It is quite common when someone is considering entering a residential rehabilitation programme for them to have concerns about the other people they will be going through treatment with. For many, it is a fear that they will not have anything in common with those whose substance or behaviour of choice is different to their own. How can an alcoholic possibly identify with a heroin user? When these fears arise I will often discuss with the person considering treatment that in fact, regardless of the substance involved, the behaviour around the sex addiction will be the same; the addiction is likely to result in the person becoming manipulative, selfish, secretive and a multitude of other characteristics that make it extremely difficult to maintain healthy relationships.

As well as the behavioural elements of an addiction, there are also similarities in terms of the physical reaction. Addiction centres around pleasure, and producing a certain feeling. When this feeling is produced, the person is activating the reward centre of their brain. Over time pathways are created which means that each time the stimulus is produced, the reward is experienced. It is quite similar to the classic study by Pavlov in which each time a dog was fed, a bell would be rung – over time, the dog would hear the bell and still salivate at the expectation of being fed. In this same way, seeing an advertisement for an alcoholic beverage or passing someone in the street who smells of cannabis will stimulate an addict in a certain way and the reward part of their brain will light up.

Evidence from a recent study on brain activity has shown that pornography addiction affects the brain in the same way as drug and alcohol addiction. By conducting MRIs on those with a sex addiction and comparing it to those in a control group, it was possible to identify that the area of the brain that would normally light up when a stimulus was present for a substance user, also lit up for these individuals.

This new evidence has two implications; firstly, it supports the idea that addiction affects people in the same way and so having a different addiction should not be a barrier to supporting each other into recovery. Secondly, the findings suggest that the increase of access to pornography as a result of the internet and smartphones becoming more widespread will have a serious implication in terms of the number of people we see with a pornography addiction. That is why it is important that support is put in place for people in this situation. Sadly, it has become such a taboo that many people are afraid to look for help, and yet without help, many lives are likely to be destroyed.

If you, or someone you know is suffering with any kind of addiction, whether it is drugs, alcohol, or a process addiction (pornography, gambling, eating disorders etc) then please feel free to call us for confidential support and advice.

 

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