Your one-minute answer to “Why Don’t Addicts Just Stop?”

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I do podcasts is something along the lines of “When the average person looks at an addict, they can’t understand why the addict doesn’t just stop. Why can’t they?” For someone who doesn’t have the experience of being an addict, it’s a question that makes sense to me. I have no idea how so many things in this world work or why they are the way they are. The best way to find out is to ask, so for all of those who have ever wondered, I provide this 1-minute answer from my appearance on The Come to the Table Podcast.

Even if you’ve heard my story before, I’d urge you to at least listen to the first 20-25 of this episode as it’s a conversation I’ve not had before, touching on my spirituality, upbringing in the church, the modern state of the Catholic Church, and a quirky “would you rather” game.

Guest Blog: What’s Porn Viewing Doing to Your Brain?

By Joseph F. Price

Are you habitually thinking or fantasizing about sex? Are you always trying to find ways to satisfy your urges and frustrations? Do you get an adrenaline rush from watching pornography? Pornography creates a multitude of chemicals in the brain that are as harmful as doing drugs, and is highly addictive.

Experts indicate phone addiction, internet addiction, and porn addiction combined are going to represent the next health crisis. When, you make the decision to experiment with pornography for sexual pleasure it will have a lasting impact on your brain chemicals, relationships, and mental health.

In the 1980s, a commercial used the analogy of two frying pans and two eggs to explain how a person’s brain looks on drugs. The pan on the left with the raw egg in it represented the natural state of a brain, and the pan on the right showed a fried egg. The caption read: “This is your brain on drugs.” The same analogy can be applied to a person who is using a lot of pornography to stimulate their mind. Except in this case, the egg would be snapping, crackling, and popping on the stove until it is burnt, and the pan is in flames. Porn viewing does this to a person’s brain, spirit, and soul.

Essentially, your brain works like a car engine. There are many mechanisms operating together. Different chemical synapses send signals throughout your body. There is a space, or small gap in our brains where information is transferred between cells. This space is commonly called the synaptic cleft. In order for information to flow, chemical messengers called neurotransmitters are shot across this gap. Think of this like a spark- plug in a car. The neurotransmitter has to make it through this gap in order to spark a thought, or to get your information highway up and running.

There are six major brain chemicals discharged while a person watches porn. Add the additional hormones that are released, and you come up with a highly toxic “neuro-cocktail.”

The first chemical is Dopamine. It is the chemical in charge of your emotions and your thoughts. It is a “feel good” neurotransmitter that “snaps” to attention, when you have a powerful longing for something you have already experienced before. For instance, you have to eat chocolate because it tastes good. Therefore, your brain keeps telling you to eat more of it. The same thing happens when a person watches porn over and over. Dopamine keeps rushing into that area of the brain, and this makes a person addicted because the neurotransmitter indicates that you need more of it. Interestingly, Dopamine plays a major role in memory.  The chemical remembers that the hot, little number in a G-string is just a click away.

The second chemical is Norepinephrine. This chemical sends a “crackling” sensation through the body because it elevates adrenaline. Maybe a couple is having trouble with their sex life, and they want to spice up things in the bedroom. One of them starts watching sex videos to get new ideas. The first time it doesn’t seem to be a problem, but then their mind starts fantasizing about more and more stimulation. Then, people begin to hide their behaviors. They start chatting with girls over the internet, sneaking off to the bathroom to masturbate, and lying to their wives. Of course, it’s their dirty secret, after all. Unfortunately, the individual gets an adrenaline rush from hiding the secret, and this is where the vicious cycle begins.

Oxytocin and Vasopressin work together to cement a person’s “long-term memories to the object that gave him or her sexual pleasure.” Oxytocin is often referred to as the “cuddle hormone.” It is the hormone released when a mother and father first hold their new baby. The hormone connects them to that memory. If this chemical is released during climax it can have a negative impact on a pornography user. The chemical spreads messages to the spectator’s brain that makes him or her become attached or connected to the video, and it prevents them from forming real relationships with one another.

Let’s talk about Endorphins, which are chemicals that make people feel high. Drugs aren’t required to feel on top of the world. It just happens, naturally! You don’t have to go out and buy opiates. They are already available in your head. People, who run and exercise know how awesome these chemicals make them feel. Endorphins are like an aphrodisiac that brings on the desire for sex, and the chemicals start “popping” around in the brain like a drug boosting your libido.

