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These 4 Studies Show How Recovering From a Porn Habit is Absolutely Possible

Those who have spent years watching porn can feel how it has affected them. But research shows recovering from porn is absolutely possible.

By August 15, 2022No Comments

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At Fight the New Drug, we talk a lot about why porn can be difficult to quit. But the good news is that research shows that it’s absolutely possible to quit porn and for former consumers’ brains to return to a healthier state.

So if you’re wondering how to quit porn, know that regardless of how long you’ve struggled, recovery is more than possible—it is biological.

Related: Looking to Get Healthier? 7 Reasons to Add Quitting Porn to Your List

1. Staying away from porn—even for short periods of time—can lessen its negative effects.Fernandez, D. P., Kuss, D. J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2020). Short-term abstinence effects across potential behavioral addictions: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 76, 101828. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2020.101828Copy 
Source: Short-term abstinence effects across potential behavioral addictions: A Systematic Review (2020).

At first, it can be difficult to resist the craving for porn, but with time, the urge for porn can start to fade away. Choosing healthy habits over harmful ones tends to get easier with time. And as this study shows, even avoiding porn for short periods of time can have positive effects. Although many people experience withdrawal symptoms while trying to overcome unhealthy habits, resisting those cravings is like building a muscle—the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.

Related: Quitting Porn—Even for a Short Time—Can Ease Negative Effects, Review of Studies Finds

As positive influences are built into consumers’ lives and they gain more and more distance from pornography, the pathways in the brain that tell consumers they need it can start to shrink. It can be slow, but recovery is absolutely possible. So keep trying! There is hope!

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2. Learning to recognize and challenge unhealthy thought patterns can help people quit porn.Young K. S. (2013). Treatment outcomes using CBT-IA with Internet-addicted patients. Journal of behavioral addictions, 2(4), 209–215. https://doi.org/10.1556/JBA.2.2013.4.3Copy 
Source: Treatment Outcomes Using CBT-IA with Internet-addicted Patients (2013)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a popular and effective form of therapy that focuses on helping patients recognize and let go of unhealthy or unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors.American Psychological Association (2017). What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioralCopy 

In this study, people who were considered to be internet-addicted—including those considered to be addicted to pornography—were treated using CBT. In other words, therapists helped them identify some of their thought patterns that were harming them rather than helping them, and helped them develop healthier ways of thinking. Turns out, the results were amazing! As the researchers noted, “over 95% of clients were able to manage symptoms at the end of the twelve weeks and 78% sustained recovery six months following treatment.”Young K. S. (2013). Treatment outcomes using CBT-IA with Internet-addicted patients. Journal of behavioral addictions, 2(4), 209–215. https://doi.org/10.1556/JBA.2.2013.4.3Copy 

Related: How You Can Confront Setbacks While Quitting Porn

3. Mindfulness-based therapies can help consumers overcome unhealthy porn habits.Sniewski, L., Farvid, P., & Carter, P. (2018). The assessment and treatment of adult heterosexual men with self-perceived problematic pornography use: A review. Addictive behaviors, 77, 217–224. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.10.010Copy 
Source: The Assessment and Treatment of Adult Heterosexual Men With Self-perceived Problematic Pornography Use: A Review (2018).

In this review of studies, researchers looked into different types of interventions to help people who were struggling to quit porn. Some studies looked at the potential of pharmacological approaches to treating problematic porn consumption, while others analyzed the effectiveness of different therapeutic strategies. Researchers found that mindfulness-based therapies were especially effective at helping consumers learn to overcome their unhealthy porn habits.Sniewski, L., Farvid, P., & Carter, P. (2018). The assessment and treatment of adult heterosexual men with self-perceived problematic pornography use: A review. Addictive behaviors, 77, 217–224. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.10.010Copy 

So what are mindfulness-based therapies? According to GoodTherapy, they are types of therapy “designed to deliberately focus a person’s attention on the present experience in a way that is non-judgmental.”GoodTherapy (2018). Mindfulness-Based Interventions. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/mindfulness-based-interventionsCopy  There are a number of different forms of therapy that are based in mindfulness techniques, including dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

Related: How You Can Quit Watching Porn Today

The researchers of the above study found that ACT, in particular, was effective at helping people give up porn. In fact, they found a 92% reduction in porn consumption after treating patients, with an 86% reduction when they followed up with patients three months later!Sniewski, L., Farvid, P., & Carter, P. (2018). The assessment and treatment of adult heterosexual men with self-perceived problematic pornography use: A review. Addictive behaviors, 77, 217–224. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.10.010Copy Crosby, J. M., & Twohig, M. P. (2016). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Problematic Internet Pornography Use: A Randomized Trial. Behavior therapy, 47(3), 355–366. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2016.02.001Copy 

As consumers learn to accept both the good and the bad as normal parts of life and learn healthier ways to deal with stressors, recovery can start to feel much more possible. Connecting to positive things in life that will support their physical, emotional, mental, and social health can make all the difference.

