porn addiction withdrawal

Porn Addiction Withdrawal Sparks Hot Debate: Is It Real?

Porn addiction withdrawal generally makes people scratch their heads, both average citizens and psychologists alike. Some would ask how such a passive activity like watching pornography could be addictive in the first place, while others would ask if it’s legitimate to compare cravings for porn with cravings for drugs and alcohol.

There’s no official definition for porn addiction, nor is there an official method of treating porn addiction besides merely to stop watching it. And like any addiction involving compulsive behavior, anyone who struggles with abstaining from porn is bound to give into their cravings, which then begs the question: Can people go through porn addiction withdrawal?

Porn Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms Have Addicts Saying Yes

Skeptics might look at the term “porn addiction withdrawal” and imagine perverts struggling to not have an erection or masturbate, but this neglects the neurological aspect of how pleasure affects the brain.

To put it simply, “porn addiction withdrawal” is actually dopamine withdrawal.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward that also triggers the hormone ΔFosB when a person eats or has sex (or imagines having sex and other variations). It’s the cause for a “natural high” sensation after doing something that makes you feel good; for the same reason people take drugs, people can get addicted to the feeling.

Should people make efforts to stop the activity that launched a thousand dopamine hits, they’re bound to feel effects in both their brains and bodies.

Many people who stopped watching pornography and masturbation reported the following porn addiction withdrawal symptoms initially in the first week:

  • Sexual thoughts
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches and/or migraines
  • Irritability
  • Shakiness
  • Mood swings

As with drug and alcohol addictions, the severity of porn addiction withdrawal ultimately depends on the individual, how long they’ve been watching porn, and to what extent they had been consuming it. While some people feel slight symptoms, others may experience more physical and even painful symptoms, such as vomiting or muscle rigidity.

Then, other porn addicts report that initially there were no issues with cutting porn out of their lives—until a few weeks later when the cravings hit them like a brick wall. Anecdotal evidence then suggests that porn addiction withdrawal can last up to months after quitting, with addicts experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Low sex drive
  • Inability to focus, also known as “staring at walls” syndrome
  • Zombie-like state and sluggishness, due to low dopamine levels
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Loneliness
  • Severe chronic depression
  • Bursts of overwhelming emotions
  • Suicidal thoughts

Some people don’t realize they’re addicted to porn until they read about porn addiction withdrawal symptoms online. Because the general public tends to have binary opinions on the subject—either stigmatizing porn addicts or nonchalantly dismissing them as being liars—people struggling with sexual compulsions opt to stay quiet instead of seeking out treatment.

Yet, for those who do wish to seek treatment, there runs the issue that many treatment centers do not recognize porn “addiction” and suggest traditional psychotherapy. Medical advice from general practice physicians may be a diagnosis of depression, erectile dysfunction, or a physical condition that doesn’t address the patient’s concerns with pornography.

Why? Because in the medical world, porn addiction remains undefined. Even if medical professionals understood an addiction to porn existed, there is still yet to be a remedy for it.

ASAM Accepts Porn Addiction, DSM-5 Remains Hesitant

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) erupted an array of dialogues in 2011 when it released its new definition for addiction, now affirming it as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.”

This broader definition listed characteristics that could also be open to behavioral addictions, such as for gambling, spending, and watching porn. They were*:

  • An inability to consistently abstain
  • An impairment in behavioral control
  • Craving
  • A diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships
  • A dysfunctional emotional response

*As written in “Public Policy Statement: Definition of Addiction.” American Society of Addiction Medicine.

This encouraged many professionals in the mental health industry, who figured this would be the beginning of giving more legitimacy to behavioral-based addictions.

Yet, when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) released its 2013 edition, only gambling addiction was added as a mental disorder whereas hypersexual and internet disorders were placed in the appendix until further evidence and research could be made.

Without the support of the DSM-5, this divided social psychologists, who still remain uncertain on where to draw the line with sex addiction and its sub-types, like porn addiction. The question became: who’s to say porn addiction withdrawal even exists?

