6 minute read

10 Symptoms of Porn Addiction Withdrawal (And How to Manage Them)

Last Updated: June 28, 2021

Chris McKenna

Chris McKenna is a guy with never-ending energy when it comes to fighting for the safety and protection of children. He is the founder of Protect Young Eyes, a leading digital safety organization. Chris practices his internet safety tips on his four amazing children and is regularly featured on news, radio, podcasts, and most recently on Capitol Hill for his research. His 2019 US Senate Judiciary Committee testimony was the catalyst for draft legislation that could radically change online child protection laws. With expertise in social media usage, parental controls, and pornography use in young people, Chris is highly sought after as a speaker at schools and churches. Since 2016, Chris has worked with Covenant Eyes creating educational resources to help individuals and families overcome porn. Other loves include running, spreadsheets, and candy.

“I remember when I was buried deep in porn addiction: it seemed each day was a fight to avoid the inevitable. At the time I didn’t understand why my body would seem to take control. There were so many nights I would walk zombie-like to Internet porn or phone sex in search of my fix. And when I would white-knuckle it, the withdrawal symptoms would kick in.” –Luke

On the daunting journey of overcoming a porn addiction, it’s common to experience withdrawal symptoms—some physical, some mental, and some emotional. It’s similar to how we experience withdrawal symptoms when giving up other things, like drugs, caffeine, sugar, etc. These porn withdrawal symptoms can make quitting incredibly difficult.

Porn has a major impact on your brain, so when you are working to quit porn, your brain will go through some significant changes. In our free ebook, Your Brain on Porn, Luke Gilkerson describes some of these chemical changes:

“When sexually stimulated, dopamine is released into a region of the brain responsible for emotion and learning, giving the viewer a sense of sharp focus and an awareness of craving: ‘I have got to have this thing; this is what I need right now.’ Dopamine supplies a great sense of pleasure. The next time the viewer gets the itch for more sexual gratification, small packets of dopamine are released in the brain, saying, ‘Remember where you got your fix last time. Go there to get it.'”

10 Common Porn Withdrawal Symptoms

Have you ever experienced a symptom of porn addiction withdrawal when trying to avoid porn? Linda L. Simmons, Psy.D., says this is simply a part of the addictive cycle, “When pornography is stopped, withdrawal symptoms will likely be experienced—irritability, anxiety, frustration, and so forth.”

Here are 10 common porn withdrawal symptoms:

1. Mood Swings

One second you feel peaceful and rested. The next second you’re enraged and struggling to keep it together. Your body was used to the consistency that accompanied your porn usage. It knows that for a certain amount of time each day, it’s going to get the “satisfaction” it needs. Emotionally, you knew what to expect.

Now, that consistency is gone. Your emotions may be out of whack because you are no longer meeting the needs that your body has come to expect on a daily basis. This can result in mood swings, outbursts, and irregular emotional behaviors, as your brain attempts to rebalance.

2. Loss of Libido

Pornography creates an unattainable fantasy in our mind—something that we want to attain in our own sex life but realistically cannot. After living in this fantasy world for so long, quitting porn can result in a loss of libido (sex drive). Real sex is beautiful and romantic, but our brains are trained to expect the fantasy we watch in porn. This decreases our desire to have sex with our significant other (which can lead to many of the other withdrawal symptoms listed here!).

3. Insomnia

For some, after dark is their “time” when they watch porn. Quitting porn means that instead of staring at a screen until the wee hours of the night, you’re left staring at the ceiling, struggling to sleep. Your brain is so accustomed to the nightly routine of watching porn, that it quite literally cannot turn off and go to sleep.

4. Social Anxiety

If you’re single, social anxiety may feel extra heightened during porn withdrawal. The time you used to spend at home alone watching porn must now be replaced by healthy habits. For many, this means stepping out into public and finding productive distractions with other humans (social gatherings, church, group workouts, etc.). These can all be beneficial to overcoming porn, but when you’re not used to being around others, it can create social anxiety that might even lead to other withdrawal symptoms. Instead of watching porn, you’re now talking with real-life people and deriving your happiness and emotional satisfaction from conversation and interaction. This can be quite the adjustment!

5. Headaches

It’s important to remember that quitting porn is chemically similar to quitting a drug (smoking, caffeine, illegal substances, etc.). Your brain must adjust and reset its chemical makeup to return to a sense of normalcy that was experienced prior to addiction. Similar to the headaches people experience when giving up caffeine, pornography withdrawal can cause headaches as well.

This is normal, and it’s hugely due to the stress and hormonal imbalance that accompany your brain’s neurochemical alterations.

6. Fatigue

Aside from the fatigue that insomnia inevitably causes, you may experience exhaustion from the massive changes that your body is undergoing during porn withdrawal. When our bodies are undergoing any form of stress, they must shift into overdrive to fight that stress. This results in fatigue and sometimes even a weakened immune system. Quitting porn no doubt will induce some level of stress, so don’t be alarmed if you feel more exhausted than normal.

