What Do Porn Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms Look Like?

Sandra Richardson

Jun 02, 2021

When you hear the word “withdrawal” substance abuse most likely comes to mind. While this is a common association, withdrawal symptoms aren’t reserved just for those abusing drugs or alcohol. Any addict can experience withdrawal symptoms when access to their substance of choice is limited or denied.

If pornography is your substance of choice, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to reduce or stop viewing. These symptoms can be physical, mental, and emotional.

 

Just because pornography isn’t a physical substance doesn’t mean withdrawal won’t have some very real, physical side effects. Dependency is a tricky thing. So are habits and addictions. When you depend on pornography to bring you happiness, reduce your stress, and satisfy an emotional void, eliminating it from your life will be difficult and sometimes, painful.

Understanding porn addiction withdrawal symptoms will not only prepare you for the journey ahead but may help you identify your addiction in the first place.

Let’s take a closer look at some common porn addiction withdrawal symptoms and how to overcome them without relapsing.

What Does Porn Addiction Look Like?

Before we get into the specifics of porn addiction withdrawal symptoms, let’s briefly cover exactly what a porn addiction looks like. As with any addiction, your symptoms and side effects won’t look the same as someone else’s. The key to answering the question, “Am I addicted to porn?”, is to look at how viewing pornography is impacting your life.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How often and for how long am I viewing pornography?
  • Am I keeping my habit a secret from loved ones? (Specifically, a spouse or significant other).
  • Are my professional and personal relationships being disrupted?
  • Am I losing interest in other activities I used to enjoy?
  • Do I feel irritable, moody, or anxious when I can’t view pornography?
  • Am I losing track of time, missing work or deadlines, and shirking other responsibilities to view pornography?
  • Am I lying about my habit?
  • Am I spending money I don’t have on pornography?
  • Am I preoccupied with thoughts of viewing pornography when I’m supposed to be focused on other things? (i.e. work, school, family)

These are just a few questions to help you get a better hold of just how much pornography is impacting your life. There’s no one-size-fits-all diagnosis for porn addiction. If you can view pornography in small doses or with your partner to enhance your sexual relationship, that’s one thing. But if viewing pornography is interfering with your everyday life and activities, changing your personality, causing financial hardship, or damaging relationships, you may be facing an addiction that needs your immediate attention.

Porn Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

Still not convinced that you’re dealing with porn addiction? One sure-fire way to find out is to stop viewing it. If you can turn off pornography and stop viewing it without it creating stress, anxiety, or impacting your mood, you likely don’t have an addiction. If instead, the mere thought of stopping causes you to panic, you may be facing some of the following withdrawal symptoms throughout your journey and recovery process.

It’s important to remember that with the right resources and support, you can (and will) overcome your porn addiction. The Stop Together program offers exactly this — access to a team of professionals and recovering addicts just like yourself. You’ll receive hands-on support, activities, informational resources, and other techniques and tools to help you every step of the way.

Here are some of the most common porn addiction withdrawal symptoms that most addicts encounter.

Mood Swings and Irritability

It’s no surprise that limiting or eliminating access to pornography will cause you some distress. This occurs for multiple reasons.

For starters, wanting something and being told you can’t have it is an unpleasant feeling, no matter who you are. Not only that, but the idea that you can’t view pornography will only increase your cravings and make them more intense. Take a foodie for example. If someone told you that you couldn’t eat pizza ever again, what would you most likely crave at every meal? You guessed it — pizza! Expect to feel slightly irritated, frustrated, and even anxious as you begin to remove pornography from your life.

As you embrace a life free of porn, you’re also breaking a habit. For many addicts, watching pornography is as much about the habitual behaviors as it is the pleasure you get out of it. Do you watch porn at the same time in the same place each day? If it’s after your morning shower or before you go to bed, this behavior becomes a habit. Stopping will be difficult at first. You’ll need to replace this habit with something else. Instead of viewing pornography after your shower, try performing a 5-minute meditation or mindfulness exercise. There are plenty of examples provided in the Stop Together program. Instead of viewing porn before bed, take a few minutes to write in your journal or recite positive affirmations. Soon, you’ll have replaced the habit of watching pornography with a much healthier, self-serving activity.

Increased Stress and Anxiety

This porn addiction withdrawal symptom stems from the previous one mentioned. Even more intense than just mood swings or irritability are feelings of anxiety and stress associated with eliminating pornographic materials from your life.

One reason for this is that many people use pornography to reduce stress in the first place. When you stop viewing not only are you taking away your go-to stress relief, but you’re adding the stress of trying to quit. This withdrawal symptom goes far beyond just breaking a habit. That’s because research shows that porn addiction creates as much of a physical dependency as drug or alcohol use.

When you view pornography, your brain releases endorphins which trigger feelings of happiness and relaxation. This helps reduce stress and ease anxious feelings. Over time, your brain associates watching pornography with feeling good and being happy. This is why some addicts develop a tolerance that requires them to watch even more pornography, more frequently or more graphic and intense videos to achieve those same feelings of pleasure. Your brain becomes tolerant to the endorphins and dopamine being released by your brain. When you eliminate pornography from your life, your brain and body are actually going through physical withdrawals. This can cause physical side-effects like anxiety, high blood pressure, panic attacks, and headaches.

