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

Last Updated: March 5, 2024

On the daunting journey to overcome 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.

If you want to get started with the journey away from porn, check out this article by sex addiction therapist Dr. Doug Weiss, How to Quit Porn: 6 Essential Steps.

Is Porn Really Addictive?

People debate whether or not porn is really addictive. However, there’s good evidence that indicates pornography can affect us similar to other drugs. Luke Gilkerson, the author of Your Brain on Porn, writes:

“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.”

What is Addiction Withdrawal?

Withdrawal symptoms can occur when you try to stop a drug that your body and brain have become accustomed to using. As we’ve written elsewhere, “The chemicals at work in our brain during porn use are the biggest reason it’s so addictive.” For more details check out Why Is Porn So Addictive? 4 Reasons It’s Tough to Resist.

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.”

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 accustomed to receiving a stream of dopamine hits. Your brain becomes 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 removed 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!).

See related: Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction: The Science, Stats, and Stories of PIED

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 derive your happiness and emotional satisfaction from conversation and interaction. This can be a troubling and frustrating adjustment!

See related: Porn and Loneliness: Breaking the Cycle

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?

See related: 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.

See related: The Relationship Between Porn and Depression: Is It Real?

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 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.

See related: Why You Can’t Stop Thinking About Porn (And What To Do About It)

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!

See related: Find a Christian Counselor for Porn Addiction

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. Check out this article about the effects of porn on the brain. 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!

  1. Christ is King

    Hello! You may call me Daniel and I am a man who turned 25 this yesr and i might or might not have have something to do with this. I remember watching porn (not hardcore) this one time last month and my body has been twitching since. It won’t stop no matter the time of day. My tongue sometimes goes numb and my stomach sinks. I would like to know if that would classigy as an addiciton in your eyes. It hasnr happenwd before ajd i havent been actiavely watcjing the sruff everyday. On the plus side, it has begun to strengthen my relationship with God. I plan on not just going to Church but serving, too. I’m a reader and have always been familair with books. But now i plan on giving even more importance to The Holy Bible, for it teaches us about The Lord. I would like to ask that you please keep me in your prayers. Thank you sincerely fod caring and making this article for sll those who seek it. Ypu are doing the Lord’s work and i am grategul to people like you. I hope you have a blessed day!

    • Hello, thanks for your comment. To accurately determine whether or not you are addicted to pornography, you will likely need to speak with a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT). However, you may also find this article helpful on understanding different levels of involvement with pornography: https://www.covenanteyes.com/blog/how-addicted-are-they-levels-of-porn-addiction/

      I hope this helps! I’m praying for you right now.

      God bless,

      Keith

  2. Nick Rodriguez

    Hi everyone, this is Nick,
    I’m a young man, 25 yo just turned this year, still in college and serve at a church, but I am sadly addicted to porn. I pray and fast, I ask others to pray for me, and sadly it has been hard over the past years.
    I came from a divorce back in 2021, it was not infidelity or cheating, but it was for something else that is personal, and sadly, I had to take the action to leave as I had no choice. Since my divorce, because I lost my virginity in my marriage (hooray) I finally found out how actual love and sex feels like.
    I lost that. So now I cope with the pain throughout these years with extreme porn. It lead me to a dark rabbit hole.
    And through this rabbit hole I got to lesbian porn, transgender and even animal. It disgusted me, and every time I fell I repented and had my accountability partners and they prayed for me.
    Now I know that the root is the temptations. I barely ever made it more than 2 weeks without failing in this sense.
    God has been my strength, and the root is to cut off all temptations, lean off from Instagram, Facebook, Quora especially, Snapchat and even YouTube Shorts.
    Those are the open doors to porn for me.
    And I had to put boundaries of not using my phone past 9pm at all in any social media platform.
    So far I’m recovering, but the symptoms of withdrawal is real, and it is painful, and I might feel it worse.
    I’ll make It through, so please keep me in prayers

    • Keith Rose

      Praying for you Nick! God bless.

      Keith

  3. Hey Keith

    Thank you for your comprehensive breakdown on Porn addiction withdrawal.

    I found having covenant eyes installed on my devices during my own recovery to be of good value and was a great tool to help minimise my withdrawal symptoms.

    I found that ‘loss of libido’ is a very important withdrawal symptom to be aware of.
    I think that our porn addiction tricks us into thinking we have a high libido 24/7 because our brain is craving dopamine, and porn is the only way we know how to satisfy this “hungry beast”.
    Unfortunately, when we start our recovery journey, loss of libido is a very common symptom, and if we are not aware of this, it can lead to relapse to see if things are “still working” downstairs.