With No Definition, Psych Professionals Disagree on Taking It Seriously

Sex therapist Dr. Marty Klein argues that porn addiction or porn addiction withdrawal are not worth taking seriously on its own, rather attributing it as a “secondary” condition and a mask for other mental disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression.

It might even be, he suggested in The Atlantic, just an issue with masturbating “and the individual’s responsibility to deal with [their] own immature decision-making.”

A man with strong opinions about porn addiction since the 1980s, he had this to say to Dan Savage on the sex advice columnist’s podcast:

“When a lot of people who label themselves as sex addicts or porn addicts say, ‘I’m out of control,’ what they really mean is ‘You know, it would be really uncomfortable to make different decisions about sex than the ones that I’m making. When I’m lonely it would be really uncomfortable to not look at porn.”

Not everyone is as dismissive as Klein, but other psychiatric professionals do hesitate at the notion of saying porn addiction as opposed to a porn compulsion.

Researcher Erick Janssen, PhD, at the Kinsey Institute argues the use of the term of addiction “merely describes certain people’s behavior as being addiction-like, but treating them as addicts may not help them.”

Yet, neuropsychiatrist Valerie Voon, MD, PhD, says hold off on separating porn addiction from traditional drug and alcohol addiction.

Porn Addiction May Act Like Drug Addiction, But Limited

At the University of Cambridge, Voon scanned the brains of compulsive porn users via MRI to see if their brain activity while watching erotic imagery showed similar patterns to substance users who viewed alcoholic and drug paraphernalia imagery.

The study was featured in British documentary Porn on the Brain, which Voon asserted that, yes, there were similarities. The results found that compulsive porn users resembled alcohols watching drink ads.

However, as reported by the American Psychology Association, there was another study by Nicole Prause, PhD, in the University of California that may have counteracted this finding. Focusing on stimulus activity by P300, a component of the brain’s electrical activity, Prause’s study found no spikes in P300 when viewing erotic imagery, unlike drug addicts.

This suggests porn addiction acts more as a compulsion, though it could also be argued that a lack of stimulus from porn could also be a reflection of built tolerance. Just as how drug and alcohol addicts reach a point of no longer enjoying their highs but instead look to their substances as a means of being able to function, porn addicts may be watching pornography as a means of perpetuating normalcy and cognitive habit.

Treating Porn Addiction Withdrawal Still Have Doctors Guessing

Should people going through porn addiction withdrawal still be able to retrieve treatment? That’s a question doctors are still asking and, for the most part, are answering, “Psychiatric treatment, sure.”

There aren’t too many treatment centers specifically dedicated to porn addiction withdrawal. And those that are may subject clients to Christian practices and methods, which may not be for everyone.

This reality has made several people experiencing porn addiction withdrawal feel unheard and more alone, which is why support groups like Your Brain on Porn and No Fap from Reddit have formed for porn addicts to commiserate and help each other.

Otherwise, the only way for porn addicts to receive treatment is to also have a dual-diagnosis of a drug/alcohol addiction alongside it, which isn’t much of a stretch for many.

With symptoms of porn addiction withdrawal stemming into depression, loneliness, and impulsivity, there lies the risk of porn addicts resorting to substances to fill the void pornography once did as they try to cope with their compulsions—and that’s just the beginning of one problem turning into another.

Has Porn Addiction Withdrawal Led to Drug Abuse? Get Treatment Now

Behavioral addictions that lead to substance abuse require drug and alcohol treatment that also addresses the core of both addictions. While it might be standard to assume that porn addiction led to drug and alcohol addiction or vice versa in a client, the reality of the client’s mental health may reveal different causes.

If you or a loved one is struggling with both pornography and substance use addiction, it may be time to tackle the reasons behind certain compulsions and address withdrawal with proper treatment. Call our 24-hour helpline at (855) 619-8070 to speak with one of our staff about drug treatment centers that also address pornography addictions during individual therapy sessions.

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