A majority of the people who will read this use pornography on a regular basis. If that includes you, I would ask you to consider your use of pornography in light of the Addiction Cycle. As I walk through the steps of the Cycle be conscious of whether your own use of pornography sounds similar to the examples. Without further ado, here are the 10 steps of the Addiction Cycle, as described in “Breaking Free” by Russell Willingham:
1. Visual/Emotional Trigger
Any kind of sexually arousing person or image will set off an addict and remind him of the nurturing missing from his life, which he interprets as lust. Seeing a “Cosmopolitan” magazine at the grocery store is often enough to start a pornography addict’s Cycle.
2. Repression of pain with immediate sexual/romantic longings
As soon as pain is triggered feelings of anger or loneliness rise up in the addict; almost unconsciously he represses these feelings with thoughts of using pornography. In our “Cosmo” example, a man who is triggered by the magazine and feels loneliness or anger immediately thinks about going home and using pornography to take his mind off of his pain.
3. Fantasizing/planning stage
This is an active fantasizing and planning stage in preparation for acting out. This phase can last minutes, hours, or days. Once the man in our example has been triggered, he starts planning exactly how soon he’ll get online and access pornography. He will fantasize about which websites he’ll visit and how much time he will have to act out. If necessary, he will begin to plan a cover story for his time spent accessing pornography.
4. The Hunt
In this part of the Cycle the addict physically moves toward his target. During this stage the addict’s brain releases adrenaline and other neurotransmitters in anticipation of the ‘high’ of acting out. The man in our example drives home, heads to the computer, and fires up his Internet browser. As he does this, he begins to feel euphoric and his brain’s higher-thinking capacity diminishes.
5. The Connection
At this point the addict is viewing pornography. (Note: Do you see that the Addiction Cycle started five steps before the addict saw any pornography?) He forgets his pain and loneliness and feels ‘accepted’ by the photos and videos online.
6. The Act
The release of pent-up emotional pain and sexual energy.
For just a moment, everything in the addict’s world in right. The neurochemical ‘high’ experienced by a pornography addict after acting out is nearly as strong (and addictive) as the high caused by heroin.
8. The Letdown
The pleasure of fulfillment is short-lived; within moments the addict feels tremendous let-down. Addicts always forget this pain later, and according to Willingham, “It is here that the addict will do one of two things: get help or fall back into denial.”
9. The Vow
For Christians, this is the part of the Cycle where we swear to God and to ourselves that we will never use pornography again. If you struggle with pornography you know exactly what I’m talking about.
10. The Cycle Resumes
By taking ‘the vow’ the addict sentences himself to repeat the Cycle again in the future. After ‘the letdown’ the addict needs to contact a trusted friend or mentor, confess his addiction, and begin attending recovery meetings. By ‘vowing’ not to use pornography again the addict continues to believe that he can overcome his struggles alone. This is classic addict thinking: “I can stop anytime I want to.”
This will be the last installment of the “Signs of Pornography Addiction” series. If you have been following along and feel you might be a pornography addict I encourage you to seek help. There are many resources available online; simply Google “pornography addiction.” Feel free to e-mail me with any questions, or if you need some support: firstname.lastname@example.org