Insomnia

Do you view pornography before bed as a way to unwind or relax after a long day? If so, you may experience insomnia and trouble sleeping once you remove porn from your life and daily routine. This is especially true for addicts who masturbate while viewing. This ritual of viewing pornography and experiencing sexual satisfaction and release before bed is a difficult habit to break. You may feel like you can’t go to sleep without it.

For many of us, nighttime is when our minds wander. If you’re dealing with porn addiction, your thoughts will most likely be consumed with pornography including images, fantasies, and the desire to view pornographic material. This may make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Adopting a healthy sleep routine is one way to combat these withdrawal symptoms. Try going to sleep at the same time each night. Perform a meditation or mindfulness exercise before bed. Stop using your smartphone or watching TV approximately an hour before bed. The blue light from screens can reduce the amount of melatonin your brain produces, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Treat yourself to new comfortable bedding, a sleep sound machine, or even an oil diffuser with soothing scents like lavender.

All of these healthy habits can replace pornography and help you sleep better at night.

Feelings of Depression or Loneliness

Some porn addicts use pornographic videos and materials as an outlet for their loneliness. In some cases, addicts actually develop feelings and intimate connections with the characters in the videos and movies they watch. Addicts that watch the same videos repeatedly or search for videos of the same actress or actors may start to develop feelings for them and even create fictional relationships in their minds. This is especially true when your porn addiction has impacted your personal relationships. As you grow farther apart from your partner or loved one, you may find yourself turning to porn as a replacement for those feelings of love and intimacy.

When you break the habit of watching pornography, you may initially feel lonely. You might miss the characters on the screen. If you’ve damaged personal relationships, you might find yourself with fewer friends or invitations to do things. Now is the time to work on repairing those relationships and making real, intimate connections outside the parameters of your home and computer screen.

It’s also interesting to note that some individuals develop an addiction to porn because of an underlying issue with emotional or physical intimacy. Once you break your porn addiction, these issues may resurface, causing you to feel lonely or depressed. The good news is, identifying these issues as the root cause of your addiction is a crucial step in the recovery process. Accepting this reality will put you one step closer to living a purposeful life free of porn.

Reduced Sex Drive

This might seem strange to addicts who use pornography as an outlet for their sexual tension and desires. After all, when you stop viewing pornography and masturbating (if you do), you would imagine that your sex drive would increase, in an effort to make up for that lost release and satisfaction, right? Not necessarily.

One thing porn addicts must come to terms with is that pornographic videos don’t depict reality. The actors are exactly that — actors. After living in this exciting fantasy world for so long, returning to reality can be very difficult and almost disappointing for some porn addicts. Initially, things don’t seem as exciting, thrilling, or satisfying as they do in pornographic videos and films. A romantic or intimate interaction with your partner might not feel as satisfying as the wild and crazy encounters you’re used to viewing. The good news is, this lackluster reaction is temporary. Once you learn how to connect with your partner (and yourself) on a more intimate and deeper level, the sexual satisfaction you feel will be more intense, more meaningful, and more satisfying than any video.

Be patient with both yourself and your partner as you reenter the world of true physical intimacy and leave the unrealistic, fantasy world of pornography behind.

Cravings for a Substitute Substance

This is one of the more dangerous withdrawal symptoms that some porn addicts experience. In an effort to achieve the same level of relaxation and happiness as you once did when viewing porn, some addicts seek out other substances to replace these feelings. Drugs and alcohol are generally the two substances many porn addicts turn to in an effort to feel “normal” again. Others use activities more closely related to viewing pornography like engaging in risky behavior. This might include frequenting strip clubs or even paying for sex. Not only is prostitution illegal but it’s dangerous.

In the Stop Together program, addicts learn that any behaviors associated with pornography can be damaging to their recovery, including viewing provocative pictures, reading erotic stories, watching sex scenes in movies, visiting nightclubs, and even indulging in the sexual fantasies that live inside your own mind. Remember, replacing one addiction with another is not a healthy way to overcome anything. All you’re doing is redirecting your problem to another outlet. While it may feel satisfying at first or help numb the pain of the withdrawal symptoms you’re experiencing at the moment, in the end, you’re only creating a worse situation for yourself. You’re also ignoring the root problem of addiction, which is where the true key to success and happiness lives.

Instead, replace all unhealthy habits and substances with healthier, more beneficial activities. Try a new activity or hobby. Start journaling or reading. Join a local sports team or book club. Take a cooking or art class. Reconnect with friends and family. Practice mindfulness and meditation. All of these activities will help occupy your time, boost your confidence, and keep you on a healthy, positive path to recovery.

You Can Overcome Porn Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

Any addiction recovery is about taking one day at a time. Some days will be easier than others. You may face a dozen temptations or triggers in one day and the next, coast through life feeling strong, capable, and positive. These ups and downs are all a normal, healthy part of the recovery process.

Knowing what porn addiction withdrawal symptoms look like can help you prepare for them. Having the right resources, tools, and support to navigate these symptoms is a must. The Stop Together program will be there for you during every step of your recovery journey. Our program gives you access to professionals in the field, activities, tools, resources, and a community of people just like you — all struggling to break the hold pornography has on them and reclaim their lives.

The Stop Together program can help you to face your porn addiction and these withdrawal symptoms head-on so you can come out on the other side a happier, healthier, stronger version of yourself.