How to Handle a Porn Addiction Relapse

Dr R. Y. Langham

Oct 13, 2021

Internet use has literally exploded over the past few decades, firmly establishing itself as an integral part of “everyday life.” While unlimited access to people and things around the world has been a “blessing” for most, for some, it has triggered a host of uncomfortable, distressing, harmful, addictive, and/or dangerous consequences.

In fact, researchers have found that excessive internet use can trigger questionable behaviors, such as extreme online porn use (cyber-porn) and porn addiction. And, because most of us are constantly on the internet for our jobs, entertainment, dating opportunities, networking, connecting with others, relaxation, etc., it makes sense that there has been a significant increase in web-based addictions, such as porn addiction.

However, the one thing most people don’t understand is that while there are porn addiction treatments available, they aren’t “fail-safe.” In other words, even after receiving porn addiction help, there is still a chance you may relapse.

But, guess what? That’s normal. In fact, 40-60% of people experience a relapse after recovering from an addiction. And, only 33% of former addicts, who are “clean” for less than a year, remain “clean” forever. What does this mean? It means that if you experience a porn addiction relapse, especially during the first couple of years after becoming “porn-free,” you’re not alone. And, you’re not a loser.

Remember, addiction, regardless of its nature, is a disease. It’s not a choice. And, just like any other mental and physical conditions, there is always the risk of a “flare” or relapse. In other words, what prompted the disease originally can re-trigger it, if the previous circumstances reoccur.

So, instead of beating yourself up after a relapse, the best thing you can do is address it before it gets out of control. Asking for help is a sign of strength – not of weakness. So, reach out and get the porn addiction help you need to finally “kick it in the bucket” once and for all!

What is Porn Addiction?

Porn addiction is often referred to as a “behavioral addiction” or “sex addiction.” And, just like any other addiction, porn addiction, is an “involuntary disease” that negatively affects your life, relationships, financial stability, job prospects or security, and/or health and well-being. However, porn addiction is not included in the DSM-5, so it is not “officially” considered a “mental illness” Regardless, a “porn habit” can have serious (and possibly dangerous) consequences on your life if it is not properly addressed.

Why is Excessive Porn Use Considered an Addiction?

Excessive porn use is considered an “addiction” because it shares similarities with other DSM-categorized behavioral and sexual addictions, such as an inability to stop the behavior, cyclic behaviors, and the risk of future relapses.

What is Porn Addiction Relapse?

A porn addiction relapse is described as a return to porn use after being “porn-free” for some time. A relapse can feel self-defeating, however, many people, who recovered from a “porn habit” (for good), had at least one relapse on their way to lifetime recovery. For these former addicts, the key to long-term success hinged on knowing how to properly manage the relapse once it occurred.

These individuals did not wallow in self-pity, blame someone or something else, or allow the addiction to reclaim their lives. Rather, they took ownership of the “mistake,” removed the triggers (i.e., internet use, hardcopy or downloaded pornographic images, etc.), and immediately sought porn addiction help. In other words, they got “back on the horse” and kept trying until they were could successfully ride it (stay “porn-free” indefinitely).

Understand, however, that any time you make positive changes (stopping porn use) in your life, there is a chance you may relapse. In other words, improvement never comes without risk – the risk of returning to “bad habits,” which in this case is excessive porn use or porn addiction. Why? Because we have been taught since birth to repeat behaviors that get us what we want – behaviors that bring us joy. In other words, we have been conditioned to relapse if it serves a purpose for us.

Plus, familiarity is always easier than new territory, so without intervention, our natural inclination is to return to what we know. This is especially true for former porn addicts, who are struggling to stay on the “sobriety bandwagon.” So, the best thing you can do once you finish porn addiction treatment is to be honest with yourself. Although it’s not a guarantee, you may relapse at one point, not because you lack the will, but because porn is everywhere. It’s always around, lurking in the background every time you turn your smartphone, tablet, computer, or laptop on for work, research, boredom, or entertainment.

All you need to “fall back into the rabbit hole” is a reliable internet connection, an electronic device, and privacy. So, keep in mind that you will be tempted from Day 1 of recovery. Thus, it is important to accept this early on, so you are not shocked or confused if or when it occurs. If you are aware of what could happen after porn addiction treatment, you can plan for it. More specifically, you and a therapist can create a relapse plan to help you get back on track if you temporarily “fall off the wagon.”

How Can I Prevent a Porn Addiction Relapse?

