The Unspoken Connection Between ADHD & Porn Addiction

Dr R. Y. Langham

May 19, 2022

The truth is addictions do not begin as “addictions.” Addictions start as a “behavior” or “substance” or “chemical” designed to provide entertainment, reduce boredom (provide stimulation), ease stress and anxiety, cope with negative emotions or emotional pain, “escape” an unpleasant situation, etc. Thus, many times, addictions arise because of unhealthy or non-existent coping skills. Because these individuals lack healthy coping skills and strategies, they turn to other “vices” to ease their distress.

Sometimes, this “vice” is drugs and/or alcohol, and sometimes, this “vice” is behavioral, in nature, (i.e., video games, porn-watching, shopping, gambling, eating, exercising, etc.). However, all addictions have two things in common – obsessions and compulsions. All addictions involve a need to “self-medicate” in some form. The only way to stop the addiction is to seek treatment for it. Addiction treatment regardless of the “type” of addiction is to learn how to cope with unpleasant situations healthily.

And, although it may seem strange to think that both attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and porn addiction fall under the category of “mental health,” and are interconnected, oddly enough this is true.

ADHD is a neurological-behavioral condition that usually first presents during childhood. Most of the time ADHD is diagnosed by the time children enter school (kindergarten), although it can also be diagnosed later in life (teens, adolescents, or even mid-adulthood). ADHD affects functioning in two prominent ways – inattention (lack of focus) and hyperactivity (constant or excessive movements).

Porn addiction, on the other hand, typically presents during adolescence or early adulthood. This addiction begins as occasional “porn use” and then turns into “heavy or excessive porn use,” which then turns into full-blown porn addiction.

Although, ADHD is recognized by the masses and listed in the DSM-5 as an “official mental health condition,” porn addiction is largely dismissed, ignored, or downplayed by researchers, therapists, the DSM-5, medical doctors, and the public, in general. Both conditions, however, can cause significant problems in a person’s everyday life.

Currently, there are limited studies on the connection between ADHD and porn addiction, although, researchers have discovered overlapping characteristics between the two conditions.

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood neuro-developmental conditions. While it typically arises during childhood or the teens years, it usually persists well into adulthood. People with ADHD tend to have a hard time paying attention to details, for instance, at school or work, make rash or impulsive decisions (acting quickly without thoroughly thinking things through), and/or be unable to sit still (constantly fidgeting, pacing, excessively talking, getting up and down from a seat, bed, couch, or table, moving, etc.).

What Causes ADHD?

The exact causes vary from person to person; however, current research suggests that genetics appear to contribute to the development of ADHD. But, in addition to genetics, other factors may be at play when it comes to ADHD.

These factors include:

  • Brain injuries
  • Neonatal exposure to environmental risks (i.e., drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and/or other chemicals) or exposure to these elements early in life
  • Premature birth
  • Low birthweight

Note: ADHD does not appear to be caused by consuming a large amount of sugar, excessively watching television, a lack of stimulation, a dysfunctional childhood or home life, poverty, or vaccines.

Are There Different “Types” of ADHD?

Yes, there are three “types” of ADHD, such as:

Predominantly Inattentive

If you have predominately inattentive ADHD, you may be slightly hyperactive, but mainly lack focus. In other words, you likely have a hard time completing tasks or assignments, paying attention to details or instructions, or following in-depth conversations. For example, you may be easily distracted by noises or scents, and/or forget to schedule your doctor’s appointment or pick up groceries.

Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive

If you have predominately hyperactive/impulsive, you may mostly be hyperactive and impulsive with a touch of inattention (a lack of focus). More specifically, you may be prone to squirming or fidgeting, and/or you may talk way too much. You may also find it challenging to sit still for too long (i.e., getting up and down from your desk, getting up during dinner and walking around, etc.).

Some people, especially young children and adolescents, with this form of ADHD, may feel compelled to run, skip, jump, exercise, walk, dance, etc. It is also not uncommon to be restless and impulsive (doing things without thinking about the consequences of doing so). This could manifest as impulsively viewing porn despite the repercussions.

People with predominately hyperactive/impulsive ADHD may also frequently interrupt others, take things from people, or speak when they should not. People with this form of ADHD also have a hard time waiting for their turns, paying attention to details, listening to others, and following instructions.

Note: People with hyperactive/impulsive ADHD tend to have more accidents and injuries as compared to people without ADHD or this “type” of ADHD.

Combined Inattention and Hyperactive/Impulsive

The last “type” of ADHD is combined inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. If you have this form of ADHD, you experience some, if not all, of the symptoms from the predominately inattentive ADHD and the hyperactivity/impulsivity ADHD. For example, you may have a hard time focusing on your work, tasks, and responsibilities and have a hard time being still and making rational decisions.

