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If you are addicted to pornography, you’re probably wondering how it happened. How did something so insignificant become something that controls your thoughts and actions? To answer this question, you need to understand the relationship between porn addiction and the brain. 

Addiction often results from unresolved or processed trauma. The individual cannot enter into remission until they understand their addiction and treat the trauma. Part of this knowledge is understanding how the brain processes rewards and how that can result in addiction.

The Brain’s Reward System

Our brains have an internal reward system to help us learn what feels good. Essentially, when you do something pleasurable, your brain’s reward system triggers. 

Dopamine is the neurochemical your brain’s reward system releases. The brain releases dopamine in anticipation of something feeling good. Therefore, you perceive and remember the experience as pleasurable. 

When your brain releases dopamine, tiny bursts of it go into receptors. Dopamine receptors receive and process dopamine at a regular rate. But, sometimes, your brain gets a dose of dopamine so large that it almost goes into shock. It starts to shut down these dopamine receptors. This shut down means you have to do more of what initially made you feel good to get the previous good feelings.

Pornography isn’t new, but the internet means it’s more readily available than in the past. Initially, you may have viewed porn as a way to get a dopamine hit — to feel good. Your brain remembered this positive feeling, and it made you want to look at porn again. Then you started looking at porn habitually. Eventually, you stopped getting that positive feeling as your dopamine receptors shut down. Then you would need to look at more porn and more extreme porn to get the same release. The need for dopamine drove your addiction.

Dopamine Chemical Dependence and Trauma

When you are a child, you look to your guardians to process and cope with stressful and traumatic situations. When you experience stress or trauma as a child, it has a magnified impact on the brain. These traumatic experiences are where Trauma-Induced Sex Addiction develops. 

Traumatic experiences can vary widely from small instances to life-altering events.

Childhood traumatic experiences include:

  • Lack of attunement or bonding with a primary caregiver
  • Sexual assault or abuse
  • Neglect
  • Witnessing or experiencing violence such as domestic abuse
  • Betrayal or relational trauma
  • Divorce or a caregiver leaving
  • School violence such as bullying
  • Social rejection based on your identity, beliefs, or way of being

To cope with these traumatic events, you seek out ways to produce dopamine. While you seek ways to trigger a dopamine release, your developing brain’s receptors are shutting down. 

These adverse childhood experiences leave you physically less able to process feel-good activities. But they don’t stop you from trying to recreate a pleasurable neurochemical release.

Learning early on that sexual stimulation feels good can lead to a predisposition for sex and porn addiction.

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Chemical Dependence

You can develop a chemical dependence on dopamine, even though the brain creates it naturally. This dependence causes you to seek out things that trigger a dopamine release — pornography, sex, or drugs, for example.

Responses to dopamine chemical dependence include:

  • Needing More. When you experience stress or anxiety, you’ll seek out things that give you a sense of control and release. You are attempting to feel better through the only coping mechanisms you know. 
  • Higher Risk. As dopamine receptors shut down, a person’s sexual behavior escalates. This escalation is because of the effect porn addiction has on the brain. Watching porn won’t be nearly as exciting as it used to be. Therefore people begin to view more “hard-core” porn.
  • Downregulation. You’ll start to experience downregulation. Downregulation is when receptors make your brain and body less receptive to the substance you’re seeking. Essentially, you build tolerance by shutting down the receptors in your brain.

Repercussions of Porn Consumption

The untreated trauma and dependence on dopamine that results in addiction have repercussions. Those repercussions go beyond the addiction itself.

Repercussions of porn addiction include:

  • Relationship Issues. People who are accustomed to watching pornography to regulate their nervous system gravitate toward it. They may ignore romantic relationships, even if they’re already in one, in pursuit of porn. This decision causes problems within relationships or developing relationships.
  • Sexual Dysfunctions. As the brain becomes more desensitized to pornography and similar stimuli, it may result in difficulty ejaculating, struggling to experience an erection, or even disinterest in a human partner. These struggles often lead to low satisfaction with one’s sex life.
  • Mental Health Concerns. People with porn addictions are more likely to develop other mental health disorders, like depression or anxiety. People addicted to pornography become dissatisfied with their lives and embarrassed by their behaviors.
  • Lack of Joy. For habitual porn users, their first thought in stressful times is to turn to pornography. They watch porn instead of doing something that would bring them joy, like seeking comfort from a loved one, exercising, or meditating. This habit makes them less able to experience happiness and true joy. 
  • Normalizing Violence. The normalization of sexual violence goes hand-in-hand with the escalation of porn usage. The majority of pornography features sexual violence. A regularly-exposed person may perceive this violence as typical and even come to expect it in their own lives.

BAI Treatments for Sex and Porn Addiction

Begin Again Institute specializes in treating sex and porn addiction. We offer various therapies and programs that will allow you and your partner to recover, heal, and thrive in the wake of your addiction. 

Our 14 Day Men’s Intensive set in the stunning mountains of Boulder, Colorado, is one of our most popular programs. The isolation allows you to focus all of your energy on healing rather than silence triggers and distractions.

We also offer a 6-Module Course to understand and treat your sex or pornography addiction.

At the heart of these therapies is education. Understanding porn addiction and the brain chemistry behind it is imperative on your road to healing. 

If you’re ready to start your healing and regain control over your life, we’re prepared to provide you with treatment. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

  • Category: Sex Addiction
  • By Development Account
  • July 7, 2021

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