How to Break a Porn Addiction

Identifying the Warning Signs and Symptoms

Man using laptop in bedroom
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A pornography addiction is something we will often kid about but is ultimately a behavior that can seriously damage relationships and take precedence over more important functions and responsibilities in your life.

What separates a porn addiction from a keen interest in porn is the negative consequences of your behavior. With a porn addiction, the behavior is considered compulsive, wherein you would spend an inordinate amount of time watching porn instead of interacting with others or completing important tasks. Moreover, the behavior would persist even if harms your career, relationships, or state of well-being.

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.

Some psychiatrists have questioned whether the behavior should be classified as a compulsive disorder more 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 whenever porn is viewed, specifically a reactive event called P300 which can occur within 300 milliseconds of a viewing. This is the same response, argue the researchers, that occurs when a drug user views drug-related paraphernalia or images.

While the association on its own is hardly conclusive, it does suggest that a porn addiction has a physiological as well as a psychiatric component. Moreover, the viewing behavior meets at least two of the four clinical conditions associated with an addiction, namely:

  • Impaired control, by which there is a craving to partake in an activity as well as failed attempts to cut down or control the activity
  • Social problems, by which you fail to complete major tasks at work, school, or home and/or have given up trying

On the other hand, a porn addiction fails to meet the definition in that it is not inherently associated with risk-taking and does not involve tolerance (a need for larger amounts to get the same effect) or withdrawal (an adverse reaction when stopping).

While some would argue that these can occur with porn addiction, the association is generally inconsistent or vague.

Symptoms

None of these arguments can detract from the serious harm a porn addiction can do, both to yourself and those around you. Some of the warning signs a porn addiction include:

  • Being consumed with thoughts of porn even when you are not actively viewing it
  • Viewing porn on your cell phone during work or in social situations where you might be seen
  • Feeling ashamed, guilty, or depressed about your porn viewing
  • Continuing to watch porn despite any harm it has had, is having, or may have on your relationship, work, or home life
  • Experiencing reduced sexual satisfaction with a partner when pornography is not involved
  • Keeping your porn secret from your spouse or domestic partner
  • Getting upset when asked to cut back or stop using porn
  • Losing track of time when viewing porn
  • Trying and failing to quit

According to a study from the Kinsey Institute, a research center dedicated to the study of human sexuality, approximately 9 percent of habitual porn viewers reported unsuccessful attempts to stop. The researchers also found that habitual viewers had a greater incidence of erectile dysfunction and low libido, further differentiating "healthy" porn viewing from potentially harmful compulsive behaviors.

Treating Porn Addiction

If your porn viewing has become compulsive and is interfering with how you feel about yourself and/or your ability to function, you need to admit that you have a problem. That is the first and most important step.

Irrespective of whether the psychiatric community considers porn a true addiction, it is important that you treat it as such. Dismissing it as "less of a problem" than other forms of addiction may only allow you to take it less seriously.

Rather than dealing with it on your own and going "cold turkey," make every effort to find a professional experienced in treating sexual dysfunction. The American Society of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (ASSECT) offers an online locator to find qualified therapists in your state. The editors of Psychology Today operate a similar locator, allowing you to search by city, zip code, or name.

In the end, you need to find a psychologist able to employ the most effective treatment methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), so that you can begin to develop effective relapse prevention skills. While it may be uncomfortable exposing truths about your behaviors and thoughts, doing so can ensure the most effective and durable results.

It is only by bringing your addiction into the light that you can answer some bigger questions about yourself and find resolutions to make you happier and your life more stable and productive.

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