Why is porn so addictive?

When we say the people become addicted to porn, we mean that in every sense of the word.  Indeed, in some ways—its secretiveness, its ability to inspire guilt, its diminishing returns over time—porn is the epitome of addiction.

Here we list the major elements of porn’s addictiveness with actual illustrations of how we help with porn addiction through our porn addiction recovery treatment in the Life Process Program (LPP).

Addiction is a state where people become completely engrossed in an experience that provides temporary rewards, including feelings of relief from pain and negative emotions.  The addiction allows them to exert a sense of control over their lives and feelings that they otherwise do not feel.  But the cost to them is of increasing misery, including guilt, which increases their motivation to return to the addiction.

 

  1. People become enmeshed in the total porn experience.

A man spent entire nights, after his wife went to bed, sometimes until dawn, in front of a computer screen, watching porn and masturbating.  He describes the experience this way: “I was overtaken by fantasizing and masturbating. Sometimes it felt as though I were in a trance. Nothing else seems to matter to the person at the time—how his wife will react, how completely exhausted he’ll be the next day, how he will feel about myself and my life as a result.”

 

  1. Addictive porn provides rewards, or reinforcement, but these are not positive feelings.

Rather than seeking positive rewards, addiction is motivated by people’s desires to relieve negative emotions.  Here a client describes his mood when he embarks on a porn binge: “I guess you could say I am addicted to porn. I’m susceptible to going on a binge when I’m tired or late at night when I find myself in front of the computer.  At these times I just don’t feel good about myself or my situation. I am mainly feeling depressed at these moments, along with feeling loneliness.”

 

  1. Addictions like porn thus give people a sense of control in their live.

People want to feel in control of their situations, even when they actually don’t have a good handle on their lives.
“I felt in control, like I can do something to make myself feel good without needing others. It also helped me not feel the pain of my negative circumstances, real or perceived.”

 

  1. Whatever initial good feelings the porn provides soon disappear.

The mix of feelings produced by a porn addiction, or any addiction, shifts from positive to negative.
“At first it just felt good! (until afterwards). As time went on, the pleasure aspect decreased, then disappeared, and I did it mostly from habit. Eventually, I was engaging in porn without experiencing any pleasure. At this stage I knew I needed help to overcome my porn addiction.”

 

  1. Underlying these negative emotions are negative life circumstances in crucial areas of intimacy and work.

“I am struggling financially and socially. There are intimacy issues. My dynamic at home is unhealthy.  My wife, although loyal, is dissatisfied with my earnings, with her being the main earner and pillar of the household.”

 

  1. The worst impact from the addiction is one the person’s own sense of themselves—the guilt and shame from their behavior.

“I never planned on my porn binge episodes.  They just seemed to happen. Afterwards I felt bad for acting out and for wasting time, as well as for the intensified feeling of worthlessness, of not having a productive life.”

 

  1. Rather than addressing these issues, the porn or other addict resorts to his or her addiction, which worsen these underlying conditions.

“I just had a realization of how my hiding from life in porn has affected me financially and in my intimate life, with my wife!”

 

As this last comment indicates, porn addiction recovery through the Life Process Program allows the person to reflect on their experience, to see what they are doing, why, and the consequences.  Armed with this kind of realization, the client can now see avenues for freeing himself from his addiction, with support and help from his LPP coach.

Your keen awareness is wonderful even though the topic is clearly very painful as I can hear so much shame in this. There is a lot to unpack and more to understand here, and especially to move forward together. I am guessing that being fully engaged in life has always been a challenge for you and a need to escape that pain seems to be underneath much of your compulsions. Internet use allows us to engage in the world in all new ways—some helpful, some not helpful.  Can we return to positive experiences in life that you have had, some of which may involve use of technology and the Internet.  Perhaps we can expand on these experiences to continue to move you in a positive direction.

The coach began by delving into the client’s depression. 

I can see that depression is a major piece of your history and as you say–connected to your learning to self medicate or self soothe through Porn/masturbation and retreat as a solution–most addictions share this in common. Were you treated by a therapist, hospitalized, or prescribed medication at that time, if so–did the treatment help?

If it is too severe or long-standing, our LPP helpers will suggest to a client reaching out to other professionals for help with their recovery.  We at LPP can’t resolve some deep and long-term problems.  Neither do we tell people what kind of help to pursue. In this case it might involve medication, or help from a cognitive-behavioral therapist who works through addressing how a client thinks about themselves and their lives and the actions that he or she takes.

The LPP approach is similar to this.  Our coach worked with the client to address his feelings about himself, his intimacy issues with his wife, his job preparation and prospects, his ways of moving forward in life.

Solving life-threatening addictions requires some work.  There is no easy, “one-stop” solution, like magic pill.  It is the realization that addictive change requires an overall approach to life that distinguishes the Life Process Program, a course of action that our coaches recognize and are prepared to embark on with LPP clients.

This approach takes patience, appreciation of small steps, and rewards for moving forward.  Coaches do not put themselves on a pedestal, but look for points of commonality, while noting their own experiences where these are relevant.

The following captures in a nutshell the LPP approach:

I am your coach in LPP. I am also a licensed social worker and addiction recovery coach. When we cannot control something that we wish we could, and feel badly about it, and it has negative consequences in our life—that is what we are calling addiction or addictive behavior. Dr. Peele believes, and I agree, that addictions all share a common thread of experience. I have my own history with addictions and successful recovery and I’m now living a very fulfilled, happy life which I wasn’t while I was misusing alcohol.

Even though I have professional knowledge and experience regarding porn addiction, but not personal experience, I am able to understand and to empathize with your experience.  Our work together is more of a collaboration and I am more like a peer helping on the path to your recovery, however you define that for yourself.   I will be responding to your work with written observations, and questions for you to consider. We can discuss the issues raised live in face-to-face online coaching session if you choose.

 

Following this approach, the coach and client formed a strong collaborative, therapeutic bond that allowed the client to exit his porn addiction and begin to live a satisfying and fulfilled life, one about which he—and his wife—could be proud.  And, while our LPP coach was present along the way, the ultimate life solutions were those chosen and enacted by the client—his recovery was the client’s own!

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

Comments

  • Tom says:

    I have worked in helping clients recover from substance misuse for 15 years. On reading this description today I am inspired and motivated to acquire better skills to assist clients further in their recoveries. I think this approach has huge potential especially in the area of relapse prevention.. Love to chat more if your interested. R Tom

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