It is scary to use the word “addiction” in relation to a youth. The word is not to be used lightly or carelessly. The term is not without its essential characteristics, but it is greatly misunderstood in our culture. The problem is only compounded by the fact that it is mainstream culture, easily accessible, and widely accepted.
What is meant by the word “addiction?” It can be defined in numerous ways. For example, if we are speaking about porn addiction, porn is really a symptom of more urgent underlying issues. It refers to many complex factors:
- It is a neurochemical imbalance in the brain that negatively impairs focus and concentration, memory, and learning.
- It is a means of escaping life’s hurts, challenges, and trauma. It is a fatally flawed approach to cope with life.
- It is an intimacy disorder creating pain, disruption and chaos in close relationships.
- It is spiritually a life of shame instead of personal worth, purpose, and integrity.
- It is a tool the Enemy uses to steal the spiritual identity and future of young people.
In the Medical Dictionary, addiction is defined as “a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behavior or substance.” It is well-known that pornography can be very compulsive for the viewer. It is less known by the public that viewing pornography produces long-lasting changes in brain chemistry like cocaine.
Many of us in the mental health field are gravely concerned about this growing problem. We are often asked the question: Is my son/daughter addicted or is he/she simply engaging in inappropriate behavior? It is a good question, but not as important as helping the teen overcome the use of porn and instead learning and living God’s design for sexuality. Interestingly, there has been a change in recent times with teens being willing to tell their counselor that they are addicted.
Nonetheless, what follows are some ways to differentiate between porn addiction and a bad habit:
- Frequency: Frequency refers to how often the teen participates in viewing pornography. If it has not happened in 90 days, the behavior is not likely an addiction. If the person views pornography two or more times per week, the presence of an addiction is quite likely.
- Duration: Duration refers to how long the problem has continued. Ongoing use of pornography over periods of time suggest the teen’s inability to stop viewing. The longer a problem has persisted, the more it will require professional counseling. It is better to err on the side of getting a professional assessment than simply accepting your teen’s promise, “I won’t do it again.”
- Intensity: Refers to the kinds of porn viewed. Admittedly, all pornographic images and content are inappropriate and harmful. However, some types of material are significantly more intense and symptomatic of deeper issues. The viewing of hard-core pornography is more predictive of an addiction.
- Risk Taking: Another key factor of addiction is the level of risk-taking behaviors by the teen. The stronger the addiction, the more the young person is willing to take risks to satisfy the addiction. Risk-taking activities in teens may include sexting, escalating sexual activity, viewing porn at school, lying to parents, or going out to meet with strangers.