A typical reaction when hearing the word ‘addiction’ often involves the thought that the addict is using alcohol or drugs. What is often a surprise to people is that behaviours can also be addictive. Even professionals in the mental health field sometimes struggle with the concept that behaviours are potentially addictive.
Can watching porn be considered an addiction?
Confusion can arise when it comes to identifying, understanding and treating behavioural addictions like porn addiction. We want to simplify this and shed some light on this addiction.
Addictive substances and addictive behaviours trigger the same neurochemical pleasure response. Some individuals can learn to use this response as a form of emotional escape. Eventually, addiction occurs and the neurobiological reaction becomes their go-to coping mechanism for boredom, shame, loneliness, stress and so on. Essentially the difference between substance and behavioural addiction boils down to one simple separation; One is ingested and causes an emotionally escapist neurochemical reaction while the other relies on fantasy or behaviour. Porn addiction falls into the latter category.
The link between substance and behavioural addiction
To understand the link between substance and behavioural addiction think about how cocaine addict behaves on payday. After he is paid he quickly draws the cash, and may even miss work in the process. Then he heads off to meet his dealer to spend that paycheck money on his drug, rather than on food, shelter and other bills. As he nears his dealer his heart rate increases, his sweat pours and he is obsessed with the soon-to-be fix. He doesn’t even stop to consider that he is speeding and the cops are waiting nearby to bust him in the act. He has blocked out the real world and all the usual obligations and responsible behaviour his life usually requires of him, recede. From a neurochemical perspective, he is already “high”; his brain is experiencing an anticipatory high.
This escapist neurobiological state is the goal with all addictions. Addiction is about the neurobiological manipulation of emotions and feelings and this can occur without an addictive substance being present. Porn addicts get their high based more on anticipation and fantasy above anything else. Porn addicts can experience a greater sense of emotional escape while searching for the perfect image or video than they get by masturbating to that image or video.
Porn addiction must then be considered as not about masturbation and orgasm despite most porn addicts completing those two actions in most cases. Instead consider porn addiction as losing touch with reality for a period. Ironically, masturbating and reaching orgasm actually ends the high and throws addicts back into the real world, the one they were trying to avoid and escape in the first place.
Porn is not the only behavioural addiction
Here are some others:
- Love/Romance: Love/romance addiction is the compulsive search for the neurobiological rush of early romance (clinically referred to as limerence). Love addicts will sacrifice health time, self-esteem and money in their addictive pursuits.
- Sex: Sex addiction and porn addiction are similar but different. Sex addicts tend to search for and engage in real-world sexual activity as well as online sexual activity, while porn addicts engage primarily with porn.
- Social Media: Social media addiction is the obsessive quest for popularity on social media sites. Be it Facebook or Twitter, TicTok or Insta, the goal is clear; positive response and affirmation via a click or a like button and the pursuit of looking good through narcissistic posts. Social media addicts often bypass real-world relationships, recreation, and social engagement for their online life.
- Gambling: Gambling addiction is an uncontrollable urge to gamble. Typically, gambling addicts will play whatever game is available although they prefer quick games that allow them to play again quickly.
- Gaming: Video game addiction is the extreme use of computer and video games. Addicts often play for hours on end and often neglect sleep, personal hygiene, diet, relationships, jobs, exercise and financial obligations.
- Shopping Spending addiction (oniomania) occurs when people spend obsessively despite the damage this does to their finances and personal lives.
What’s the difference between compulsion and addiction?
It may look like almost anything can be addictive, substances and behaviours alike however this is not the case. For a substance or behaviour to be addictive, it needs to trigger the experience of pleasure and emotional escape. Without those two things, behaviour may be compulsive but does not qualify as an addiction. An example of this is compulsive floor cleaning, though it may be creating negative consequences and be out of control it causes neither pleasure nor emotional escape. As such, it is not an addiction. Instead, this behaviour is classified as a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Sobriety may appear different for behavioural addictions.
Sobriety is easily defined; it means total abstinence from a substance. For some behavioural addictions, it’s the same, however, with certain behavioural addictions, sobriety may be more about harm reduction than total abstinence. This is the same approach seen with eating disorders. Individuals with an eating disorder don’t stop eating altogether; they just work to eat in healthy ways. This is also the approach with sex addiction, though sex addicts who struggle with pornography will generally aim for total abstinence from porn. Porn addicts aim for total abstinence. The overall goal is to eliminate behaviours that create problems while still engaging in healthy naturally occurring functions.
Behavioural Addictions may be difficult to identify
Although porn addiction and other behavioural addiction types are similar to substance addictions in certain respects, they can be more difficult to identify. They are easier to hide, they’re usually more socially acceptable and outside observers, including some professionals, don’t always recognise certain behaviours as potentially addictive. Therefore behavioural addicts often typically experience serious consequences before anyone confronts them willingly and assists them with their problem.
Behavioural addictions are revealed during treatment for substance addiction, depression or some other psychiatric condition. An example of this is an alcoholic attempting to get sober finding himself compulsively using pornography as a replacement for drinking, which leads to the realisation that the compulsive use of porn is a cross-addiction. Often individuals with a behavioural addiction need to hit the very bottom of their situation before the addiction is uncovered.
Another issue in the identification and treatment of porn addiction is that a majority of these people view these issues as ‘less serious’ than ‘real’ addictions like a heroin addiction. Nothing could be further from the truth. Behavioural addictions like porn addiction create the same types of havoc as substance addictions including relationship and work issues, school concerns, a decline in physical and emotional health, isolation, finance issues, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities and legal trouble.
If you think you may have a behavioural addiction like porn addiction, or are becoming addicted, or you are concerned about someone close to you, it is important to act fast. Porn addiction can have disastrous effects on a person’s emotional and physical health, but it can be overcome.
Professional therapy and support is available on either an outpatient or on a full-time basis. For more information, contact Houghton House