When you think of addiction, chances are that your mind first goes to substance abuse such as drug or alcohol dependency. However, there are other types of addiction in which a person becomes dependent upon compulsive behaviors rather than substances. In many ways, this type of addiction can be just as destructive as substance abuse, since it can negatively affect finances, relationships, work and overall life stability while offering very little comfort or solace to the person engaging in the behaviors.

Pornography addiction is one such type of addiction. Pornography addicts may spend several hours each day watching pornography, even though many feel very little sexual arousal from the act. As with any addiction, pornography addiction has a profound effect on the brain.

What Causes Compulsive Behavior

Whenever you do something that feels good, the reward center of your brain releases a hit of dopamine, a chemical that is responsible for the pleasurable feeling you get when you do something fun, relaxing, exciting, or otherwise nice in some way. Viewing pornography is one such act for many people. The sexual thrill that many people get from watching porn releases dopamine into the brain, enhancing the feeling of pleasure.

However, over time and repeated viewings, the brain comes to associate porn with pleasure, even more than other rewarding acts like being intimate with a partner. As the association deepens in an individual’s mind, he or she may find little enjoyment in sex or romance as compared to consuming porn.

Ramping Up Compulsive Action

The dopamine released by the brain in response to a behavior does not remain constant. Over time, a tolerance builds up and less dopamine is released. People who are relatively new to consuming porn may be able to get their dopamine fix from a short clip or a few pictures, but as time wears on they find that they need to consume much more than they used to in order to feel the same dopamine high. This is why many addicts find themselves watching more and more pornography, sometimes as much as 12 hours per week.

How the Brain Responds to Addictive Behavior

People with an addiction to pornography may have poor decision-making skills in other areas of life because their brains are consumed by the addictive behavior. For example, they may view pornography at work or in other inappropriate situations because their primary concern is the porn itself and not the consequences of viewing it. While in the grips of addiction, the brain actually goes through physical and structural changes that can lead to poor decision-making and a lack of impulse control.

Physical changes in the brain caused by addiction are reversible, but usually require the help of a therapist to set the addicted person on the road to recovery. One-on-one therapy is useful for most people, while others do better in-group session instead of or in addition to work with a therapist. With treatment, anyone can overcome a pornography addiction and experience a deeper and more intimate sexual and romantic connection with another person.

Elements Behavioral Health owns a series of behavioral health programs located throughout the United States. The Elements Behavioral Health family of programs offers comprehensive, innovative treatment for substance abuse, sexual addiction, trauma, eating disorders, and other mental health disorders. Through its programs, the company is committed to delivering clinically sophisticated treatment that promotes permanent lifestyle change, not only for the patient but for the entire family network.


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