depressed boyAddiction: Wanting it more, but liking it less. This is a simple way to describe the paradox of two neurological processes, sensitization and tolerance, that occur in the brain of an addict.

When I was researching our bookGood Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids, I found a good explanation for this phenomenon in Dr. Norman Dodge’s best-selling book The Brain that Changes Itself. He explains the faulty, though typical view that an addict goes back for more of his “fix” because he likes the pleasure and wants to avoid the pain of withdrawal.

“But addicts take drugs when there is no prospect of pleasure, when they know they have an insufficient dose to make them high, and will crave more even before they begin to withdraw. Wanting and liking are two different things.”

Sensitization is the process that makes the brain acutely sensitive to triggers in the addict’s environment–cues that trigger a craving for the drug of choice, whether it’s alcohol or pornography. In fact, researchers have found a biochemical basis for sensitization—it’s when a certain protein called “delta Fos B” accumulates in the neurons. Sadly, each time the drug or addictive experience is used, more of this protein builds up until it flips a switch in the brain and leads to permanent changes in the dopamine system. As sensitization increases, it takes less and less of the substance for the addict to crave it intensely.

On the other hand, tolerance is the process that causes the brain to need more and more of a substance or experience like porn to get a pleasurable effect.

“So sensitization leads to increased wanting, though not necessarily liking.”

It’s hard to imagine a worse predicament—craving something intensely that you don’t even like anymore. That’s the trap of porn. A trap we must warn our children about so they have a good chance of avoiding it.

Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.