By Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D., LPC, SATP, CSAT, Integrity Counseling Services — Many people who struggle with pornography use wonder if they might be addicted to it. Here are six common warning signs for addiction:
- Viewing pornography frequently or binging: There are many ways that people who are addicted can use pornography. For some, there is a need to view it daily. They may even view it several times a day. Others are frequent users who may view it once or twice a week. Still others may go weeks or months without it and then spend several hours viewing it. These are known as binge users. Altogether there is continued use of pornography, and usually in a predictable frequency.
- Using pornography to ease or avoid painful feelings: Many people consider pornography use as little more than “harmless adult entertainment.” However, pornography is often used to ease or avoid deep emotional pain. Often people have carried this pain for so long they don’t realize it’s there anymore. However, deep down they have come to use pornography as a way to escape their pain. Because the effects are temporary, they need to go back to it over and over again to keep their pain at bay. This is where an addiction can develop.
- A tolerance develops: As with many addictive substances, after a while a tolerance develops. A little isn’t enough. A stronger form of the substance is needed to achieve the desired effect. Here is where “soft porn” may be no longer satisfying. The viewer will seek out more hardcore and deviant forms of pornography. This can include fetish, violent, homosexual and even child porn. The amount of time viewing pornography will also increase. Instead of just a few minutes the viewer may spend several hours viewing pornography. For some, a tolerance develops to the point where viewing it is no longer satisfying. They want to experience what they’ve viewed in pornography live. This can lead them to frequent strip clubs, prostitutes, anonymous sexual encounters and extramarital affairs.
- A dependence develops: Here is where the viewer becomes physically and emotionally dependent on viewing porn. Physically his brain has become so accustomed to operating at such a high level of neurochemical stimulation, triggered by the pornography use, that it must maintain those levels just to function. As stated above, the viewer has also become emotionally dependent on pornography to keep painful feelings at bay. This is what draws the viewer back to pornography over and over again. Without a regular “fix,” a person can experience withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, headaches, etc.
- Willingness to view pornography despite negative consequences: For many addicts, the need for a regular “fix” leads them to take great risks to view pornography. This can include risking the loss of a job by viewing pornography on a work computer. For others it could be risking their marriages by viewing pornography at home. In addition, some will spend thousands of dollars and amass great debt because of their addiction to porn.
- The inability to stop viewing pornography despite one’s best efforts: Many people who are addicted will try to stop, but have little success. They may be able to go a few weeks or even month without viewing it; however, they eventually fall back into it. Their sobriety is little more than white-knuckling it. Often they feel their lives are out of control because of the pornography. It has control over them.
If you are struggling with any of these warning signs you may be addicted to pornography. However, don’t be discouraged. Freedom from pornography is possible. Effective recovery programs are available to help you experience victory over pornography. A good recovery program includes a healthy relationship with God, professional counseling, and a strong community of men who will support you and keep you accountable. The next step is to seek the help you deserve!