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Sep 3

Internet Porn and Attention


By Linda Hatch, PhD

Some people can look at internet pornography now and then and not become porn addicts. Others get hooked on porn very quickly and spend hours online, often jeopardizing their work, neglecting their families and wrecking their relationships.

Why are some people more at risk for internet porn addiction?

We look immediately for childhood trauma but there may be other contributing mental health issues which can be treated in order to reduce the risks and optimize the result.

ADHD and hyperfocus

There is enough research to strongly suggest that adults with ADHD are at much higher risk for addiction in general, including sex addiction. (See also my blog on ADHD and sex addiction.)

Being glued to the computer screen for hours on end looking at pornography can be seen in adults with ADHD as a symptom of that disorder, namely hyperfocus (or more properly perseveration) which is a form of rigid attention. The ADHD adult is more likely to be a porn addict because he cannot tear himself away from the pornography, meaning he cannot shift his attention away from one thing and onto another as easily as someone else.

ADHD testing involves evaluating 4 main factors or dimensions of attention.

•Problems Splitting Attention
•Problems Shifting Attention
The last of these, the ability to shift your attention from one thing to another as needed, is the factor that most obviously relates to the fixation that ADHD folks can have on internet porn.

Autism Spectrum” Disorder and hyperfocus

Dr. Russell Barkley has argued that what we call the ADHD “hyperfocus,” should really be called “perseveration” a symptom of the frontal lobe issues in ADHD.

He argues that “hyperfocus” is a term that more appropriately relates to autism spectrum disorders, where the person has a problem connecting different areas of the brain. The two terms seem to be used popularly to describe similar behavior of disappearing into the stimulus or activity.

However the reference to autism intrigued me because I have noticed that some sex addicts who have great difficulty staying abstinent form internet pornography also seem to have some symptoms of high functioning autism or Asperger’s Disorder. They have trouble with social relating, trouble understanding social/emotional cues, are obsessive and may have special talents.

The hyperfocus of the mildly autistic or Asperger’s Disorder person (as well as their social disconnect) would tend to place that person at risk for getting drawn into a compelling activity like porn viewing and would make it harder for them to abstain.

Posttraumatic Stress and Dissociation

Dissociation is a symptom of PTSD, a “zoning out” that can be mild or very severe. It is likely that posttraumatic stress and its resulting dissociative symptoms would add to the risk for internet pornography addiction.

Research suggests that it is not only the adult with a history of childhood trauma but also the veteran with service related stress or anyone with acute or chronic stress could have a greater risk for dissociation and addiction in general, including a fixation on internet porn.

To complicate matters, there is research that found prior ADHD leads to greater vulnerability to PTSD in veterans.

Trauma and ADHD seem to be intertwined and create a chicken-egg issue for further research. But regardless, both PTSD and ADHD separately or together create the risk for attentional issues related to porn addiction.

Evaluate and treat attention issues for a better outcome

Anyone with pornography addiction should be fully assessed for co-occurring psychological issues. ADHD, trauma and high functioning autism can stand in the way of progress. If they are identified and treated the outcome looks much brighter.

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