USA2017 :: Is Pornography Addiction Real? :: Rory Reid
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The answer to this question should be considered in the context of how the word addiction is defined. The word addiction is often associated with the concept of powerlessness, illness or disease. Some of these models portray an individual as helpless or having very little control over their behaviour. "Is Pornography Addiction Real?" by Rory Reid.
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"Is Pornography Addiction Real?", by Rory Reid. (Short version for usa2017.com)
A client once asked me if it was possible to become addicted to pornography. The answer to this question should be considered in the context of how the word addiction is defined. The word addiction is often associated with the concept of powerlessness, illness or disease. Some of these models portray an individual as helpless or having very little control over their behavior. Many psychologists and therapists reject this model because it undermines the foundation for counseling which usually assumes people can control their behavior and have the ability to change their actions. Another risk with the concept of addiction is the possibility the client may misunderstand this label and use irrational thinking to justify engaging in the behavior we are trying to arrest. For example, a client may think, "I can't help myself because I'm an addict." Thus, we may inadvertently reinforce the behavior through such categorizations. Furthermore, the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), used by mental health professionals to diagnose clients, does not contain an entry for "pornography addiction."
Many outside the mental health profession also remain skeptical about connotations associated with addiction. In the wake of some dramatic accounts about addiction, a Newsweek headline sarcastically mocked, "Breathing Is also Addictive."
A non-clinical definition of the word addiction reads, "devotion: a great interest in something to which a lot of time is devoted." Another suggests being addicted is "to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively." Both these definitions suggest that addiction is a choice and if someone is habitual about their use of pornography to the point where it is having adverse affects in other areas of their life then they must also choose at some point to get help in abandoning their behavior. If someone has become heavily involved in using pornography they will most likely have a difficult time abandoning the behavior without some outside support or intervention. They must however, choose to receive this help if the interventions are to be successful.
Although the debate about pornography addiction continues, the mental health profession is faced with determining how to diagnose and treat people whose lives are being adversely affected by their use of pornography.
One argument suggests that problematic behavior associated with pornography consumption should be categorized as an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). There are, however, some distinctions between the two. The difference between OCD and an addiction is defined by Dr. Shaffer who notes:
"The loss of insight among addicts and the maintenance of discrimination among OCD sufferers distinguishes these populations. While the excessive behavior patterns of OCD are disconnected from the dysphoric affect that energizes their activity, addictive behavior remains attached to these noxious emotions. Consequently, addicts escape their discomfort by acting out through excess behavior patterns, while OCD patients avoid the conscious experience of psychic pain through repetitive intemperate activity."
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Dr. Jennifer Schneider argues an alternative view that symptoms related to habitual use of pornography align more closely to the diagnostic criteria for substance dependence disorders. An examination of the similarities presents some interesting findings. Keep in mind that references to substance in these criteria generally refers to drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, only three of the seven criteria need be met in order for someone to be clinically diagnosed with a substance dependence disorder (an addiction). The following items are taken from the DSM-IV with some additional comments indicating how someone involved in pornography resembles the criteria.
1. Criteria for tolerance can include "increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect." A client moves from soft-core pornography to more kinky, bizarre, hard-core types of material, child pornography.
2. Withdrawal symptoms. Many clients report being irritable when they are not able to use their pornography.
3. The "substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended."
4. "There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use."
5. "A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects." The emphasis again is on the amount of time being spent to obtain, use, or recover from use.
6. "Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of the substance use."
7. "The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance."
One of the obvious arguments against classifying compulsive use of pornography in the same category as substance-related disorders is the lack of evidence indicating someone can become "physically" dependent on pornography in the same way someone becomes physically dependent on drugs or alcohol.
Another possible explanation for some type of physical dependency on pornography may be examined when an individual engages in self-stimulation while using sexual imagery. The satiation from this practice creates an association linking the pornography to the temporary euphoric feelings caused by the chemicals released during sexual climax. Thus a person becomes dependent upon the entire experience in order to obtain the "high" they desire. Similarly, a cocaine addict isn't addicted to cocaine as much as he is addicted to the dopamine released by the brain when he uses cocaine. As a result, individuals may use pornography as a trigger for fantasies that perpetuate a chain of events ultimately enabling them to obtain their euphoric feeling. This result may be why many producers of adult content encourage self-stimulation so the consumer will engage in a behavior that will powerfully reinforce the continued use of pornography as a trigger for the subsequent mood-altering experience.
In fact, one study by Dr. Al Cooper found that less than 8% of individuals who engaged in online cybersex and pornography activities considered themselves addicted according to several criteria outlined in the largest online survey ever conducted on this subject.
Beyond the scope of this article is an exploration of the underlying issues that make an individual vulnerable or susceptible to compulsive use of pornography. Behavioral psychologists will sometimes describe laws of human behavior. Two laws that drive human behavior are:
1) we do things because we want something and
2) we do things because we want to avoid something.
Many individuals use pornography as an escape from some greater pain they are trying to avoid and the experience of pornography provides a temporary relief from this pain. Thus both laws are in effect-they want relief and they want to avoid pain.
Rory C. Reid can be contacted at msw[at]rory.net.
On Content Watch website you can read full version of the article.
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