Listed below are steps you can take to prevent a porn addiction relapse:

  • Seek Porn Addiction Support

    Attending weekly porn addiction support group sessions (i.e., Porn Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, etc.) can help you avoid a porn addiction relapse. Most porn addiction support groups use the 12-step recovery program, similar to one used in an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) program.

    These groups not only encourage “sponsorships” (people you can reach out to if you get the urge to view porn again) but also provide you opportunities to recover with other porn addicts, who are also trying to become “porn-free.” The goal of these groups is to provide porn addiction support, however many times you need it.

  • Identify and remove triggers

    Another step you can take to prevent a porn addiction relapse is to identify and remove any triggers. This may involve moving your laptop or computer to an open space, such as the living room or kitchen, shutting down and locking up your devices at a certain time each day, installing an anti-porn blocking program on your devices, deleting downloaded pornographic images, and/or throwing away hardcopy porn magazines.

  • Create a relapse prevention plan

    With the help of a porn addiction therapist, you can create a relapse prevention plan that details how you’ll respond to “triggering” situations – situations that cause you to crave porn. A relapse prevention plan is essentially a “backup plan” so you’ll know what to do if you start getting those “urges” again.

  • Be accountable

    Regularly going to porn addiction support group meetings, sharing your struggles with close friends and loved ones, checking in with your addiction sponsor, making positive lifestyle changes, staying busy, and avoiding your “triggers” not only helps you be accountable for your actions but also lowers your risk of a porn addiction relapse.

Is It Hard for Former Porn Addicts to Remain “Porn-Free” Forever?

It can be…

Honestly, it can be hard for a former porn addict to remain “porn-free” forever. Porn has a way of grabbing hold of people and refusing to let go. What does that mean? It means that relapses are always possible. Relapses are likely to happen for most former porn addicts. So, if you find yourself falling back into “old habits” like viewing porn, it is important to seek porn addiction help as soon as possible.

As before, porn addiction relapse treatment may involve an online porn cessation program, lifestyle changes, porn addiction therapy, anti-porn blocking tools, mindfulness techniques, etc. The good news is there is no limit as to how many times you can seek porn addiction treatment. And, there also isn’t any judgment associated with it. The goal is for you to become permanently “porn-free,” regardless of how long it takes.

Why is it so hard for a former porn addict to permanently quit porn?

Well, primarily because sexual images are readily accessible. In other words, you can find them on your electronic device(s) and movie and television screens. You can also find them in magazines and books. These images are literally everywhere! You don’t have to look too far or too long to stumble across a sexual or pornographic image.

The truth is addiction is often a lonely disease. And, porn addiction tends to be even lonelier than other addictions, because of the shame and guilt associated with it. As a result, many porn addicts and former porn addicts have a hard time talking about their current porn use with others – even those closest to them.

Former porn addicts are the worst at updating loved ones, friends, sponsors, and therapists on their porn use because they are afraid of disappointing them. These individuals tend to feel like “failures” when they relapse, so they keep it to themselves. As a result, they eventually fall back into the “porn world” and a new cycle begins.

What if my anti-porn blocking program is unreliable, and permanently shutting down my device(s) is unrealistic? How can I prevent a porn addiction relapse then?

Well, if your anti-porn blocking tools are ineffective or unavailable, you’ll need to find alternative ways to remain “porn-free,” such as going to weekly porn addiction support group meetings, finding things to do so you don’t have time to visit online porn sites, setting a timer on your devices so they shut down at a specific time each day or night, talking to your close friends and/or loved ones about your “porn habit,” attending therapy sessions, joining an online anti-porn program, calling your porn addiction sponsor, etc.

In other words, the best way to remain “porn-free” indefinitely is to stay busy and identify your specific risk factors (i.e., a sedentary lifestyle, joblessness, boredom, loneliness, COVID-19 lockdowns, dysfunctional relationships, daily porn use, a reliance on porn for “sexual release” or orgasm, escapism, etc.). Once you know you have a daily routine and know your risk factors, you can avoid them and remain “porn-free” forever!

What Triggers Can Increase My Risk of a Porn Addiction Relapse?

If you have a chronic “porn habit,” you may be using porn as a way to deal with upsetting, confusing, stressful, overwhelming, and/or distressing emotions, people, or situations. Perhaps, you returned to porn to cope with your anger. Or, maybe you returned to your “old stomping ground” because of boredom, anxiety, depression, or frustration.

