Michelle Manwaring, MSW, LCSW
The term addiction may be described as a recurring compulsion to engage in an activity despite adverse consequences. We have many addictive vices today, some more noticeable to us than others. Pornography may be classified as a silent addiction because the outward physical appearance would not show obvious signs, and we may not be clued in to the possibilities of a pornography addiction if we just looked for physical symptoms.
It is recommended that we place carbon monoxide and smoke alarms in our home that will sound the alarm for impending danger. These toxins can be deadly, but can go unnoticed because one is odorless and the other can come upon us while we are sleeping.
Pornography can be just as subtle. While the signs may be difficult to recognize, they are there, and if we become more aware of them, we can, in many cases, deal with them while they are still in the “smoke” stage, before they burn down the entire structure of our lives.
Smoke signals have been used to transmit news as well as signal danger. Let’s look at some of the smoke signals that may give you a clue that someone may have a problem.
The question is often asked, “How can I tell if my child, spouse, or friend is addicted to pornography?” While there is no test to take and no sure way of knowing, there are several signs that may give you a clue.
You’ve heard the statement “Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire?” When it comes to pornography, the smoke can come from small sparks, burning embers or a raging fire. And like a fire, after we see the extent of the damage, investigators, often, must uncover the rubble to find the cause of the fire. So it is with pornography: we sometimes don’t know the cause or the extent of the damage until we pay attention to the details, look around, and even investigate.
With extended use of the computer, some of the physical symptoms of pornography addiction may show up as sore, dry eyes and strained vision. Back, neck and headaches and even pain and numbness in the hands and wrists, are common. Because of long hours, and losing track of time, many occurring while family members are sleeping, there can be complaints of fatigue and sleep disturbances. Decreased ability to concentrate, forgetfulness, and aloofness from conversation is also common. One can get so involved that eating patterns get disrupted. Some forget to eat, and so you may see weight loss. Conversely, others may eat compulsively while spending hours on the computer; gain weight rapidly.
Other smoke signals to look for are an increase in risky sexual behaviors, i.e. visiting strip clubs, prostitutes, or massage parlors. A detachment from financial responsibilities or the making of irresponsible financial decisions may manifest itself. The porn addict often thinks “It’s all over for me anyway, so I’m going down with the ship.” As the addict goes on long binges, he forgets about the consequences to others, and fails to realize that often, a wife and children are on that “ship,” not knowing how close they all are to hitting an iceberg. The potential for involvement in the criminal justice system, with illegal pornography, is common, as some pornography addicts must continually seek more and more depraved stimulus. For many, this can be found in using child pornography.
If your partner gets irritable or ornery when time on the computer is interrupted, this should be a HUGE red flag. Many pornography addicts have trouble completing tasks at work and at home, due to lack of concentration and uncontrolled thoughts about their next fix. Isolation from family and friends, one of the most common “smoke signals” will find the porn addict giving excuses, and wanting to stay home when there are family gatherings, parties or invitations. Neglecting family and excusing yourself from the activity…due to the preoccupation with pornography, is often a dead giveaway that something is terribly wrong.
Lying to your family or coworkers about what you do online, or about the amount of time you spend online cannot always be proven, but “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck . . .” you know where I’m going. Pornography is all about secrecy and having to tell lies or cover your tracks. Detachment, dissatisfaction or lack of intimacy in your sexual relationship with increasing emotional distancing, can also be the telltale signs of heavy involvement with pornography. One of the reasons being, that with pornography addicts, they actually become part of the fantasy, without any rejection, responsibility or consequence from a real life partner. Be on the lookout for constant mood changes, which usually show up as depression, bouts of anxiety, irritation and anger.
Though most men involved with pornography will deny that they do this, look for constant turning of the head for second or third looks when passing others in the mall, or other public places. Some are so good at not moving their heads to disguise this, and will only move their eyes. It may be more difficult to notice this, but behavior never lies, and if you see this often enough, you may be getting a smoke signal, sending you a message: there’s a possible disaster in the making here.
Listen for expressions like “I’m such a loser,” or, “how could you love me.” As you scratch your head and wonder “where did that come from?” It is almost certain that something is going on that you aren’t aware of. Why should you? Your spouse/partner hasn’t really given any indication that you can see, or that something is not right.
Just because a spouse has had a bad day at work, or a long night at the computer doing legitimate office “catch up” doesn’t mean you need to become Sherlock Holmes overnight. But if you suspect any of the above, and your “smoke detector” is going off in your head, you may want to begin to ask some questions before the smoke turns into fire.
To learn more about the brain science behind pornography addiction visit the Candeo website here.