7. Irritability

The one thing that satisfied your desires and cravings—porn—is now removed from your life. Of course you’re going to feel irritable! By not being able to watch what you crave to see, you’re left feeling dissatisfied and bored, both of which can cause extreme irritability. The stress from porn withdrawal (a common theme in each symptom) can also lead to an overall feeling of grumpiness.

8. Anxiety

Anxiety can be a symptom of porn withdrawal for many various reasons. Perhaps you’ve quit porn and now are asking yourself, “What’s next?” How will you live a normal life without porn? Or, you might be feeling anxiety over the thought of telling someone about your addiction and recovery. What will they think of you? If you have a significant other, will your relationship be destroyed?

9. Depression

Have you noticed a common theme yet? Porn and the symptoms associated with withdrawal impact our mental health. In the long run, quitting porn will improve your mental health, but in the heat of porn addiction withdrawal, you may find yourself feeling more depressed than normal.

Your life and body just underwent a major change, so feeling down as you work to quit porn is not out of the ordinary. You cannot have what your mind craves, and the other porn withdrawal symptoms you feel have the potential to band together and leave you feeling even more depressed.

10. Intrusive Thoughts

Now that you’ve decided to quit watching porn (have I mentioned how amazing this decision is?!), you may experience a wide range of intrusive thoughts. If you’re in the early stages of withdrawal, you might still be thinking about porn. It could be be a constant moral conflict in your mind. And even if you aren’t watching porn anymore, the fantasies and images can still replay in your mind and imagination.

You also might be feeling overwhelming thoughts of shame. Although I am here to tell you that you should not let yourself be trapped in the far-too-common shame cycle that accompanies porn addiction, the reality of the matter is that you are likely to feel a sense of shame. This shame can lead to even more damaging thoughts. Is my relationship doomed? Will I ever feel normal again? How did I let this happen?

3 Ways to Manage Porn Addiction Withdrawal

The first thing to keep in mind as you experience the common symptoms of porn withdrawal is this: they will eventually stop.

But as you’re in the thick of quitting porn, there are a few steps you can take to combat the withdrawal symptoms and stay on the path to recovery.

1. Start going to counseling/therapy.

There are many different “genres” of therapy, and finding someone trained to ask you the right questions and prompts can make a huge difference in dealing with porn addiction. Not only will a counselor or therapist be able to guide you through the psychology of overcoming addiction, but they can also act as a sort of accountability partner in your journey to stay free from porn!

2. Avoid being alone.

In the midst of the withdrawal symptoms you are feeling, it will be easy to just want to be alone (scroll back up to the social anxiety discussed in point #4). In moments of crisis, especially when temptation levels are high, being alone has the potential to only worsen your symptoms.

Now, I’m not saying to dive headfirst into society and spend as much time with as many people as possible. But, take a look at your daily life and see what you can do to involve others. Scientifically, humans need interaction with others to thrive (some more than others), so join the gym or a book club. Plan a game night! Even just texting a friend once a day can break up the withdrawal symptoms you are feeling and give you a bit of refreshment.

3. Keep learning about the “why” behind your withdrawal symptoms.

Knowing the “why” behind what you’re feeling will make all the difference in how you respond and react. At the bottom of this post, there is a link to download Your Brain on Porn. This free ebook is an excellent tool in helping you understand why you feel the way you do when trying to quit porn. It offers important information about brain science, which as you now know, plays a huge role in recovery.

If you’re experiencing porn withdrawal symptoms, comment below and let us know how you’re managing them! Your advice might be just what someone else needs to stay in the fight against porn addiction!

  • Comments on: 10 Symptoms of Porn Addiction Withdrawal (And How to Manage Them)
    1. Darin Cooley on

      Thanks for the advice! I am also a runner and so I am replacing the porn high for the run high! I am also eating healthier, drinking more water and setting a set time to go to bed: 10:30-5:30. This also stops me from staying up to late and being by myself. I go to bed before or with my wife. Lastly, I am feeding my mind more of the Word in the morning and it is beginning to renew my mind! Praise God!

      Reply
      • Ty on

        I’ve been watching porn since 6 years old. All the way up until what I am now 34. I’ve been reading a lot about the Dharma. And trying to gain education on other topics as well. I’ve been using kratom and I realized that helps with not even having interest in porn at all. But even that in itself is an addiction. Currently I have a headache I’m depressed I have no sex drive except for intrusive thoughts watch porn. Socially I feel a lot better around people I feel like I treat women differently. Almost like looking at them as people and respecting them. And the crazy thing is it’s only been like 6 days. But I also have not masturbated at 6 days. To me I think in the beginning it’s going to have to be that way abstinence from porn and from masturbation because it’s so wired in my brain the incorrect way at this point in time it would be useless to masturbate because I would just give into thoughts of porn. What’s helping me is learning, being around people, Tylenol PM and trying to go to bed before midnight. I’ll admit there is a lot of shame tight to my addiction. And I’m not going to be able to do this on my own I’m going to have to find a counselor who is trained in this very thing. I have no idea where to look at guess I’ll have to research

      • Marshall on

        This is helpful, I have been having very bad anxiety as of late,

        I had bad anxiety when I was on an 18 day streak, the anxiety would relieve around day 16, 17 but then I relapsed and masturbated 5 times in 8 days. Now I’ve been on a 7 day streak and my anxiety is unbearable, I’ve been anxious about my relationship with my girlfriend, and when I think of breaking up with her I feel no peace with either decision. Did I withdrawal reset when I relapsed and could this just be the withdrawal? Looking for some quality advice

      • Keith Rose on

        Hi Marshall! Here’s an article on what to do when you have a set-back, I think you’ll find it encouraging. If you’re struggling with anxiety you may need to seek counseling from a qualified professional—this can be really helpful as you get to the underlying causes of your struggle.