A normal, loving couple should experience a feeling of excitement and happiness during sex, and they usually form a loving connection. When a person constantly stimulates their brain with porn, they are changing the chemistry of these natural endorphins. It is like disconnecting a spark-plug from a reliable source of energy. If you put that plug into the wrong socket, it won’t fire correctly.

“Dr. Judith Reisman called porn an ‘erotoxin,’ theorizing that the brain itself might be damaged while watching porn. She speculated that future brain studies would reveal that the surge of neurochemicals and hormones released when someone watches porn has measurably negative effects on the brain,” (Gilkerson, 2019).

Once sexual participants finish making love there is a calming chemical called Serotonin released into the bloodstream. Humans were never designed to have sex with machines, videos, or other abstract images. People were created for interaction and relationships with living beings. You’re just cheating yourself, if you “short-circuit” the natural process of things by using an inanimate object to fulfill your lusts. All these chemicals work well together, if the user doesn’t rewire his or her brain by doing something unnatural to knock it off balance.

In the long run, Pornography changes your brain chemistry, ruins relationships, and harms your mental health. All the chemicals that work together in your brain snap, crackle, and pop until there is an explosion that causes permanent damage to your life. Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Endorphins interact together and become like hot wires in the brain with repeated use of erotica. Prolonged exposure hardens people’s minds and “desensitizes” their brains to the point that just a little bit of pornography is no longer satisfying. They need to watch harder porn with more violence and cruelty to satiate the chemical Dopamine. The domino effect is that it destroys relationships with their friends and family. Once this takes place, they have to seek help from a mental health provider to straighten out the chemical destruction of their brain and repair relationships.

 

Gilkerson, L. (2019). Your Brain on Porn. Covenant Eyes. Retrieved from www.covenanteys.com/science-of-pornaddiction-ebook

 

Joseph F. Price has been a life/recovery coach for over 12 years and a study of the human condition for over 40. You may contact him at Pornrecovery.coach

Note: Victoria Sayhi contributed to this post

Sorry, But There Was No Thrill In My Addiction

I’ve found LinkedIn to be a great resource for pornography addiction information. However, much like statistics that peg the porn industry worth anywhere between $2 billion and $200 billion (just a slight discrepancy there), I’m starting to bump into information provided from professionals that I think is just flat-out wrong.

This morning, I was scrolling through the feed and there was a short video from an Australian health professional. The video’s thesis was that “the thrill” that comes with looking at porn and masturbating makes the addiction even worse.

The thrill?

At first I thought it may be an Australian colloquialism for the physical pleasure that comes with an orgasm, but that’s not it. This person believes that there is a genuine thrill associated with succumbing to the addiction on a regular basis. Aside from the slight rush of adrenaline that came with porn viewing when I was afraid of getting caught by my parents more than 25 years ago, I don’t recall watching porn ever being a fun, exciting experience. It was a necessity. Despite trying to stimulate my dopamine receptors, there wasn’t a lot of pleasure in it.

The thrill?

Try the shame.

I didn’t want anybody to know about my addiction and in all truth, I never really faced up to my addiction or called it such while I was locked in the battle between my brain and the computer screen. There was nothing thrilling about that. It made me feel bad. I didn’t feel like I was getting away with anything. I felt like I had a dirty little secret.

Here’s my guess: This person has probably never been addicted to anything. I’ve met plenty of ex-alcoholics and ex-drug users at the rehabs I’ve been to who work in the field, but there was also plenty of people who weren’t. Usually these people love to tell you they’re in recovery and this person didn’t do that in the video.

I’m guessing they associates caving to your addiction, even though you don’t want to, as something “naughty.” There’s a big chasm between naughty and shameful. Having a piece of cake at the restaurant with dinner when you’re on a diet is naughty. Going home and binging on the cake in the fridge because you can’t stop yourself is shameful. Promising yourself you’d only lose $100 when you visit the casino, but you lose $120 is naughty. Losing $1,000 and only stopping because you’re broke is shameful. Sneaking a 5-second peek of a pornographic website at work or when other people are in the room is naughty. Waiting for everybody to go to sleep because you NEED hours to look at porn is shameful.

I know if this person was my therapist, we would not click. I also know that I would leave this person after probably only one or two sessions. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there who stick with their therapists because they feel like it’s a relationship where the client doesn’t have the control. A therapist you can’t work well with is not a therapist worth keeping.

I’m sure this person probably gets through to some of their clients and I’m sure they’ve helped a lot of people, but hearing that there was a thrill to my addiction made me shake my head.

That’s not a thrill. That’s shame.