Regardless of the reason, the goal of porn addiction relapse treatment is to teach you how to manage your emotions in a healthier way, so you don’t feel the need to return to porn as a “coping mechanism” in the future. The first step? Identifying your specific triggers. Keep in mind that porn triggers are specific to the porn user. In other words, what may be a trigger for one porn addict may not be a trigger for another one.

However, most triggers involve people, such as friends, relatives, and/or a partner or spouse. Or, locations, such as parties, clubs, sex clubs, bars, etc. Boredom, loneliness, social isolation, alcohol consumption, or drug abuse may be your trigger. So, if you want to prevent a porn addiction relapse, you must identify and avoid your porn triggers.

If I Relapse, Should I Seek Porn Addiction Treatment Again?

It depends…

You may not have to seek “official” porn addiction treatment – initially. However, if your porn use escalates and begins to negatively affect your self-esteem, relationships, and health and well-being, then you should seek porn addiction support.

You need to receive porn addiction help, so you can properly address the root of your addiction. If the root cause of your porn addiction is not addressed, you will never be free of it. In other words, it will continuously reoccur because the “problem” is still there. So, even though you have gone through porn addiction treatment before, if you relapse, you may want to consider seeking treatment again. Keep in mind that most addicts try a variety of treatments before they find one that “sticks.”

Note: Overcoming a porn addiction takes time. Porn addiction treatment can help you identify and address any issue(s) that could be triggering your relapses.

Will Self-Help Strategies Work for My Porn Addiction Relapse? If So, Which Ones Should I Try?

Possibly! It’s worth a try! Thankfully, there is a wide range of self-help strategies you can try to help you become “porn-free” again.

These strategies include the following:

  • Addressing the Root Cause

    Past hurts and betrayals can lead to a porn addiction. In this situation, porn functions as a numbing agent. It’s an escape from past or present heartache and pain. It “blocks out” your turmoil, sadness, confusion, pain, and anger. You do it more and more because the effects are only temporary. You need more of that numbing agent to “forget.” Eventually, your excessive porn-watching becomes an addiction – again.

    So, your first step in “squashing” your “porn habit” for good is to ask yourself, “Who hurt me?” And, “What made me turn to porn?” You may have been wounded at some time in your life. Who or what wounded you? You won the “battle” when you originally “kicked your porn habit,” however, the only way you’ll win the “war” is to identify the root cause of your porn addiction.

  • Ask Someone You Trust to Hold You Accountable

    If you have a hard time doing what you say you’re going to do, then the only way you will remain “porn-free” is to have a trusted confidant hold you accountable for your actions. Ask this person to take, hide, or lock-up your electronic device(s), install anti-porn blocking programs on your device(s), help you restructure your living spaces so you are forced to use your computer, laptop, smartphone, and/or tablet in an open space, and check-in with you daily to make sure you aren’t watching porn.

    Next, sit down with your confidant and develop a daily routine or “unofficial relapse plan” that keeps you busy, so you don’t return to porn out of boredom. You may also want to ask this person to go through your device(s) and delete pornographic images, throw away your pornographic magazines, and/or remove any erotic books and movies from your home.

  • Develop a New Routine

    Habit and boredom are two main reasons why people turn (and return) to porn. It’s easier to continue doing what you’re doing or return to something you used to do than to try something new – and stick to it forever. More specifically, it is easier to keep viewing porn or returning to porn when stressed or bored, than to practice new coping strategies.

    But, understand that you will continue to relapse if you keep doing the same thing you did before – excessively watching porn. Nothing will change if you don’t change. That is why it is important to develop a new routine and follow it – even when it’s easier to go back to a familiar activity (porn-watching).

    For instance, if you normally watch porn while you eat dinner, call a friend while you eat. Or, if you normally watch porn at night, give your devices to a friend and ask him or her to hold them for you until the next day. If the “urge” hits you to view porn, go to the gym and get in a good workout, visit a friend or loved one, go to the mall, clean the house, wash clothes, take your child to the park, etc.

  • Invest in an Online Porn Cessation Program

    Although the internet can be a thorn when it comes to porn, it can also be a “blessing” when it comes to stopping porn. In other words, porn cessation programs, like Stop Together, are also offered online. The Stop Together porn cessation program is not only inexpensive but also available anytime the “urge” to view porn strikes!

    This guided anti-porn program is based on six core milestones designed for a variety of porn users. It also follows a physical and mental behavioral training model to help you beat your addiction. Stop Together can help you stop relying on porn and regain your mental and physical health.