The Brain of an Addict
Pornography addiction falls under the broader category of a process, or behavioral, addiction. With recent advances in medical technology, such as fMRI, researchers are discovering that the addictive patterns found in the brain of a substance addict, are in fact the same as someone addicted to a behavior, such as compulsive pornography viewing. Because of its high social acceptability level, the fact that the addictive process in the brain kicks in the very moment one thinks about pornography, and because of it’s extreme availability, pornography addiction is one of the fastest growing addictions in the U.S. and one that unfortunately often flies under the radar.
Regular use of pornography over time creates shifts in brain chemistry and wiring, and with the average age of exposure now at 11, younger and more malleable brains are being exposed to this powerful stimulus. One of the most important structures affected is the Pleasure/Reward circuit of the brain, located in the limbic system. This is the same system involved in ALL ADDICTIONS, and the neurochemical dopamine is at the heart of it.
Our brains are wired to give us a reward when we acquire two of the most evolutionarily important things, food and a novel sexual mate. When you view pornography you brain looks at each new image as a new potential mate, and so you receive many little “hits” of dopamine, which gives you that feeling of excitement, even when you are only thinking about viewing pornography.
Exposure to an extremely hyper-stimulating endless stream of novel images (porn) that powerfully tap into our evolutionarily wired reward circuit, designed to encourage us to binge on food and sex when available, is how the pornography addictive cycle is created.
Essentially, by the time you find yourself addicted, your limbic, or emotional, brain has hijacked your prefrontal cortex, that part of your brain that makes logical decisions and weighs consequences; and you need the prefrontal cortex online to make healthy decisions! Your decision to begin looking at pornography may have been your own, but your repeated decisions to continue, at the expense of your quality of life, have largely become out of your control.