These connections might start off small, but practicing healthy behaviors will eventually create new neural pathways that will help turn healthy behaviors into healthy habits.

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4. Letting go of shame can help create lasting change.Gilliland, R., South, M., Carpenter, B. N., & Hardy, S. A. (2011). The roles of shame and guilt in hypersexual behavior.18(1), 12-29. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.551182Copy 
Source: The Roles of Shame and Guilt in Hypersexual Behavior (2011).

In this study, researchers looked at people who were seeking treatment for their problematic pornography habits. They found that while study participants who felt guilt about their porn habits were more likely to actually change their habits, those who experienced shame about their porn habits were more likely to stay stuck in an unhealthy cycle of porn consumption.Gilliland, R., South, M., Carpenter, B. N., & Hardy, S. A. (2011). The roles of shame and guilt in hypersexual behavior.18(1), 12-29. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.551182Copy  Pretty wild, right?

So if guilt can be healthy while shame is unhealthy, what is the difference between the two? Dr. Brene Brown, a leading researcher on shame explains:

“Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful–it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

Related: I Tried Giving Up Porn For One Month, Here’s How it Went

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”Brown, B. (2013, January 14). Shame v. guilt. Retrieved from https://brenebrown.com/blog/2013/01/14/shame-v-guilt/Copy 

In other words, guilt says “this behavior is bad” while shame says “I am a bad person.”

Some people who are trying to quit porn feel that their habit makes them “bad” or “unworthy” of love and connection. But that simply isn’t true. The research is clear that shame isn’t an effective way to motivate yourself to quit porn—it just doesn’t work. So for those struggling to quit porn, having self-compassion and patience can make all the difference.

As one Fighter shared with us, “Lately I haven’t viewed or honestly even wanted to look at porn. Long story short, I remembered who I truly am—a dude with a good heart who made some poor decisions and got sucked into an addictive cycle… It showed me I’m still lovable. It broke the power shame had on me.”

Research and the experiences of thousands of people have demonstrated that the negative effects of pornography can be managed and largely reversed.Young K. S. (2013). Treatment outcomes using CBT-IA with Internet-addicted patients. Journal of behavioral addictions, 2(4), 209–215. https://doi.org/10.1556/JBA.2.2013.4.3Copy Nathanson, A. (2021). Psychotherapy with young people addicted to internet pornography. Psychoanal.Study Child, 74(1), 160-173. doi:10.1080/00797308.2020.1859286Copy 

In fact, even in cases of serious drug and other addictions, research shows that the brain can heal over time with sustained effort.Pfefferbaum, A., Rosenbloom, M. J., Chu, W., Sassoon, S. A., Rohlfing, T., Pohl, K. M., Zahr, N. M., & Sullivan, E. V. (2014). White matter microstructural recovery with abstinence and decline with relapse in alcohol dependence interacts with normal ageing: a controlled longitudinal DTI study. The lancet. Psychiatry, 1(3), 202–212. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(14)70301-3Copy Yau, Y. H., & Potenza, M. N. (2015). Gambling disorder and other behavioral addictions: recognition and treatment. Harvard review of psychiatry, 23(2), 134–146. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000051Copy Rullmann, M., Preusser, S., Poppitz, S., Heba, S., Gousias, K., Hoyer, J., Schütz, T., Dietrich, A., Müller, K., Hankir, M. K., & Pleger, B. (2019). Adiposity Related Brain Plasticity Induced by Bariatric Surgery. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 290. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00290Copy 

Related: Drew’s Story: How My Fiancée Inspired Me to Quit Porn Permanently

Like anything, it takes time for the frontal lobes to recover but daily victories will make a big difference in the long run. The best part is that as a consumer’s brain gets healthier, recovery gets a little easier. Think of it like a muscle that gets bigger and stronger the more you use it—the longer you stay away from porn, the easier it is to do so.

All it takes is practice.

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Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

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