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.
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.
And guess what? Former addicts 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, every day 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 things gets overused, which results in it producing less of the the “happy chemicals” (dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, etc) and also becomes 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 over-stimulation 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 Neuropsychopharmocology, 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 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 addicts—even the ones who want to quit—keep returning back to negative behaviors.
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.