How Can I Tell If I Have ADHD?

Truth be told, it is normal to have a hard time focusing and concentrating on tasks. It is also normal to “misbehave” or do things you are not supposed to do from time to time. However, if these behaviors continue or worsen over time, you may have ADD (attention-deficit disorder) or ADHD (if hyperactivity is also involved).

Understand, that if you have ADHD, you likely will not “grow out of it.” In other words, it is a lifelong or “chronic” condition that you must monitor and manage for the rest of your life. It is also important to understand that ADHD symptoms, like the ones listed below, can be severe, impacting your friendships, relationships, employment, and/or your ability to accomplish your goals.

Listed below are common ADHD signs and symptoms:

  • Constant daydreaming
  • Absentmindedness or forgetfulness (i.e., losing things)
  • Squirminess or fidgetiness
  • Excessive talking
  • Carelessness (i.e., making sloppy mistakes)
  • Risk-taking behaviors (i.e., taking unnecessary and/or dangerous like having unprotected sex with multiple people, abusing drugs and alcohol, or excessively using porn)
  • An inability to resist temptation (i.e., using porn)
  • Difficulty waiting for anything (i.e., the need for quick and constant sexual gratification)
  • An inability to get along with other people (i.e., social isolation)

How is ADHD Diagnosed and Treated?

Determining if you have ADHD is usually a process. In other words, there is no specific ADHD test that will tell you that you have the condition. So, the first step is usually an ADHD assessment by your doctor and/or a psychotherapist (i.e., labs, physical, hearing tests, observation, and vision tests) to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms.

Diagnosing ADHD may also include completing an ADHD symptom checklist and reviewing your medical history. ADHD treatment typically involves a variety of approaches, methods, and resources. The most effective ADHD treatment involves a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication (i.e., Ritalin, Strattera, Adderall, etc.). ADHD treatment will likely involve constant supervision, frequent follow-ups, support, self-help tools, and lifestyle changes if needed.

Is it Common to Experience Sexual Issues When You Have ADHD?

People with ADHD can have some of the same “sexual issues” as people without ADHD, however, these “issues” tend to be more intense in those with the condition – as compared to those without the condition. Thus, ADHD intensifies “issues” in the bedroom, but does not necessarily “cause” these “issues.” When people with ADHD experience sex issues, it usually is not about the sex, per se, but about relationship problems and how they are impacting both partners’ sex lives.

What Are the Most Common Sexual Issues Found in People with ADHD?

People with ADHD (especially when it is undiagnosed and untreated) can experience “issues” in and out of the bedroom. The truth is it can be hard to become sexually aroused when you cannot stop moving, talking, fidgeting, squirming, etc. It can also be hard to emotionally connect with someone when your mind is racing. When you have ADHD, staying focused is difficult, especially if you are not interested in what you are doing. So, if you have this condition, you may experience “sexual issues” if you are not interested in having sex with your partner – but do it anyway to appease him or her.

How is ADHD Connected to Porn?

To understand the relationship between ADHD and porn addiction, you must first understand exactly what porn addiction is and is not. If you are unable to draw yourself away from sexually-explicit websites, videos, or magazines – even to complete household tasks, go to work, fulfill parenting responsibilities, shower or bathe, grocery shop, pay bills, care for pets, celebrate birthdays and special occasions with your friends, child, partner, or other loved ones – you may be addicted to porn.

Porn addiction typically begins with “occasional porn use,” which morphs into “frequent porn use.” For many, “frequent porn use” turns into “heavy or excessive porn use,” which then transforms into “full-blown porn addiction.” This “type” of addiction involves a “fixation” or “obsession” with porn, which manifests into compulsively using porn. As a result, some researchers suggest that porn addiction is simply a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

At the very least, it is believed that porn addiction shares similar characteristics to OCD. But unlike ADHD, porn addiction is not officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). This means there are no standard porn addiction criteria to guide mental health providers (therapists, counselors, etc.) on how to properly diagnose it.

Now to the nitty-gritty, researchers have found that ADHD and porn addiction share certain commonalities in the areas of personality traits, life/stress management patterns, family dynamics, anxiety levels, social interactions, emotional connections, stimulation-seeking behaviors, and other characteristics.

Some studies also indicate that both ADHD and porn addiction also share hypersexuality traits in common. Study results suggest a positive correlation between hypersexuality and “heavy or excessive porn use” in both men and women. And, according to a 2002 study, this common hypersexuality between ADHD and porn addiction may stem from certain mechanisms, such as impulsivity, stimulation-seeking behaviors, and/or an abnormality in a person’s internal reward system processes.

