In his book “Breaking Free”, Russell Willingham lists six signs of addiction:
- Age-inappropriate Behavior
- Intense Reactions in Response to Minimal Stress
- Frequency of Symptoms
- Degree of Social Disruption Produced by Symptoms
- Inner Suffering
- Rigidity and Persistence of the Symptoms
- Physical Damage
“It is what some have called ‘arrested development.’ For example, a thirty-year-old man may act like a six-year-old. He says to himself, That’s just the way I am, but everyone around him can see how childish his behavior is.” (p. 22)
For many years, instead of acting like a mature adult and parent I acted like a petulant child. If I didn’t get my way with regard to our finances, entertainment choices, social engagements, etc., I would throw a fit my 19-month-old son would envy. In all honesty I still struggle with this; I’m learning how to be an ‘adult’ in my mid-thirties.
Intense Reactions in Response to Minimal Stress
“When the addict does not get his way – look out! He will explode, withdraw, or manipulate.” (p. 23)
Do you routinely ‘blow up’ at your spouse and others for virtually no reason? My college friends nicknamed me “Wigout” because of my tendency to explode in response to minor issues. Later in life, I distinctly remember coming home from work one day and screaming at my wife because a toy had been left in the middle of the living room floor. Addicts interpret any kind of denial of their needs as a rejection of themselves, which is why their reactions are so out of proportion to the cause.
Frequency of Symptoms
“Though even a single exposure to pornographic magazines or videos is destructive to a person’s spiritual life, it is the frequency of their use that determines whether an addiction is present.” (p. 24)
Occasionally viewing pornography, while a sin for Christians, is not a sign of addiction. Viewing pornography regularly (several times per week or more) or bingeing on pornography for a short time between months of ‘sobriety’ is an indicator of addiction.
Degree of Social Disruption Produced by Symptoms
“All of us have sexual difficulties at one time or another, but for the addict these difficulties place an incredible strain on relationships.” (p. 24)
What are you risking, or what have you lost, because of your pornography use? Has your boss threatened to fire you, or does your work suffer as a result of fantasizing throughout the day? Has your spouse threatened to leave you if you don’t stop? Is your participation in church activities at risk because of your use of pornography? Might you be in trouble with the law? You are a pornography addict if you are risking more than you are willing to pay to use it.
“The inner suffering of the addict comes from two sources: deep, unmet emotional needs from childhood and the pain and disappointment caused by trying to meet those needs through his sinful behavior.” (p. 25)
People who are not, or have never been, addicted to pornography cannot understand how much pain addicts are in. As each day of sobriety passes for me I gain a bit more perspective on my former life, and I am genuinely shocked that I was able to tolerate so much pain for so long without more self-destructive behaviors emerging.
Rigidity and Persistence of the Symptoms
“A true addict is someone who has attempted many times to stop, but without success. He has a paradoxical love of acting out…and, at the same time, a bitter hatred of it.” (p. 26)
How many times have you tried to quit? How many times have you promised God, your spouse, and yourself that you were done with pornography for good, only to find yourself using it again several days or weeks later? Many Christians assume that pornography addiction is only spiritual problem and thus only try to pray the problem away, but the addiction is really about an unmet need for love and must be treated as such.
“A majority of addicts deal with other compulsive behaviors as well: eating disorders, workaholism, spending problems, substance abuse or frantic religious activity (mistakenly called ‘ministry’).” (p. 26)
I’ve read elsewhere that 80% of pornography addicts also suffer from one of these other forms of addiction. I identify most closely with ‘spending problems’; I once bought a brand new motorcycle while my family was in the process of moving to a new city. I literally drove the bike to the hotel we were staying at while looking for a place to live. How insane is that?
Do you relate to some of these signs? All of them?