A Literal Drug Addiction

After reviewing the magnitude of this scourge, the significant personal cost associated with its practice, and the clear call from the brethren to “avoid it like you would a plague,”14 we might ask why the Church members don’t simply stay away from it. The answer lies primarily in the extremely addictive nature of pornography. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks shared, “A man who had been addicted to pornography and to hard drugs wrote me this comparison: ‘In my eyes cocaine doesn’t hold a candle to this. I have done both. … Quitting even the hardest drugs was nothing compared to [trying to quit pornography].'”15

I’m sure for some readers, this comparison seems difficult to buy. Cocaine is easier to kick than pornography?! But cocaine is an illegal and illicit drug! Pornography viewing is simply a sinful behavior, right? Well, it turns out that pornography viewing is, in fact, a form of literal chemical addiction.

Dr. Donald L. Hilton, a neurosurgeon, explains the neurochemical release that results from pornography viewing:

Pornography causes release of adrenaline from an area in the brain called the locus coeruleus, and this makes the heart race in those who view, or even anticipate, viewing pornography. The sexual pleasure of pornography may be partially caused by release of dopamine from the central tegmental area, and this stimulated the nucleus accumbens, one of the key pleasure centers of the brain.

Why is it that some consider adrenaline and dopamine to be drugs if drug companies produce them, yet they will not acknowledge these same chemicals to be drugs if pornography stimulates the brain to produce them? … [T]hey are powerful endogenous (meaning our body makes them) drugs, which can actually change the physical and chemical makeup of the brain in addiction, just as they are powerful exogenous (meaning we take them into our bodies) drugs when prescribed by a doctor. The problem with pornography is that we are using adrenaline, dopamine, and other powerful brain drugs without a prescription. Pornography is actually a form of drug abuse when viewed in this light.16


So when we speak of the “drug” of pornography, we are not talking about a figurative or metaphorical drug. We’re talking about a literal drug released by our bodies with the same physiological effects on the brain as illicit drug abuse.

Because pornography is a much more powerful stimulus than natural sexuality in the sensitized brain (addicted husbands can prefer pornographic stimulation to marital sexuality), especially with the cyber-acceleration of the Internet, the dopamine systems are overused, and the dopamine is depleted. This causes cells in the pleasure center (nucleus accumbens), which are used to a normal amount of dopamine (normal pleasure response) to produce more dendrites (receiving area on the neuron for axonal input from the dopamine cells), and can cause dopamine producing cells to shrink. …

When addiction causes shrinkage of certain nerve cells, the area of the brain containing these cells actually shrinks, and this can be seen and measured in drug addictions such as cocaine and methamphetamine  and in natural addictions such as obesity and, significant to our subject, sexual addiction.17


Dr. Bernell L. Christensen, co-founder of Candeo, explained the consequences of pornography addiction on agency and the freedom to choose:

To understand why an addict has little or no will power and self-discipline when faced with the overwhelming urge to indulge in his addiction, you must first understand what addiction does to the brain. In the forehead area or Frontal Lobes area of the brain is the control/executive center. This is the most advanced part of our brain—what makes us human. It is the area of the brain that has to do with will, self-discipline, anticipation of consequences, reasoning, planning, and goal-setting. Addictions inhibit this part of the brain and reduce these capacities. This is one reason why addicts are so “surprised” after they have indulged in violation of their own values, beliefs, resolutions, goals, memory of past consequences, etc.18


As if the highly addictive neurochemical response of our brains weren’t enough to make pornography an incredibly difficult problem, our digital society compounds the issue tremendously. As President Hinckley suggested, pornography has always been with us. But the advent of a modern telecommunications infrastructure with 24/7 connectivity and handheld access to high-resolution images has compounded the risks tremendously.

14 Ibid.
15 Dallin H. Oaks, “Pornography,” Ensign (May 2005).
16 Donald L. Hilton, He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, San Antonio, TX: Forward Press Pub (2009).
17 Ibid.
18 Bernell L. Christensen, “Internet Porn Can Cripple Your Will Power!” The Internet Safety Project (December 20, 2010). http://www.internetsafetyproject.org/articles/internet-porn-can-cripple-your-will-power

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