Researchers also found that exposure to porn, coupled with ADHD, can lead to porn addiction. Keep in mind that many people with ADHD and porn addiction tend to exhibit avoidant attachment behaviors (due to the “heavy or excessive porn use”).

What are Avoidance Attachment Behaviors and How Are They Linked to Porn Addiction?

People, who exhibit avoidant attachment behaviors have a hard time maintaining relationships. Thus, these behaviors can negatively impact your quality of life and make it hard to meet people and develop long-lasting friendships.

According to mental health providers and addiction specialists, people with ADHD, who exhibit avoidance behaviors, tend to have a hard time dealing with peer rejection, often resorting to compulsive sexual behaviors to ease their stress and anxiety and/or “escape” from emotional distress. This is where porn addiction comes into play.

People with ADHD are at risk of using porn as a “stress-reliever” and/or “stimulation catalyst.” Researchers have also found that a tendency towards impulsive behavior predisposes people with ADHD to “cyber-porn.” Other studies suggest that people with ADHD are also at risk of developing a behavioral addiction, like porn addiction. The most common addiction is internet gaming addiction (video game addiction), however, “cyber-porn use” is also commonly found in people with ADHD.

Moreover, people with ADHD are more likely to spend long periods on the internet. This suggests that people with this condition are susceptible to porn exposure and “porn use.” Thus, people with ADHD are at risk of “porn use” and porn addiction, due to behavioral characteristics, such as continuously seeking new sensations, emotionally detaching from others, a proclivity towards impulsivity, and a preference for solitude vs. spending time with others.

Still, more data is needed to definitively determine the connection between ADHD and porn addiction.

Note: Keep in mind, however, that just because a person with ADHD uses porn, does not automatically mean he or she will eventually become a porn addict. While people with this condition are more vulnerable to porn addiction – as compared to the general population, there is no guarantee that a person with ADHD will use porn or become dependent on it.

Is Porn Addiction Common in People with ADHD?

Yes, it is common in people with ADHD.

Although there is some debate as to if a person can be dependent or addicted to porn, however, it is apparent (through research) that people with ADHD have a higher risk of engaging in “problematic sexual behaviors” – as compared to people without ADHD. Problematic behaviors can include being promiscuous (or engaging in risky sexual behaviors – i.e., unprotected sex with multiple partners), and/or seeking sexual thrills (a common symptom in people with predominantly hyperactivity/impulsive ADHD).

Is Porn Addiction Considered a Sexual Addiction?

Yes, it is.

Sexual addiction involves continuous and excessive sexual behaviors that are hard, if not impossible to stop. These behaviors persist despite the negative consequences. And, just like in other addictions, sexual addiction can cause changes in your brain chemistry, which is a hallmark symptom of addictions, in general. If you have a sexual addiction, these brain changes stem from sexual behaviors and fantasies.

Sex addiction is considered a “behavioral-process addiction” because it does not involve ingesting “substances.” Thus, any sexual activity that causes chemical changes in the body can predispose you to sexual addiction. Even online dating situations and relationships can lead to addiction, if they provide an “escape” from reality.

Sexually-addictive behaviors include:

  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Cyber-sex (online sex)
  • Porn
  • Faceless sex (anonymous sex)
  • Massage parlors
  • Compulsive sex with a real-life partner
  • Online romantic or sexual “entanglements”
  • Sexually fantasizing about co-workers or colleagues, strangers, acquaintances, celebrities, etc.
  • Engaging in “swinging” sexual activities
  • Exhibition-related sexual activities
  • Voyeur-related sexual activities
  • Constantly bringing up sex during conversations

How are Comorbid ADHD and Porn Addiction Treated?

Just like other comorbid conditions involving mental health disorders and addiction(s), treatment involves treating both conditions – together or independently. Depending on the severity of the ADHD symptoms and the intensity of the porn addiction, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are usually recommended.

Usually, ADHD is addressed with medications and behavioral therapies.

However, other therapies, such as individual therapy, addictions therapy, group therapy, couples or marriage counseling, and/or family counseling may also be incorporated into the treatment plan. Treatment may also involve self-help tools and lifestyle changes, like limiting how much time you spend on the Web, installing anti-porn “blockers” on your devices, getting plenty of rest, utilizing healthy coping skills and strategies, consuming healthy foods, and/or investing an online porn addiction recovery programs like Stop Together.

If you have ADHD, Stop Together can help you reduce how much time you spend viewing porn by teaching you how to channel your excess energy into healthier endeavors. This program can also help you control your sexual urges, so you do not feel compelled to view porn.