Bipolar Disorder + Alcoholism & Porn Addiction = Recipe for Disaster

I feel like I often gloss over the role that bipolar disorder played in my life as I contended with my addictions. I know being the guy who’s open about his porn addiction is what makes me more unique than most addicts in the public’s eyes, but I often feel like I’m leaving out a big factor in my story when I don’t explain the nuances of bipolar disorder.

I believe that all addiction stems from three areas: Your DNA, your environment/upbringing and your own faulty choices. I think most of us who are addicts have different percentages of each that make up our individual formulas, but few addicts – be it alcohol, porn, food, drugs, etc. – have told me it wasn’t some combination of the three.

I’m not going to go into long definitions or scientific explanations of bipolar disorder or even a “greatest hits” of my experiences. If you’d like to read a story I wrote for the magazine I once owned, you can find it HERE. It’s a long read, but it will get into my entire personal story. Ironically, it was also written in January 2013, just before my addictions got to the critical point that eventually took me down.

Many people who have to deal with bipolar disorder express similar side effects, with one of the most common being the desire to pull yourself off of your medication. It’s a hard thing to explain. I think it’s a combination of remembering through the lens of nostalgia what the mania felt like and reaching a conclusion that the medication did its trick and now you’re better.

I know one of the only reasons I was able to maneuver myself into a position as a publisher of a magazine at 34 was because of the hard work I did at 18 or 22 or 25. My willingness to get fully engulfed at whatever job in journalism or publishing I had at the time opened doors that led me to this high-ranking position 15-20 years earlier than most.

That hard work was fueled by the manic side of the bipolar disorder. I recall after quitting college (the first time) that there were many days I worked at the local daily newspaper office writing stories between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., then I’d have a break for an hour and come back at 5 p.m. to design pages until 1 a.m. I’d go home, fall asleep around 4 a.m., wake up at 7:30 a.m. and repeat the process without an ounce of fatigue.

For those of you who are addicts, but not manic, I think you may understand mania best in terms of your addiction. Take that great dopamine hit your addiction gave you and halve it. Then, replace the other half with the rush caffeine gives you after a couple strong cups of coffee.

I recall this as a never-ending supply of positive energy, but I know I’m romanticizing it. It was that way most of the time, but about 20% of the time, it was the opposite. It was crippling depression. It was like wearing a wet fur coat on a stiflingly hot day. It was about forcing myself to stay awake and do my job because I needed money to live, despite the fact I didn’t want to on most days. When I was flying high, I told myself the depressive episodes were the trade-off.

I know there is some controversy over the medications used to treat bipolar disorder and how and why they exactly work, not to mention the long-term side effects. The most effective drug I was on, nefazodone (marketed as Serzone in the US), was pulled when it was found to destroy a lot of users’ livers. The drugs worked for me. Once banned, it took a while to find the right cocktail and we still need to change things up every 3-4 years, but they worked.

In early 2013, the magazine started showing signs of weakness. We had been operating for four years at that point and while costs rose, revenue stalled, then slowly decreased. I think this was half my fault and half market conditions I couldn’t adapt to…maybe that means it’s all my fault.

I don’t remember the moment I decided to stop taking my meds. I don’t know if it was like a light switch, or if I realized I’d forgot for a few days and happened to be feeling good that day and drew a correlation. Somehow, the idea that if I stopped taking my meds I would increase the likelihood of saving the business seemed to make sense.

When I talk about taking responsibility for what I did, I think it starts here. While I couldn’t control many of my thoughts and actions while in the deepest throes of addiction, in deciding that avoiding medicating was a good move, I made the decision to live with the consequences. I just didn’t have the consequences I was hoping for. I think it’s like driving my car off a cliff. It’s not my fault gravity will pull it down and the impact will likely kill me…that’s just nature. It’s my fault for driving off the cliff in the first place.

I believe the bipolar diagnosis may have hid the addictions because it gave my sometimes erratic behavior a plausible explanation. I could be flat-out drunk, do something stupid, but explain it away as a bipolar episode…and everyone else bought it. Crazy behavior in Amsterdam or Japan had to do with the bipolar was the story I told people for years…and they agreed. I did for a long time, too.

I almost always end these articles by telling people to seek help for their addictions if they need it, but I also want to urge anybody who feels off a lot, or feels like their highs and lows are a little more pronounced than most people appear to be to please get yourself checked out. It’s a curse that has been just as important, just as debilitating and just as much in need of constant attention as my addictions.