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

Last Updated: September 7, 2022

Chris McKenna
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.

Clinically reviewed by Dr. Eddie Capparucci, Ph.D., Ph.D., LPC, C-CSAS

“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 and its neurochemistry, so when you are working to quit porn, your brain will go through some significant changes that alters its chemistry. 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
  2. Loss of Libido
  3. Insomnia
  4. Social Anxiety
  5. Headaches
  6. Fatigue
  7. Irritability
  8. Anxiety
  9. Depression
  10. Intrusive Thoughts

1. Mood Swings

One moment you feel peaceful and rested. The next second you’re enraged and struggling to keep it together. Through your porn usage, your brain becomes accustom to receiving a stream of dopamine hits. Your brain become hard-wired to expect a  certain amount of this pleasure-enhancing chemical  each day, and it’s going to get the emotional “satisfaction” and stimulation it has come to expect.

Now, that consistent level of dopamine has been remove due to your sobriety, your emotions may be out of whack. This is because you are no longer maintaining  the dopamine levels  your body has come to expect on a daily basis. This neurochemical disruption can result in mood swings, outbursts, depression, and irregular emotional behaviors, as your brain attempts to rebalance.

2. Loss of Libido

Pornography creates an unattainable fantasy in our minds—something we want to create in our own sex life but realistically cannot. After living in the fantasy world of porn for so long, quitting  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 repeatedly in porn. This unrealistic expectation 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 and experiencing dopamine hits, 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 people (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 lead to other withdrawal symptoms. Instead of watching porn, you’re now attempting to engage  with real-life people and deriving your happiness and emotional satisfaction from conversation and interaction. This can be a troubling and frustrating 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, bored, and with no self-soothing mechanism, all 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? What actions will you take to deal with the emotional discomfort that porn served as a distraction?  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?

(For more on this topic, see Porn and Anxiety: What Does Research Tell Us?)

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 this may bring on a deep sadness.  Also, 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 actively 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 types of therapy and finding someone who understands addiction and is trained in the area of porn and sex addiction can make a huge difference. Not only will a therapist be able to guide you through the recovery process, but they can also serve as an additional accountability partner in your journey to stay free from porn!

2. Avoid isolation.

In the midst of the withdrawal symptoms you are feeling, it will be easy to just want to isolate (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 surround yourself with people. 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 relief.

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!