Porn and Secondary Behaviors (Cross and Co-Occurring Addictions)

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Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW, CSAT

Struggling with pornography is not always a standalone issue. Many people who struggle with porn also struggle with other compulsive/addictive behaviors. Often, these secondary behaviors qualify as a cross or co-occurring addiction. Individuals who are cross-addicted switch from one addiction to another, whereas people with co-occurring addictions deal with multiple addictions simultaneously.

Examples of cross-addiction include:

  • Dan, a married father of two, alternates between porn binges and heavy drinking.
  • After leaving treatment for porn addiction, Richard, who had never struggled with his weight while active in his addiction, gained 40 pounds in less than a year.

Examples of co-occurring addiction include:

  • When Michelle is drinking, she uses porn. When she uses porn, she is drinking. Inevitably, one behavior triggers the other.
  • Every night after work, Evan does a few ‘bumps’ of meth. Then, all he cares about is porn. Sometimes he watches porn and masturbates for six or eight hours.

Dr. Patrick Carnes and his colleagues Robert Murray and Louis Charpentier suggest 11 ways in which cross and co-occurring addictions occur.

  1. Alternating Cycles: Switching back and forth from one behavior to another, often for years on end (i.e., flipping between binge-drinking and compulsive porn use).
  2. Combining: Combining substances and behaviors to create the perfect high (i.e., mixing meth with porn).
  3. Cross-Tolerance: Using one behavior as a way to tolerate another (i.e., getting drunk to self-soothe shame about porn use).
  4. Disinhibiting: Using one behavior to reduce inhibitions related to a second (i.e., getting high before surfing for porn).
  5. Fusing: Using one behavior to amplify another (i.e., using cocaine to heighten the pleasure of orgasm).
  6. Inhibiting: Viewing one behavior as the lesser of two evils (i.e., smoking cigarettes instead of looking at porn all night).
  7. Masking: Using one behavior to hide another (i.e., going to AA for alcoholism but never looking at compulsive porn use).
  8. Numbing: Using one behavior to not feel the shame of another (i.e., getting drunk after an all-night porn binge).
  9. Replacement: Replacing one behavior with another (i.e., cutting down on porn by gambling for hours on end).
  10. Rituals: Incorporating one behavior into the ritual phase of another (i.e., buying meth before going online for a porn bender).
  11. Withdrawal Mediation: Using one behavior to detox from another (i.e., shopping compulsively as a way to avoid porn).

Unfortunately, when substance use and porn use intertwine and fuse, treatment and recovery become more difficult. The pairing substances and porn is double trouble when it comes to risk of relapse and potential consequences. Clinicians are now of the belief that fused compulsive/addictive behaviors, like the consistent pairing of stimulant drugs and porn, must be addressed simultaneously. Otherwise, the user is unlikely to heal from either half of his or her problem.

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with pornography, 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.