“One ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them. One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them. In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.” -J.R.R. Tolkien
Pornographers are acutely aware of the information that I am going to give you. They will do whatever they can to keep this information from reaching the mainstream general public. They don’t talk about it, nor will they. They understand that millions are already addicted to their material and more and more are becoming addicted daily. The pornography industry is the biggest drug cartel in the world! Modern neuroscience now tells us that there is little difference in the physical or chemical changes in the pleasure and control centers of the brain regardless of whether the addiction is from a chemical or an experience. According to Neurosurgeon Dr. Donald L. Hilton Jr. “It is imperative that we treat pornography and sexual addiction with the respect accorded any drug addiction, for, as we shall see that is precisely what it is.”
Until the general public becomes more informed about the reality of how pornography affects the human brain it will continue to be looked at as a moral weakness or a form of mere entertainment rather than a true chemical addiction. As a professional counselor who has worked in the addictions field for over 20 years I want to make it clear that pornography addiction is a CHEMICAL ADDICTION.
Pornography addiction is the most difficult addiction to treat because it hits at the very core of our humanity. Interest in sexuality is a primary driving force in human beings. It is pleasurable by design and necessary in order for the human race to continue to exist. If there were ever to be the perfect drug created pornography would be it. Pornography is the “perfect brain poison.”
The problem with this drug is that it is legal and delivered to almost every home free of charge 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It is simply one click away. The chemical cocktail that it sets off in the brain is of the most profound addicting nature. The greatest challenge that we face with it is the fact that most addicts encounter it when they are very young. Good people everywhere become addicted at a young age before they even realize what is going on. Today the average age of exposure is 11 years old. How would you feel if you saw someone holding an 11 year old on the ground and injecting him with heroin? Not a pleasant thought is it? In reality that is what is happening with pornography.
Throughout my professional career I have spent countless hours treating those with chemical dependency addictions such as alcohol, heroin/opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, etc. I feel qualified to speak about what I have seen and make the claim from a clinical therapeutic perspective that pornography addiction is the primary addiction of them all. It hits at the very core of our humanity and is negatively affecting the world in ways that most scarcely imagine. The greatest of all concerns is what will happen with the rising generation without education and help. The young have no immunity to it and the young are the ones who are being exposed at an increasingly alarming rate.
Our brains are simply made up of tiny chemicals called neurotransmitters. These tiny chemicals drive our emotions, feelings and behaviors. I believe that many scarcely realize how powerful these tiny chemicals are how deeply they impact our lives and behavior. At this microscopic level there is a constant interplay between a chemical and electrical interaction. In his fascinating book entitled “The Mind and the Brain” Dr. Jeffery Schwartz differentiates between the mind and the brain. There is a constant interplay between these two parts and each can have a powerful influence on the other. The mind and the brain work together to bring meaning to life. My interpretation of this is that the mind or spirit is the electrical intelligence that lives in this physical chemical body and brain. Addiction occurs when the physical brain has taken control of the mind. The mind is the intelligence part that is frustrated about the loss of control. It is in the mind that the conscience exists. This is the part that generates feelings of right or wrong. The physical brain has no concept of right or wrong. Its primary function is to keep us alive and it does this by driving one to avoid pain and seek pleasure.
The physical chemical brain has a tremendous capacity to gain control of the mind. It can subject it and trap it. In other words it can take over the human will and influence how a person thinks, feels and acts. This state is known as addiction. It is a state where the physical chemical brain demands or compels one towards a certain behavior regardless what the mind or conscience says. There appears to be something inherent in the human family that feels it is wrong to view the private sexual acts of others. In other words the mind, the electrical intelligent part of us simply cannot feel good about participating in it. I make this claim after listening to hundreds of stories of clients who have viewed pornography. The results are always the same. I have never had a client come in and tell me that they had a slip during the past week and they felt good about. NEVER! Viewing pornography leaves in its wake feelings of frustration, irritation, depression. These feelings are the direct result of normal chemical disruptions in the brain.
In essence the only difference between a heroin or cocaine addict is the way the drug enters the system. The brain responds from information received from the eye quicker than from any other source. Visual information is processed in the limbic system in microseconds. This is why pornography is such a big deal. Visual information is processed faster than from any of our others senses. Even the ingestion of heroin or cocaine is much slower in comparison. The brain responds to visual sexual images in microseconds where chemical reactions take place automatically.
Because of the power of the chemical brain and its capacity to shut out the conscience there are many who claim that this behavior is normal or mere entertainment. The rationalizations and justifications that can come from the survival part of the brain are very alluring and convincing for sure. When one participates in these behaviors long enough it is as though they can no longer hear that still small voice inside of themselves. Many clients have ask me “how do people participating in these behaviors feel afterwords?” My experience is that they will do whatever they can to avoid that question. They avoid at all costs quiet and reflective time because that is when the mind or conscience seems to prick them. It is my opinion that those who produce and participate in the making of any form of pornography are so deep into rationalizing and justifying their behaviors that they can no longer hear, feel or see clearly the truth about what they are doing. There is no other way they could do this work unless they have these psychological defenses firmly in place. They will have to come to this awareness on their own because the more one tells them how destructive this behavior is the more defensive and justified they will become. Those who have made it out of this industry will tell you that they always new it was destructive and unhealthy but in order for them to admit it they have to get out of it first. Many who have become involved in the porn world may feel that they are too far gone to get out of it. That simply isn’t true. They can also get into recovery and with the proper education and support they can find the peace that they have been searching for.
