Do Porn Addicts Experience Withdrawal?

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Scott Brassart

It is common knowledge that alcoholics and drug addicts often experience withdrawal. Symptoms may include:

  • Delirium Tremens (the DTs)
  • Chills and Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and/or Diarrhea
  • Tachycardia (elevated heart rate)
  • Hypertension (elevated blood pressure)
  • Depression and/or Anxiety
  • Agitation and Irritability
  • Hallucinations

Withdrawal from some substances is worse than withdrawal from others. Alcohol and opioids tend to produce the worst physical symptoms. In fact, withdrawal from alcohol and opioids can actually be life-threatening if not medically managed. (Typically, alcoholics and opioid addicts are given steadily decreasing doses of medications designed to manage their physical withdrawal symptoms. This process usually lasts no more than a few weeks.)

But what about porn addiction? When porn addicts go cold turkey, do they get the DTs and hallucinate the same as substance addicts? Most of the time, no, they don’t. But this does not mean that suddenly stepping away from porn does not produce other symptoms of withdrawal. Most often, porn addicts experience one or more of the following:

  • Extreme Emotional Discomfort: Porn addiction, like other addictions, has been the addict’s primary coping mechanism for anxiety, depression, stress, shame, and other forms of emotional discomfort for a very long time. Without this go-to escape, porn addicts often become irritable, agitated, and short-tempered. This can be an extremely uncomfortable experience for both the addict and those who love and care for the addict.
  • Other Addictive Behaviors: Newly sober porn addicts often find themselves replacing (or wanting to replace) pornography with another escapist activity. If left unchecked, this can result in the development (or resurgence) of a secondary addiction – drinking, drugging, gaming, spending, eating, smoking, etc. Anything to escape the emotional discomfort. Knowing this, it is incredibly important that recovering porn addicts and those who support them keep a watchful eye on their other behaviors, especially in the first few months of the recovery process.
  • Loneliness and Feelings of Disconnection: As stated above, porn addicts use pornography to mask emotional discomfort. They also use pornography to (temporarily) meet (or, more accurately, to distract from) their need/desire for emotional connection and intimacy. Without the constant distraction of sexual fantasy and imagery, this longer-term condition can rise to the surface and cause intense feelings of loneliness, disconnection, and unhappiness. (Group therapy, 12-step meetings, and other forms of social support can be incredibly helpful when these feelings arise.)

For porn addicts in early recovery, even the smallest issue or annoyance can feel huge. Without their go-to coping mechanism, they must experience their emotions fully, which they probably haven’t done for many months or even years, so they tend to overreact to pretty much everything that happens. They blow up for no apparent reason. They cry. They scream and yell at themselves and others, including the people who are reaching out to help them in their time of need. They are not fun to be around because they are experiencing withdrawal from their addiction.

The good news is that the most acute symptoms of porn addiction withdrawal will dissipate with sobriety and recovery-focused social support. In fact, as stated above, group therapy, 12-step meetings, and other forms of social support can change a struggling addict’s mood almost immediately. If withdrawal symptoms are especially severe or persist beyond the first month or so of sobriety, the addict should discuss this with a supportive therapist or knowledgeable 12-step sponsor. If symptoms of withdrawal are extreme (especially depression, dissociation, and/or anxiety), a therapist should be consulted as soon as possible.

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with porn addiction, help is available. Seeking Integrity offers inpatient treatment for sex and porn addicts, as well as low-cost online workgroups. At the same time, SexandRelationshipHealing.com offers a variety of free webinars and drop-in discussion groups, podcasts, and more.