Am I Addicted?
This heated question is one that therapists, psychologists and mental health clinicians can’t seem to agree on. And while it might be a debatable whether usage of porn and sex can actually cross into classical addictive behavior, what most professionals can agree on is that countess individuals struggle with thoughts and behaviors that feel excessive, out of control and are having a negative impact on their self-esteem and intimate relationships.
Evaluating your behavior
On the front line of this debate is the actual experience of clients themselves. If you’re someone who is worried that your behavior is treading into problematic territory, start by asking yourself, what is your drug of choice when you don’t like what you are feeling or would prefer to feel something different? When you’re in need of a change to your mood, longing to relax or decompress, what do you do?
For some, it’s a glass of wine or a scotch at the end of a long day. For others, a flourless chocolate cake or potato chips do the trick. Some choose to lose themselves in TV, video games or online communities. And for many others, the chemical changes that occur though sex are the best ticket to a change of mood. Whether it’s the pleasure of orgasm, erotic images or sexually connecting with another person, sex has a way of changing our moods for the better.
The thing to know is that none of these behaviors in and of themselves are bad. Used in moderation, with the mutual consent and agreement of your partner, all of these behaviors can have an appropriate time and place in a healthy life. That said, all of these same behaviors can have significant negative effects on anyone who uses them too much or obsessively thinks about them. As in all addictions, there is a tipping point when a behavior changes from a choice to a need; when it filters into someone’s thinking in an obsessive manner regardless of the risk or cost to the individual and those they love. This tipping point is the classic hallmark sign that a coping skill has turned the corner into dangerous territory.
As you explore your behavior, it’s critical to step back and reflect on your choices to recognize whether the cost of using your substance of choice has becomes greater than the pleasure or relief you feel from using. For example, is your usage of porn upsetting your spouse, interrupting your work or causing you to isolate from others so you can secretly fill this need? Ask yourself, what price you are paying in the form of relationships, health and prosperity to act in the manner you’re acting.
Stress is the key trigger for most addictions. Under stress, people often choose the quickest, fastest and most reliable ways they know to relieve tension or feel pleasure. The need for instant relief or to “let some steam out of the kettle” is so great, that people reach for what they know can ease their mental anguish. Given how our brains chemically respond to sex, sex or porn may temporarily fill the need.
That said, as in most classic addictive behavior (alcohol, gambling, drugs) as the addiction takes hold, there is never enough to satisfy the need. What sex and porn used to do in terms of relieving stress, gradually stops working and fails to leave one feeling truly satisfied or fully satiated.
In healthy coping skills, when someone eats the cake or takes a drink, they are left feeling pleasure in the moment. That pleasure lingers and allows them to de-stress and move into a calmer state of thinking. For the addict, however, instead of the good feelings lingering and providing the relief they’re seeking, they feel good in the moment and then there is a rush of shame, anxiety or anger for making choices they have. This is especially true as the addict becomes aware of their need for more and more because their previous “normal amount” no longer does the trick to provide the relief. The lingering, underlying feeling, that each time they “use” leaves them feeling worse or distressed by the constant pursuit of always wanting more. Unless under controlled situations, like riding a rollercoaster, this sense of being out of control doesn’t feel good and yet the addict doesn’t see a way out except to use more.
This vicious cycle is ongoing for the addict. They know they “should” stop. They know their behavior doesn’t provide relieve. They know they need they’re obsessing and that their relationships are strained… and yet, they can’t stop. This is the very definition of addiction; when someone has lost the ability to choose.
There is help…
Addiction whether it’s to porn, sex, masturbation, prostitution or other risky sexual behaviors has a way out and it begins by acknowledging what’s going on. Therapy can help. The process of speaking with a qualified therapist allows you and your partner to understand the root cause(s) for the compulsive use of porn or sex. Making sense of the behavior, how it started, how it works, noticing and naming the tipping point when the costs exceeded the benefits without judgment is a powerful step to unlock the grip these behaviors have on your psyche.
We all need choices to manage stress. Therapy helps you find healthy ones. You also learn to notice the first signs of a craving or desire so that you can make healthy choices instead of the automatic ones that will always come until you learn reliably what your triggers are. We all know that if you know you’re getting hungry, and have an awareness of the emerging hungry feeling that you can make good choices. If, all of a sudden you find yourself starving, the intensity of that feeling overrides rational thinking and your emotion rules the choices you make. It’s a lot harder to drive by a McDonalds if you’re hungry…
Learning to notice emerging feelings is a critical part of this process. Therapy teaches you how to slow down and not react so you have the chance to make healthier choices. In an addictive mindset, you become hostage to your emotion and those old choices that are wired to those emotions provide pleasure or relief. Through therapy, you can learn new ways to react to your stressful feelings and gradually learn to control your impulses while also getting your needs met in a healthier way.
If you are struggling with use of porn or sex that feels excessive and no longer serves you, it’s time to see this is not a crisis, it’s an opportunity. Learning about yourself, your choices and ultimately finding ones that serve you and satisfy you is the beginning of creating the “Great Life and Great Sex” you truly desire.
To learn more about working with me to understand your sex, porn or other addictive behaviors, please contact me or sign up to receive my newsletter for more insight into this topic and others. Remember, it’s never too late to make healthier choices for your life and the lives of those you love. Please reach out when you’re ready.