    If you don’t mind, I would love to add ‘Meditation’ and ‘Taking a walk in nature’ as one of the coping strategies.
    I find these two tactics to be very important in teaching self-awareness and learning to sit with some of the hard emotions which we are likely to experience during the withdrawal period and our recovery in general.
    The intention here is to learn to sit with and accept these hard emotions and not run away from them, which is what most of us have been doing for most of our lives.

    I know many men find it hard to start including a regular meditation practice into their daily routine, but the reward of starting with a simple 10-minute guided meditation is profound once they start.

  4. David Nassau

    Keith,

    This is David again. I have two questions that I overlooked on my previous comment:

    1-) is quitting masturbation (no longer watching XXX stuff) permanently healthy or straight up masochism?

    2-) is looking at swimsuit pics of hot ladies “gateway porn”?

    With regards,
    David

    • Keith Rose

      Hi David, great questions. First, contrary to popular opinion, yes I do believe quitting porn and masturbation is healthy. For more on this, please see here. Quitting is VERY tough, but it’s very much worth it.

      Second, this can be a gray area and different people have different convictions about what constitutes “porn” or what leads to porn. One reason for this is that a lot of it is cultural and even individual. Apparel that would have been considered “pornographic” by most people 100 years ago is no longer considered so today. Some people struggle with fetishes that sexualize things that most people wouldn’t consider pornographic, or even sexual.

      Often times, men who have watched a lot of porn have a tendency to sexualize even women wearing plenty of clothes. I think this is because in the Bible (Matthew chapter 5), Jesus explains that pornography (he says “lust”) is more about what’s going on in your heart and why you’re looking. There are some gray areas when it comes to porn. And if someone is looking at pictures of women in swimsuits for sexual arousal, I believe they are using it as porn and should stop. It’s certainly not as destructive as explicit pornography that depicts graphic acts, violence, etc. But looking at women this way still trains your mind and body to use them as sexual objects, rather than seeing them as fellow human beings.

      On the other hand, I wouldn’t call this content pornography or even “gateway porn” necessarily. It really depends on the individual. If you’re a husband shopping for a swimsuit for his wife, the same pictures may be appropriate to look at because you’re not using them sexually. It’s a case-by-case basis, and you need to know yourself and your motivations.

      Hope this helps!

      Keith

  5. David Nassau

    Hello, everybody,

    This is David. I have a confession to make: I have a porn problem. Not to mention borderline drinking problem. All of this is a manifestation of my social anxiety. I tend to be shy with other people, and I used porn and alcohol to numb that.

    I’m not an alcoholic—- no DT, trembling et Al— but I have a bigger problem with porn. I have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of actresses that have turned me on since I was 12 or 13. I don’t blame them for doing their jobs. But now it’s taking a toll on me and has kept me away from dating for some time .

    I could use your advice.

    • Keith Rose

      Hi David! Thanks for leaving your comment. I’m sorry to hear about your struggle, but I’m so glad that you’re looking for help! The good news is, there’s a time-tested path away from porn. You can get started with our post, How to Quit Porn: 6 Essential Steps.

      Blessings,

      Keith

  6. Shawn Lawrence

    This article was helpful. I discovered porn in my dad’s room at about 12 and that started it all. I’m now 62 and have tried to quit countless times.

    This time is the farthest I’ve gotten. I know this because I have been beating the temptation, but was actually wondering if I’m having withdrawal symptoms. After reading this article, I believe that is the case. Which is actually encouraging! It means I’m making real progress!

    The single most helpful sentence in the article, for me, is that, “it will eventually stop.” I don’t know how long that will take. Days, weeks, months? But I feel I’ve come to far this time to go back. It was hard getting here; I don’t want to waste it.

    My advice to others who are fighting this fight is to not give up. Oh, how I longed to find the magic switch that I could just turn this addiction off, but I never did. I have found that for me, it’s been about not giving up. Temptation, fighting it, giving in, guilt and shame and frustration, forgiveness, repeat the cycle over and over. I found that always examining afterward why I fell, how I fell, what I could try to stop it, kept me going. And for me, I found that the “secret” is in identifying what I call flirting with it.

    How many, many times I never intended to look at porn, but every time I did. And when I would look back at that episode, I would eventually find that there was a moment when I thought it was okay to flirt with it, that I could just peek at something and still handle it. Um, no. LUST IS NEVER SATISFIE!. I’ve gotten so much better and not answering the door when that knock comes.

    Thank you, Covenant Eyes.

    • Keith Rose

      Thanks for sharing this comment! I hope it’s encouraging to others on the journey as well. God bless!

      Keith

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