To those who have trouble accepting the fact that pornography addiction is a “brain disease” and the prime addiction of them all listen to the following email that I recently received. As you read this email ask yourself the following question? Is this individual seeking pornography as mere form of healthy entertainment or is he driven or compelled to have it? This email comes from a man who is highly respected in his community, loves his family and is committed to providing for them and caring for them.
“I am sick to my core by virtue of my indulgence in pornography. To be honest my appetite for porn accounted for why I got the internet in the very first place and now that I am down in a horrendous pit I seriously wonder whether there is hope of recovery for me for whenever I log onto the internet I must view porn. What is wrong with me? Why can't I change who I am presently? Is there any change possible in the future for me?”
The feeling expressed in this letter is common to what I am seeing in my clinical practice day in and day out. Pornography eats away at the inner soul. After one views it (usually in secrecy – and isolation) it leaves in its wake feelings of absolute determination never to look at it again, frustration with self, depression, discouragement and a very powerful feeling of all consuming hopelessness. Pay particular attention to the above email when this individual uses the words, “I am sick to my core.” That doesn’t sound like a very fun form of entertainment to me.
Nothing can be more frustrating to a strong willed man or women with high values to face the reality that they cannot control their behavior in regard to viewing pornography or sexually acting out behaviors. Again, pay attention to the words in the above email when he says, “whenever I log onto the internet I must view porn.”
In the simplest terms we in essence have two brains that work in concert with each other. The higher functioning brain the neocortex sits on the top of the more primitive brain known as the limbic system.
To understand more about how these two different parts of the brain work, I refer to the work of James Olds. James Olds was one of the most important psychologists of the twentieth century. Indeed, many feel that his discovery of the "reward" system in the brain is the most important single discovery yet made in the field concerned with how the brain works and how it affects behavior. His discovery has given us a much-increased understanding of addiction.
What Olds discovered that is so significant to the understanding of addiction is that our pleasure centers (where the addiction lives) are housed in the Midbrain or Limbic System, which is not under the direct control of the conscious mind or the Frontal Cortex. The Midbrains prime directive above all others is survival. This part of the brain has the task of keeping us alive. It is the part that monitors our basic survival needs. This part of the brain generates survival appetites that drive the rest of the body toward what it demands, such as oxygen, water, food, sleep, sex, etc. James Olds discovered the power of the Midbrain when doing experiments with mice. When mapping out how the brain responded to pleasurable stimuli by placing electrodes on different areas of the brain, he was astounded when he saw what happened to the mice when he connected to the Midbrain. He found that when the mice had the capacity to tap into the pleasure centers of the Midbrain and receive continual pleasure they would do so at the expense of all other functions until they died. In other words, these mice would keep pressing a certain lever that delivered incredible pleasure until they would die of exhaustion or starvation. These pleasure centers simply overwhelmed the other functions of the brain. Our pleasure centers work in a similar manner. Now we are beginning to get a clearer glimpse of the challenging nature of addictions. It is also important to note that the limbic system functions at the subconscious level. A good metaphor to describe this is by a picture of an iceberg. Eighty-five to Ninety percent of an iceberg in under water. We cannot see it with our eyes from the surface. Many now believe that Eighty-five to ninety percent of our behaviors are driven from this subconscious limbic region. The ten to fifteen percent of the iceberg we see with our eyes can be likened to the conscious mind.
When one views pornography there are a whole cocktail of pleasure chemicals released in the limbic regions of the brain. Such chemicals as Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Oxytocin, and Serotonin bind the brain to seek certain behaviors that will produce a euphoric feeling state.
Scientific evidence now strongly supports an organic basis for all addiction. Neuroscience has shown that all addictions, both drug and natural, are caused by a deficit of dopamine in the reward system. This deficit produces a very powerful craving which underlies all addiction. The power or driving force behind these cravings and obsessions can literally disconnect the pre-frontal/rational brain and drive one to behaviors that are emotionally and psychologically destructive. The very definition of addiction is that one continues to participate in behaviors where there are negative consequences despite their best efforts to stop. What we are now seeing is that if the limbic system is constantly unrestrained it grows stronger and the pre-frontal cortex shrinks. In other words the part of our brains that is able to put the brakes on to our primitive drives begins to malfunction. It simply looses the strength to restrain the unwanted behavior. Fortunately, with abstinence and counseling support there is evidence that the brain can heal itself.
This reality was hypothesized almost a century ago before we had the evidence to support it. William James made the follow state in the 1800’s, “I believe that we are subject to the law of habit in consequence of the fact that we have bodies. The plasticity of the living matter of our nervous system, in short, is the reason why we do a thing with difficulty the first time, but soon do it more and more easily, and finally, with sufficient practice, do it semi-mechanically, or with hardly any consciousness at all. Our nervous systems have grown to the way in which they have been exercised, just as a sheet of paper or a coat, once creased or folded, tends to fall forever afterward into the same identical folds.”
