Porn Addiction: Often Part of a Larger Addictive Pattern

Sometimes porn addiction is a standalone issue – the primary and perhaps only major disorder that the addict must address in recovery. Other times, porn addicts must also deal with a secondary addiction (substance abuse, compulsive gambling, compulsive spending, etc.) These secondary addictions are generally referred to as either cross addictions or co-occurring addictions.

People who are cross-addicted switch from one addiction to another, typically engaging in their addictions one at a time. For instance, Joseph, a 33-year-old married father of three, binges on pornography (four or five hours every evening) for a few weeks and then he gets disgusted with himself, abruptly deleting all of the imagery he’s collected and canceling his memberships to the various pay sites that he frequents. Unfortunately, instead of instantly becoming an attentive husband and father, he replaces the emotional distraction and escape of pornography with the numbing effects of alcohol.

Porn Addiction: Often Part of a Larger Addictive PatternPeople with co-occurring addictions typically engage in multiple addictions simultaneously. For instance, Evan, a 19-year-old student, watches porn at least 20 hours per week, simultaneously abusing methamphetamine to enhance the mental/emotional excitement and Viagra as a way to maintain his erection. If he is doing one of these things, he is almost certainly doing all three. For him, his porn addiction and his substance abuse issues are deeply intertwined.

Unfortunately, cross and co-occurring addictions are quite common with porn addicts (and with sex addicts in general). For instance, one study found that 69% of heterosexual male sex addicts, 79% of heterosexual female sex addicts and 80% of homosexual male sex addicts also deal with a cross or co-occurring disorder of some sort. A similar study found that 58% of all sex addicts reported either past or current issues with drug addiction and 31% reported either past or current issues with alcoholism. Compulsive spending (49%), eating disorders (47%), compulsive video gaming (37%) and compulsive gambling (29%) were also commonly reported.

Why One Addictive Behavior Isn’t Enough

Porn addicts aren’t the only people prone to cross and co-occurring addictions. And this probably shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the primary factor that drives addiction is a desire to escape from stress, anxiety, depression and other forms of emotional discomfort. So anything that creates an intense experience of pleasure and excitement (and therefore emotional escape from whatever it is that one does not want to feel) can become addictive. So whatever the addiction – alcohol, drugs, gambling, spending, porn, in-the-flesh sex or anything else – the motivation is exactly the same. The addict wants to feel better, which actually means that he or she wants to feel less.

Yes, some porn addicts are purists. In other words, there are porn addicts who stick with porn no matter what. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, spending and other sexual behaviors don’t entice them. But for others (perhaps most), porn abuse is simply part of a larger addictive pattern.

Cross and Co-Occurring Addictive Patterns

In their 2005 article, “Bargains with Chaos: Sex Addicts and Addiction Interaction Disorder,” Dr. Patrick Carnes and his colleagues, Robert Murray and Louis Charpentier, delineate 11 basic ways in which cross and co-occurring addictions typically manifest:

  1. Alternating Cycles – switching back and forth from one addiction to another, often for years on end (e.g., flipping between porn use and binge drinking)
  2. Combining – when various addictive substances/behaviors are combined to create the perfect high (e.g., mixing meth with porn abuse)
  3. Cross-Tolerance – using one addiction as a way to tolerate another (e.g., getting drunk to self-soothe shame about porn use)
  4. Disinhibiting – using one addiction to reduce inhibitions related to a second addiction (e.g., getting high before abusing pornography)
  5. Fusing – using one addiction to amplify another (e.g., using cocaine to heighten the pleasure of orgasm)
  6. Inhibiting – viewing one addiction as the lesser of two evils (e.g., smoking cigarettes instead of looking at porn all night)
  7. Masking – using one addiction to hide another (e.g., going to AA for alcoholism but never examining one’s compulsive porn use)
  8. Numbing – using one addiction to numb the shame of another (e.g., getting drunk after bingeing on porn)
  9. Replacement – replacing one addiction with another (e.g., avoiding porn use by going to the casino)
  10. Rituals – incorporating one addiction into the ritual phase of another (e.g., buying meth before going online to look at porn)
  11. Withdrawal Mediation – using one addiction to stop another (e.g., shopping compulsively as a way to avoid porn use)

Complicating the Process of Recovery

When porn addiction pairs with another addiction (or multiple addictions), the potential for relapse increases exponentially. This is because the addicts must deal not only with triggers for porn use (driving past a sexy billboard, talking to an attractive coworker, seeing a Victoria’s Secret catalog, watching an R-rated movie, etc.), they must also deal with triggers for their other addiction(s).

Exacerbating matters is the fact that relapse with one addiction generally means relapse with all of the addictions. As such, porn addicts should always be on the lookout for related behaviors that may feed into relapse. Put very simply: If recovering porn addicts don’t address and stay sober from all of their addictions, including cross and co-occurring addictions, they probably won’t stay sober from any of those addictions.

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3 Responses to Porn Addiction: Often Part of a Larger Addictive Pattern

  1. Kat August 11, 2015 at 8:15 pm #

    It sounds like you know my husband. He alternates between porn, video gaming, and alcohol. He does this to numb himself, avoid/escape reality/life in general. I knew he had an alcohol problem, at one point I told him I didn’t trust leaving the kids alone with him because I couldn’t trust that he would be sober. I was amazed at how quickly he stopped the alcohol, but that’s because he was replacing it with something else!
    I just recently found out that he fits all the symptoms of a porn addict. This explained so much of what we’re going through in our relationship. I am in counseling, but have not yet discussed the PA aspect with him yet. His excuse is always that all men do it and I shouldn’t let it bother me. It has nothing to do with me. He only loves me and so on.
    Hopefully the counseling helps me because I’m about to give up. I feel so alone, invisible, and worthless. I’m tired of feeling this way. It isn’t fair to me or our children.

    • Pam October 29, 2015 at 6:35 am #

      Thank you, Kat! Although it changes nothing, it is just nice to know that I am not the only one who feels this way. Invisible, is a word I have used often in the past year, or so. Along with disrespected, unwanted, a whole list of adjectives. I wish you were my neighbor…..being able to talk would probably help

  2. mary April 11, 2016 at 7:23 am #

    My husband only cares about porn, comics and toy collecting. He escapes our real lives daily. He has become less and less sexually interested in me. Sex with me is boring to him.

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