Cover photo by Allef Vinicius. 4 minute read.

The following post is geared towards those in recovery from a struggle with porn. While Fight the New Drug is not a recovery-focused resource, we encourage anyone in need of help to check out Fortify. Visit Fortify if you’re interested in resources aimed at recovery.

At Fight the New Drug, we talk a lot about the doom and gloom of a porn struggle. How it will affect our brains, hurt our relationships, etc. That information can be important and help create better strategies for recovery, but let’s be honest, it can also be really depressing. So let’s look at the other side of the equation, most of the science that shows how harmful porn can be also shows that recovery is possible. Regardless of how long you’ve struggled, recovery is more than possible—it is biological.

1. Once porn is left behind, the brain pathways it created will start to fade.
(Source: Doidge, Norman. The Brain that Changes Itself. New York: Viking, 2007.)

Have you heard the “feed the right wolf” analogy? If not, it’s pretty simple:

If there are two metaphorical wolves locked in a power struggle, you can decide the outcome by choosing to feed one or the other. The one that is fed becomes stronger. As one urge or “wolf” becomes stronger, the other becomes weaker.

This is exactly what happened when you started getting involved with porn, you kept feeding it and it got stronger. If you turn the tables, the urge for porn will begin to fade away. As we build positive influences into our lives and gain more and more distance from pornography, the pathways in our brain that tell us we need it will start to shrink. It will be slow but it will happen.

wolves

2. When a brain that has become accustomed to chronic overstimulation stops getting that overstimulation, neurochemical changes in the brain start happening. As a result, many users report withdrawal symptoms.
(Source: Avena, N. M. and P. V. Rada. “Cholinergic modulation of Food and Drug Satiety and Withdrawal.” Physiology & Behavior 106, no. 3 (2012): 332–36.)

This might sound bad but it is actually very good. Like a bodybuilder who learns to love the burn because it is tearing their muscles down to grow stronger, we can anticipate and welcome the pain of recovery. Withdrawal sucks and it can be frustrating, but it means our brain is changing. Instead of looking at withdrawal pain as evidence of how messed up you are, think of it as painful healing or soreness after a workout.

Related: Tips To Quit: What Sleep, Food, And Exercise Have To Do With Porn Recovery

And guess what? Former consumers have found that when they approach their withdrawal symptoms with this type of positivity, they find the pain less powerful and shorter. It’s a win-win to endure the pain in order to break free.

3. The brain can regain sensitivity to healthy, everyday activities.
(Source: Lisle, Douglas and Alan Goldhamer. The Pleasure Trap. Summertown, TN: Healthy Living Publications.)

One of the main parts of your brain that is affected by porn use is the reward center. Basically what happens is that when this center gets overused, which results in it producing less of the “happy chemicals” (dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, etc.) and also becoming less responsive to them. This means it takes more stimulation to make us feel good. If we eliminate porn as our main source of these chemical releases, our brain will start looking for new ones.

We need start to connecting to positive things in our life that will actually support our physical, emotional, mental and social health. These connections might start off small, but they will grow and eventually replace the old neural pathways.

4. Research indicates that damaged frontal lobes can recover once constant overstimulation stops.
(Source: Kim, Seog Ju, In Kyoon Lyoo, Jaeuk Hwang, Ain Chung, Young Hoon Sung, Jihyun Kim, Do-Hoon Kwon, Kee Hyun Chang, and Perry Renshaw. “Prefrontal Grey-matter Changes in Short-term and Long-term Abstinent Methamphetamine Abusers.” The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 9 (2006): 221–28.)

Addiction can cause harmful changes in the brain, the most common of which is frontal lobe shrinkage. This is a big problem because the frontal lobes of the brain are the part that deals primarily with choice, logic, and reasoning. This change is one of the main reasons scientists believe compulsions and addictions can become so powerful, it’s like we’re missing the part of our brain that helps us make good choices. That’s why frequent consumers—even the ones who want to quit—keep returning back to negative behaviors.

Related: Tips To Quit: 3 Stages Of Breaking Free From Porn Obsession

What’s the silver lining?

It grows back!

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 our 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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