Porn Addiction Relapse

In the last few decades, the internet has established itself as an indispensable part of many peoples’ lives, but this powerful tool may also be associated with a growing number of psychosocial harms. Many people have developed problematic behaviors associated with social media use, internet gambling, video game playing, and online sexual compulsivity—the latter of which has contributed to the increasingly prevalent problem of porn addiction.1Porn addict staring at computer screen

Porn addiction can be considered a type of sex addiction and refers to a number of behaviors that can harm or otherwise negatively impact your life. And although it is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), porn addiction can lead to serious life consequences.

It is considered an addiction because of the many similarities it has with other DSM-classified addictions, including cycling through the stages of recovery when trying to overcome it. One of these stages is relapse, which, in simplest terms, is when you return to engaging with pornographic materials after a period of abstaining from it. In abstinence-based models, a relapse was essentially seen as recovery failure.

However, newer models have emerged that describe relapse as more of a transitional process than a failure. With this outlook on relapse, instances where you use again after treatment are the consequences of either acute stressors or a more steady, constant craving and are seen as natural, if not expected occurrences that provide the opportunity to better understand which areas you need more support with. This ideology sees relapse as a lifetime process that can occur any time and one that will be experienced differently for everyone.2

When you are addicted to porn, you might use your addiction as a way to cope with negative emotional states such as stress, anxiety, boredom, frustration, anger, and depression. The goal of treatment, then, is to reduce the likelihood that you will relapse when faced with common triggers.

Often, triggers include situations involving another person or a group of people, such as family members or your significant other. Other people serving as relapse triggers is a fairly common occurrence—in one analysis of relapse, more than half of all relapse episodes were reportedly triggered by another person.

A trigger can also be a location, which might include places where you used to watch pornographic material, or computers on which you used to watch it.2

What to Do After a Relapse

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If you do relapse, you can immediately use short-term strategies, such as:

  • Going for a walk to clear your mind and remove yourself from your computer.
  • Seeing a movie.
  • Eating at your favorite restaurant.
  • Calling a friend or family member.

If recovery were thought of as a highway, it would include both difficult and easy stretches of road. When you move through life, you might start to recognize common “road signs” or warning signals. If you can learn how to identify the situations that tend to create stress for you and that you struggle to cope with, you can then develop strategies for these situations to help prevent relapse.

This is exactly the kind of thing to work on with your individual therapist. Together you might create a relapse road map that helps you identify high-risk situations you will likely encounter. This exercise is useful because it allows you to consider possible triggering scenarios and help you strategize healthy coping responses that will minimize relapse risks. Doing this in the safety of your therapist’s office reduces the stress that accompanies these scenarios in real-time and allows you to think through them calmly while in the presence of a trained professional who can guide you through the process.

If you relapse after having been in recovery for some time, it is possible that you might not be checking in with your sponsor or attending therapy as often as you used to. In this case, simply go back to the beginning and revisit the strategies you first used to overcome your addiction. If you have a support system, such as a sponsor or friends and family who hold you accountable, check in with them and let them know that you relapsed and you could use their support.

It is important to keep in mind that no one is perfect and relapse is normal. Try to remind yourself that the all-or-nothing approach isn’t a productive way to view your progress. If you have relapsed, that doesn’t mean that you should give up or beat up on yourself. In fact, this way of thinking could be counterproductive, and could cause you to go back to using porn as a way to cope with that guilt or shame.

Relapse-Prevention Strategies

Porn addicts anonymous group meeting Regularly attending 12-step groups, such as Sexaholics Anonymous and Pornography Addicts Anonymous, can be a useful tool in preventing relapse. These groups are based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model and allow you to meet with people who are going through similar experiences and whom you can mutually support. These groups facilitate the eventual selection of a sponsor—someone who is further along in recovery and helps you stay accountable to your treatment goals. So if you feel the urge to use porn as you move forward in your recovery, you can call your sponsor instead.

But 12-step groups are not for everyone, so there are other actions you can take to help safeguard yourself against relapse, either alone or in conjunction with a support network, therapist, or other addiction treatment professional.

  • Identifying and removing triggers: This could be anything from placing your computer in an open area of the house to placing controls on your computer so that you don’t visit pornography sites. You can also install software that limits time online.
  • Creating a relapse map: Working with your therapist, you create a relapse prevention plan that maps out the steps you will take to not use porn in various triggering situations, as well the steps to take if you do. A relapse map can be an effective tool because it gives you the confidence of a backup plan in case you do relapse and helps you get back on track more easily.
  • Double up on accountability: Check in with your recovery peers, friends, or family to add in an extra layer of accountability, which can help set you up for long-term success.

Treatment for Porn Addiction

It can be difficult to prevent relapse, because pornography is so widely available. Most of the porn that people use these days is found on the internet. The fact that many of us use computers all day for work or school can make maintaining abstinence especially difficult.

Like other addictions, it is important for you to get the help you need to address the underlying issues that led to and maintained your addiction. While you may have gone through treatment before, if you have relapsed in your porn addiction, you may want to consider seeking treatment again. Most people try many forms of treatment before finding the best one for them.

Various porn addiction treatment options include:

  • Individual therapy: Working one-on-one with a therapist can be especially helpful in dealing with commonly co-occurring issues such as depression and anxiety. Individual therapy sessions will also afford you the time to carefully tailor your relapse prevention plan to the unique aspects of your personality and your life in this private setting.
  • Outpatient programs: Even though you may have completed a treatment program, you may want to revisit an outpatient program after a significant relapse. You attend groups while still living at home and going to school or work on a part-time basis.
  • Inpatient programs: In more serious cases of relapse (and complicating mental health disorders), you may consider going back to an inpatient or residential treatment program, which requires that you stay at the facility for the length of treatment.

Overcoming a porn addiction takes time. A treatment program can help you identify and address the underlying issues that fuel your addiction, and once treatment is over, it is equally important that you continue working on your recovery. Before leaving treatment, speak with your therapist about developing a specific relapse prevention plan so that you feel confident in handling the stresses of life without turning to porn to cope.

No matter where you are on your treatment journey, help is available. If you are interested in learning more about your options, give us a call today at 1-888-287-0471 Who Answers? .

Sources

  1. Young, K. S. & de Abreu, C. N. (Eds.). (2010). Internet addiction: A handbook and guide to evaluation and treatment. John Wiley & Sons.
  2. Larimer, M. E. & Palmer, R. S. (1999). Relapse prevention: An overview of Marlatt’s cognitive-behavioral modelAlcohol research and Health23(2), 151–160.
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