        Blessings,

        Keith

    2. Steven Green on

      I can go for a month resisting porn then fall back into it. Last year I resisted porn for six months then could not stop looking at it. A few other times, I went for a month or more then fell back into porn.
      Yesterday, fell into porn. Had resisted for over a month.

      Reply
      • Moriah Bowman on

        Hi Steven,

        That is amazing that you were able to resist porn for an entire month! What an accomplishment! Although relapsing back into porn can be discouraging, please know that you are not alone. I would encourage you to read this blog post about relapse – may it be an encouragement to you!

        Do you have someone walking alongside this freedom journey with you? When you do fall back into porn, confess this to them and ask them to pray for you and continue to hold you accountable. Think about what triggers led to this relapse and make a plan to avoid those triggers next time. Our free ebook, Hobbies and Habits, offers some great tools for turning away from porn.

        Stay strong! Freedom is SO worth it.
        Blessings,
        Moriah

      • Kevin on

        You can do it, brotha. I needed to go to counseling to help get over it but it’s possible. But you probably won’t be able to do it alone. And I’m not just saying this, but The Devil throws those temptations when you’re alone. He doesn’t fight fair, he’ll hit you when you’re vulnerable. So I’d get with some guys who’ll encourage you when you need it, dudes you can call anytime. If you need to, install the software on your phone. Get off social media. Tell yourself, “today, I will not look at porn. That stuff is poison and look where it’s led me. I know that oath already. I can do this but I’ll need the software (maybe), I need friends who’ll help me when I’m weak and tempted, and I’ll need God.” I’ll be praying for you, dude. No joke. Porn ruins relationships and marriages. You’ve made some progress, don’t fall in that trap of thinking “oh I can’t do it, I’ve had some relapses.” It’s just another opportunity to get back up. And I don’t know you but I know I looked at porn for other reasons besides sexual gratification. I wanted a fantasy where I’d always be accepted. Porn never turns you down, right? And it’s a new girl every night. Just. For. You. But it’s just a fantasy of the real pleasures of sex. Just like Fast and the Furious is a fantasy about driving a car. It won’t be easy, it’s gonna be tough, but it’s gonna feel great when you overcome it, Steven.

      • Steve piva on

        I have been porn free since 2016 before then I did what you did binge and purge. I took a class called the conquer series awesome class none of can do this alone I know I tried it didn’t work even with all my Bible reading and going to church. Confession is the start it’s like jumping into a cold pool your apprehensive but when you finally do it it’s refreshing knowing your not alone. You have to make a few friends who will walk with you I mean solid committed friends and one person who been throgh the battle and is currently victorious throgh Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit and his word, confess your sins one yo another so you may be healed emotional wounds is what drives us.

    3. Joe on

      I thought that the headaches and the teeth grinding at night were just due to anxiety. In addition to trying to stay away from porn, I have drastically decreased watching or reading the local and national news. So, my symptoms could very well be linked to withdraw from both of these activities. Thanks for the good article. Joe

      Reply
      • Ty on

        I got some bad head eaches rn

    4. JML on

      I’m 36 years old and have been masturbating to pornography since I was 12 or 13. Porn has always just been part of my life, whether I was single or in a relationship. I’m married and my wife and I want to start a family. There’s been a few times where I lost my erection during intercourse and as of last week, I couldn’t even get erect from her performing oral sexual. My first instinct was to give up porn, which I did. I’ve been discussing this with her openly, but she be had a lot of anxiety about my ability to perform and ultimately get her pregnant. I’ve read that I could be at the point of withdrawal where my emotions are all over the place due to dopamine being very low. My penis doesn’t really feel much sensation. I feel worried. Has anyone else has something similar happen to them?

      Reply
      • Ty on

        Yep

    5. Tim on

      Here I am at 3-5 am wide awake and the intrusive thoughts of my “hit” of pornography creeps into my mind. I’m 57 and knowing that this mental and physical ailment I’ve subjected myself to for all these years needs to STOP! My last therapist was awesome, she opened my eyes to past traumas and realize that constant “numbing” to pornography is destroying my sanity and dignity. Now “sober” for 1 month knowing I NEVER WANT TO GO BACK. So staying informed about the horrors of porn, withdrawals, and how I’m destroying my ability to have healthy relationships with women and people in general, so being open to others ideas and knowing I’m not alone helps tremendously. Thank you for the information and insight.

      Reply

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