that are strikingly similar to those seen in habitual drug users.

According to a 2015 study published in the journal Behavioral Science, an electroencephalogram (EEG) can detect characteristic changes in brain activity (specifically, a reactive event called P300) when porn is viewed. The response can occur within 300 milliseconds of viewing pornography.

The researches argued that the same response occurs when a drug user views drug-related paraphernalia or images. While the association on its own is hardly conclusive, it does suggest that porn addiction has a physiological as well as a psychiatric component.

Addiction Criteria

The viewing behavior of someone who compulsively views porn meets at least two of the four clinical conditions associated with addiction, namely:

  • Cravings to partake in an activity as well as failed attempts to cut down or control the activity (impaired control).
  • Failure to complete major tasks at work, school, or home and/or have given up trying (social problems).

However, porn addiction fails to meet the definition of addiction in that:

  • It is not inherently associated with risk-taking and,
  • It does not involve tolerance (a need for larger amounts to get the same effect) or withdrawal (an adverse reaction when stopping).

Although some argue that these behaviors or associations can occur with porn addiction, the relationship is generally inconsistent or vague.

Symptoms

These arguments do not detract from the serious harm porn addiction can cause, both to the person dealing with the addiction and those around them.

If you are concerned about your porn viewing, there are some warning signs of porn addiction to consider. You might have a porn addiction if:

  • You are consumed with thoughts of porn even when you are not actively watching it.
  • You view porn on your cell phone at work or in social situations where you might be seen.
  • You feel ashamed, guilty, or depressed about your porn viewing.
  • You continue to watch porn despite the harm it has had, is having, or may have on your relationships, work, or home life.
  • You experience reduced sexual satisfaction with partners when pornography is not involved.
  • You hide your porn and porn viewing from your spouse, domestic partner, and family members.
  • You get upset when asked to cut back on or stop looking at porn.
  • You lose track of time when viewing porn.
  • You have tried to quit watching porn but have not been successful.

According to a study from the Kinsey Institute (a research center dedicated to the study of human sexuality), approximately 9% of habitual porn viewers reported unsuccessful attempts to stop.

Habitual porn viewers also had a greater incidence of erectile dysfunction and low libido, further differentiating "healthy" porn viewing from potentially harmful compulsive behaviors.

Treatment

If your porn viewing has become compulsive, is interfering with how you feel about yourself, and has impacted your ability to function in your relationships, at work, and other aspects of your day-to-day life, know that you can get help.

Even though the psychiatric community does not consider porn addiction to be a true addiction, it's important that you treat your compulsive consumption of porn as though it were an addiction.

Dismissing compulsive porn viewing as "less of a problem" compared to other kinds of addiction can impede your recovery.

Getting Help

You don't have to confront your porn addiction alone or quit "cold turkey." A mental health professional who is experienced in treating sexual dysfunction can help you address how your porn viewing has impacted your life and the lives of those around you.

The website of the American Society of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (ASSECT) offers an online locator tool that can help you find qualified therapists where you live. Psychology Today operates a similar locator that lets you search for a therapist by city, zip code, or name.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Working with a psychologist who can provide the most effective treatment methods, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), will be essential to helping you develop effective relapse prevention skills as you address porn addiction.

A Word From Verywell

While it may be uncomfortable exposing truths about your behaviors and thoughts, you need to confront these realities to ensure you get the treatment you need. With the right treatment, you can achieve lasting recovery from porn addiction.

By bringing your compulsive behavior into the light, you can begin to answer some important questions about yourself. These answers will guide you to resolutions that will make you happier and your life more stable and productive.

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Article Sources
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  1. Love T, Laier C, Brand M, Hatch L, Hajela R. Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update. Behav Sci (Basel). 2015;5(3):388-433. doi:10.3390/bs5030388

  2. De alarcón R, De la iglesia JI, Casado NM, Montejo AL. Online Porn Addiction: What We Know and What We Don't-A Systematic Review. J Clin Med. 2019;8(1). doi:10.3390/jcm8010091

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