It may be surprising, but porn affects the brain in ways very similar to harmful substances, like tobacco. Studies have shown that porn stimulates the same areas of the brain as addictive drugs, making the brain release the same chemicals. And just like drugs, porn triggers pathways in the brain that cause craving, leading users back for more and more extreme “hits” to get high.
On the surface, tobacco and porn don’t seem to have much in common. One is kept behind the counter at the gas station or supermarket because of its well-known harmful effects; the other is available virtually anywhere. One can quickly become an expensive habit while the other comes free with an internet connection. And let’s be honest, Hugh Hefner doesn’t exactly conjure images of a secretive tobacco executive.
So where’s the similarity? Inside the brain.
In case you’re not a neurosurgeon, here’s a crash course in how the brain works. Deep inside the brain, there’s something called a “reward center.”  You’ve got one. Your dog’s got one. For mammals, it comes standard. The reward center’s job is to release “pleasure” chemicals into your brain whenever you do something healthy, like eating tasty food, doing a hard workout, or enjoying a kiss.  The “high” you get from that chemical rush makes you want to repeat that behavior again and again.  Thanks to your reward center, your brain is hardwired to motivate you to do things that will improve your health and chances of survival.  It’s a great system…normally.
The problem is, the brain can be tricked.
When addictive substances are used, they give the brain a “false signal.”  Since the brain can’t tell the difference between the drugs and a real, healthy reward, it goes ahead and activates the reward center.  An important chemical called dopamine is released, which makes the brain start developing a craving for the fake reward.  As long as there’s a lot of dopamine floating around in the brain, the cravings will keep getting stronger, and the consumer will feel super-motivation to keep pursuing more of the drug.  Essentially, addictive drugs hijack the brain, turning it around and forcing it in a direction it was never meant to go. Instead of encouraging the consumer toward healthy behaviors, drugs lead the consumer into things that aren’t healthy at all, and can even be dangerous. 
Want to guess what else does that? Porn.
Researchers have found that internet porn and addictive substances like tobacco have very similar effects on the brain,  and they are significantly different from how the brain reacts to healthy, natural pleasures like food or sex.  Think about it. When you’re munching a snack or enjoying a romantic encounter, eventually your cravings will drop and you’ll feel satisfied. Why? Because your brain has a built-in “off” switch for natural pleasures. “Dopamine cells stop firing after repeated consumption of a ‘natural reward’ (e.g. food or sex),” explains Nora Volkow, Director of The National Institute of Drug Abuse.  But addictive drugs go right on increasing dopamine levels without giving the brain a break.  The more hits drug users take, the more dopamine floods their brain, and the stronger their urges are to keep using. That’s why drug addicts find it so hard to stop once they take the first hit. “[O]ne hit may turn into many hits, or even a lost weekend.” 
What else has the power to keep pumping dopamine endlessly into the brain? You guessed it: porn.
Scientists have long known that sexual interest and performance can be increased simply by introducing something new—like a different sexual position, a toy, or a change of partner.  That’s because the brain responds to new sexual stimuli by pumping out more and more dopamine, flooding the brain just like a drug would.  And “new” is exactly what internet porn sites provide: an endless stream of fresh erotic images delivered at high speed, in vivid color, 24/7. Before consumers even start to get bored, they can always give themselves another dopamine boost just by clicking on something different, something more stimulating and hardcore than before. 
In fact, porn consumption follows a very predictable pattern that’s eerily similar to drug use. Over time, excessive levels of “pleasure” chemicals cause the porn consumer’s brain to develop tolerance, just like the brain of a drug user.  In the same way that a junkie eventually requires more and more of a drug to get a buzz or even feel normal, regular porn consumers will end up turning to porn more often or seeking out more extreme versions—or both—to feel excited again.  And once the porn habit is established, quitting can even lead to withdrawal symptoms similar to drugs. 
But there’s good news too. Even those with serious porn habits can break away and reclaim their lives. Thousands have done it,  and if you’re looking for resources for yourself or a loved one, click here to learn more.