The Connection Between Porn Addiction and Substance Abuse

The Connection Between Porn Addiction and Substance Abuse

By In Addiction Recovery
Posted May 15, 2018

Research shows that porn addiction and substance abuse often occur simultaneously. In one study, 58 percent of sex addicts reported either past or current struggles with drug addiction. 31 percent reported issues with alcoholism.

These disorders are closely linked, and one addiction often feeds into the other, creating a vicious cycle that makes recovery even more challenging.

In this article, we’ll explore the connection between porn addiction and substance abuse. Why does this connection exist—and what can be done about it? Let’s take a look.

What Is Porn Addiction?

You may be wondering what qualifies as porn addiction. Porn addiction occurs when:

  • An individual’s sexual behavior is dominating or interfering with his or her life.
  • The individual cannot stop these behaviors, even after experiencing negative consequences (damaged relationships, financial issues, impaired work performance).

At this point, it’s clear that viewing porn has become a compulsion beyond the addict’s control. The addiction will continue to have a negative impact on his or her life until help is found.

Cross-Addiction and Co-Occurring Addiction

It’s not surprising that many addicts are addicted to multiple substances or behaviors. After all, addiction is driven by a desire to escape from trauma, anxiety, depression, or other painful emotions.

Addicts are compelled to stimulate the brain’s reward center by pursuing dangerous behaviors. They become dependent on the feelings caused by chemical changes in the brain. And it turns out that any experience creating intense pleasure, excitement, or even fear can produce this euphoric “high.”

Individuals with multiple addictions are said to have cross-addiction or co-occurring addiction.

Cross-addicts switch back and forth between addictions, focusing on one addiction at a time. For instance, a cross-addict may watch hours of porn daily for a few months, then decide to stop. At this point, the addict will still struggle with uncomfortable or painful emotions. Instead of confronting these feelings, he will simply replace the numbing effect of pornography with another addiction, such as cocaine.

When someone has a co-occurring addiction, he or she engages in multiple addictions at the same time. These addictions are inextricably linked in the co-occurring addict’s mind and could include watching porn while consuming a substance.

Why Porn Addiction and Substance Abuse?

In one study surveying sex addicts, 69 percent of heterosexual males, 79 percent of heterosexual females, and 80 percent of homosexual males reported past or current issues with drug addiction.

It’s common for addicts to struggle with multiple addictions, but why is there a particularly strong link between porn addiction and substance abuse?

In 2005, Dr. Patrick Carnes and his colleagues Robert Murray and Louis Charpentier set out to answer this question in the paper “Bargains With Chaos: Sex Addicts and Addiction Interaction Disorder.”

The trio outlined eleven ways that co-occurring and cross addictions develop. Here, we’ll look at a few of the most common and how they apply to porn addiction and substance abuse.

Disinhibiting

Disinhibiting means using one addiction to reduce inhibitions related to another addiction. For example, someone may drink or consume drugs in order to feel more comfortable watching pornography.

Fusing

When an addict uses one addiction to intensify another, it’s referred to as fusing. People may use substances to enhance sexual experiences (including watching porn) by amplifying sensations and increasing endurance.

As neural pathways are impacted by both behaviors, the high intensifies. Often, this causes the addict to not want to engage in one addictive behavior without simultaneously engaging in the other.

Numbing

numbing yourself from your addictions

In reality, many sex addicts don’t enjoy sex. Rather, the brain’s chemical release compels them to seek high-risk sexual behaviors, including excessive consumption of porn.

Once the resulting high wears off, the sex addict typically feels intense guilt and shame. Instead of experiencing these unpleasant emotions, people may use drugs or alcohol to self-soothe.

Masking

Addicts sometimes use one addiction to disguise another. An alcoholic with a porn addiction, for instance, might seek treatment for his alcoholism without acknowledging or addressing the addiction to pornography.

Inhibiting/Replacement

When one addiction is viewed as “the lesser of two evils,” the addict is inhibiting. Similarly, an addict who avoids one addiction by engaging in the other is using a strategy called replacement.

Let’s say, for example, that a young woman views pornography as “less bad” than heroin. Instead of doing heroin, the woman watches porn. Not only will the porn addiction worsen, but the woman is likely to turn to heroin again at some point. She is still compelled to practice addictive behaviors, and inhibiting/replacement fails to address the issues at the root of this compulsion.

In addition to these connections between porn addiction and substance abuse, there’s also the fact that people who are under the influence are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors. These sexual experiences and the high they produce will be intensified, only encouraging the addict to continue engaging in both the porn addiction and the substance abuse.

Implications for Recovery

With multiple addictions, recovery becomes more complicated. When porn addiction and substance abuse occur simultaneously, both must be addressed in order for sustainable recovery to occur. Unpacking the underlying issues fueling these addictive behaviors is also crucial, so seeking counseling is recommended.

The risk of relapse increases greatly when more than one addiction is involved. This is because the individual must avoid triggers for both addictions.

A porn addict who abuses heroin, for example, might now need to avoid triggers relating to viewing porn (talking to someone attractive, seeing a Victoria’s Secret billboard, watching a movie with risqué scenes) in addition to triggers linked to heroin use (friends who use, places where heroin was bought or consumed, drug images and paraphernalia, feelings like anxiety or depression).

Making matters worse, relapse with either porn addiction or substance abuse will almost always mean relapse with the other addiction as well. To stay sober from one addiction, individuals with co-occurring or cross-addictions must stay sober from all of them.

This means acknowledging both the substance abuse and the porn addiction is necessary. Triggers must be identified for both behaviors, and a plan for avoiding and/or coping with these triggers must be developed. In combination with therapy, support groups, and other healthy behaviors, this approach effectively addresses both addictions.

Finding Solutions to co-addictions

Summary

Often, porn addiction and substance abuse go hand in hand. Both behaviors provide an escape and fulfill the addict’s need for risk, which produces pleasant chemical changes in the brain.

Unfortunately, these compulsions fuel one another. For recovery from either substance abuse or porn addiction to be possible, both must be treated. Relapsing with one addiction will likely mean relapsing with the other, so it’s important to learn how to avoid and cope with triggers for both behaviors.

Although co-occurring or cross-addictions can complicate recovery, gaining and maintaining sobriety is still possible.

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