The Hope of Recovery
I know all the above information can sound discouraging but we must not lose hope. With the proper education and treatment I have seen miracles happen and people change their behaviors. If one has the deep desire to change it is not only possible but probable. Yes, it will take time and persistent application of certain principles and yes there will most likely be some slips along the way but the desired change can be realized. The words of Thomas Paine are meaningful when considering this addiction. “These are the times that try men’s souls. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives ever thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
One of the greatest challenges of recovery from this addiction is that most are looking to do it this alone and they are looking for the quick cure. Addiction cannot be “hoped”, “willed”, or even “sentenced” away, it requires therapy based on established scientific principles.” -Dr. Glen Hansen
Porn addiction is a disorder of pathological decision making. The limbic hijacks the rational brain. It is important to understand that the limbic system develops long before our cognitive ability does. This is why pornography is a crime for the rising generation. The young have no defenses that are capable of dealing with it. Almost every client that I have seen in the clinical setting began their addiction to pornography as a young child or adolescent. When they came across the material they simple had no cognitive defenses to deal with it.
When one comes to understand that this addiction is a brain disease they are more likely to accept the treatment that is necessary. In recovery the focus is on accepting the addiction for what it is and then strengthening the pre-frontal cortex to manage it more affectively. There are assignments and tools that are able to teach one how to do this. This is what is working with the clients that I have been treating for the past 6 years. Therapy by a qualified therapist along with 12 step meetings can prove invaluable in the healing process. These principles require that you don’t try to do this alone. Regardless of your resistance to do so it is strongly suggested that you reach out for help and break the isolation barrier. There are safe places to go where your anonymity will be preserved.
Donald L. Hilton Jr. MD outlines the following metaphor in his excellent book, “He Restoreth My Soul” (Forward Press Publising, LLC. April 2009, 209-210). I find this metaphor very useful for the topic at hand. “In his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien tells the story of how one powerful ring must be destroyed to save the land from destruction. “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them. One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them. In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.” Pornography addiction can be likened unto this One captivating Ring, trying to find and bring all it can to the mental and spiritual land of Mordor where the shadows lie. This story provides a powerful metaphor to the plight of those who struggle with pornography addiction. In this story Frodo, a hobbit is the one chosen to carry this ring to the dark land of Mordor and cast the ring into the Crack of Doom where it would finally be destroyed. It is interesting to note that Frodo hates the burden of carrying the ring but also doesn’t want to part with it. In fact, he becomes frustrated, irritated and angry when anyone tries to take the Ring away. By nature Frodo is kind and thoughtful but he becomes cruel and selfish when this happens. It is also noteworthy that when he puts the Ring on, he becomes invisible while wearing it. How like the isolation of pornography addiction is this? When one is acting out it is usually in isolation apart from loved ones. Note the similarities of the Ring – the power to isolate, to make invisible and produce feelings of lust. Remember with pornography these feelings of lust are caused by very real biochemical within the brain.
One of the most poignant parts of this classic story is that when Fordo comes closer to Mordor he describes the great burden that he carries. He loses strength and finds that he cannot do it alone. He needs the help of his friend Sam. Sam says to Frodo, “Come, Mr. Frodo! I can’t carry it for you but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo, Dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go” (The Return of the King, The Easton Press, 1984, 217-218).
Even at the end of this long and arduous journey he cannot throw the Ring away by himself. Those who have faced this addiction themselves or have struggled like Sam to help and carry a loved one will be able to recognize the similarities. Those addicted can feel like they are in an endless battle and struggle. They may loose all hope of ever being free. With great effort they will fight the continual obsessions and compulsions, only to slip and fall again and again. They must come to the conclusion that they cannot do this on their own. Sometimes the “ Sams” in their lives will have to carry them, although the “Sams cannot carry the addiction for them.”
There is scientific evidence that with abstinence and recovery support that the brain can heal and rewire itself. Consider the words of Henry David Thoreau regarding this process. “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a single pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” This is where the commitment to treatment and recovery come in. Hope is increased when one finally decides to reach out and seek the help that they need. It is an ongoing process of committing to live a certain way 24 hours at a time! With the proper help and support and commitment this much desired change does occur! It can be done!
Gordon S. Bruin M.A., L.P.C is the founder and President of InnerGold Counseling Services Inc. In 1994 he earned his Master of Arts Degree in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Addiction Studies from John F. Kennedy University. For over 20 years he has been working in the addictions field. Over ten years ago he focused on helping individuals who struggled with pornography/sexual addiction issues. Without any advertising, until recently, or even his name in the phone book his private practice has exploded by word of mouth. This is due to the remarkable progress his clients have experienced.
Based on thousands of hours of experience facilitating individual, couples, and group therapy sessions specifically dealing with pornography/sexual addiction issues he has created a first of its kind online treatment system that clients are saying is changing their lives.