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Submitted by Gary Wilson on Sun, 12/05/2010 - 12:48
- Our full collection of Internet Addiction studies.
- List of Internet & Video Game Brain Studies
- Short Summaries of Internet Addiction Research
- Internet Addiction Studies: Containing Excerpts About Porn
- For a good, hard science-based overview of why today's Internet porn is addictive, see Pornography addiction - a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity | Hilton | Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology (2013).
- Cambridge University: Brain Scans Find Porn Addiction.
- Natural Rewards, Neuroplasticity, and Non-Drug Addictions (2011)
Understanding Internet porn addiction means understanding addiction mechanisms. The heart of all addictions involves hijacking the same neurocircuitry, which runs on the same neurochemicals (even though each addiction also involves additional neural circuits and neurochemicals that differ between addictions).
A basic physiological principle is that drugs do not create anything new or different - they simply increase or decrease normal brain functions. In essence, we already possess the machinery for addiction (mammalian bonding/love circuitry), and for binging (storing calories, mating season).
At this time, only one valid study has examined the brains of compulsive porn users: Cambridge University: Brain scans find porn addiction. As we expected, it found the same brain response as seen in drug addicts and alcoholics.
Here's an excellent peer-reviewed journal article, with a current review of where addiction neuroscience is with respect to porn addiction: Pornography addiction – a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity (2013). A 2006 Dutch study found that erotica had the highest addictive potential of all Internet applications. No wonder. Internet erotica is an extreme version of a natural reward that we're all wired to pursue: apparent mating opportunities.
More and more research is revealing the brain changes behind behavioral addictions. See, for example the flood of recent Internet Addiction studies, including dozens of brain studies, which confirm that "Internet addicts" develop the same major addiction-related brain changes that occur in all addictions. (See: Recent Internet Addiction Studies Include Porn). A new European Journal of Behavioral Addictions started in 2012. There is also a yearly conference, and cybersex addiction is becoming a more frequent topic.
In 2011, 3000 doctors of the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) came out with a public statement clarifying that behavioral addictions (sexual, food, gambling) are fundamentally like substance addictions in terms of brain changes. Even the DSM-V has acknowledged its first behavioral addiction: pathological gambling. Said ASAM:
We all have the brain reward circuitry that makes food and sex rewarding. In fact, this is a survival mechanism. In a healthy brain, these rewards have feedback mechanisms for satiety or ‘enough.’ In someone with addiction, the circuitry becomes dysfunctional such that the message to the individual becomes ‘more’, which leads to the pathological pursuit of rewards and/or relief through the use of substances and behaviors.— The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
The head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Doctor Nora Volkow, has suggested the agency's name be changed to the "National Institute for Diseases of Addiction," to address behavioral addictions such as pathological gambling, overeating and compulsive pornography use (More Addictions, Less Stigma). Another famous addiction researcher, Eric Nestler, has this Q & A on his website, Nestler Labs.
QUESTION: Do these changes occur naturally in your brain without the influence of a drug of abuse?
ANSWER: “It is likely that similar brain changes occur in other pathological conditions which involve the excessive consumption of natural rewards, conditions such as pathological over-eating, pathological gambling, sex addictions, and so on.”
Recent research on brain changes in response to "highly palatable foods" is revealing evidence of an addiction process. So is Internet addiction. If gambling, gaming, Internet use and food can alter the brain in this way, it would be amazing if Internet porn alone did not. See this review - Natural Rewards, Neuroplasticity, and Non-Drug Addictions (2011)
Today's extreme porn is as unnatural a "natural reinforcer" as today's junk food is. (See Porn Then and Now: Welcome to Brain Training by us, The End of the Porn Debate? by us, and Can Pornography Use Become An Actual Brain Addiction? by neurosurgeon Donald Hilton.) The challenge now is that control groups of young male non-porn users cannot be found. And who wants to ask non-users to use it in a trial, given the apparent risk of addiction?
Some brains are certainly more sensitive than others to the potentially addictive effects of extreme stimuli. However, it's likely that the more intense our culture's sexual stimuli become, the greater the percentage of users who will show signs of imbalance—even those with fundamentally healthy brains. Also each generation uses more extreme synthetic stimulation than the previous one, and starts earlier with highspeed Internet porn. (Adolescent brains are more vulnerable to addiction.)
We often see healthy guys who develop porn-related erectile dysfunction return to good health simply by avoiding porn. This suggests they didn't have other issues that would have accounted for their vulnerability. Not only do those with healthy brains benefit from rebooting and thereafter avoiding extreme stimuli, it's also likely that users with especially sensitive brains, the "canaries in the coal mine," can also ease some of their symptoms by consciously moving toward normal brain sensitivity.