Do people get depressed and then addicted? Or is it the other way around? Does addiction cause depression?
I think it’s both. (And I believe that educating kids early about the process of addiction, including pornography addiction, empowers them to avoid this potentially devastating illness of the brain.)
Kids may turn to addictive substances and behaviors to escape from their negative emotions. But once an addiction takes hold, depression deepens. In fact, according to a Psychology Today article entitled Suicide: One of Addiction’s Hidden Risks,
“The rate of major depression is two to four times higher among addicts than the general population.”
Simply put, the addiction begins to kill off the brain’s neurotransmitter receptors. Fewer receptors means less neurotransmitter available for the brain to use. This ends up lowering the addict’s base mood. As this process deepens, so does depression.
Addiction Lowers the Brain’s Ability to Use Dopamine
When an addict uses, their brain releases a huge surge of dopamine. Dopamine is believed to play a fundamental role in reward processes. Virtually all drugs of abuse activate dopaminergic systems, as
do “natural” rewards such as sexual interaction and food. Dopamine is a powerful neurochemical and it motivates you to do everything you do. However, flooding the brain with a tsunami of dopamine has unintended consequences—the dopamine receptors begin to shut down.
Think about when you hear a deafening noise. What do you do? You cup your hands over your ears. Well, the brain does the same thing by shutting down some of its receptors. It cannot control the fact that the user is flooding the brain with dopamine, but it can do something about how much dopamine is absorbed.
Here’s how Fight the New Drug describes this process:
…the brain is trying to protect itself from the overload of dopamine by getting rid of some of its chemical receptors, which act like tiny catcher’s mitts that receive the dopamine released. With fewer receptors, the brain thinks less dopamine is there and the user doesn’t feel as strong a reaction. As a result, many porn users have to find more porn, find it more often, or find a more extreme version—or all three—to generate even more dopamine to feel excited.
A Vicious Cycle
This process of dopamine surges and receptor pruning sets up a vicious cycle of increasing use but decreasing satisfaction.
Pretty soon, addicts have to use just to feel “normal” because when they don’t use they feel depressed. It begins to feel like an endless trap with no escape.
Can We Just Say No to Suicide?
Sadly, addicts sometimes turn to suicide. It happened in my family. Like Robin Williams, this person seemed to “have it all.” What a sad, mind-boggling shock. But once something like this happens to your family, you can no longer see it as something that just happens to other people.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. And according to Psychology Today, “Depression and other mood disorders are the number-one risk factor for suicide.”
You may think that only people addicted to alcohol and drugs consider suicide. But if you do a search for “porn addiction suicide” you’ll see that all addictions can be deadly. Here’s a paraphrase of one young man’s cry for help on an online message board:
“I’m 14 and I’ve been using porn since I can’t remember. Please help me stop. I can’t stand the filth in my life. I’m thinking about suicide.”
Heavy Stuff, But Kids Deserve to Be Educated
No parent wants to think about this possibility. If you’re still reading, give yourself a pat on the back for courage.
Maybe because of my own loss, I believe children deserve to be educated about addictions of all kinds. That’s why Good Pictures Bad Pictures teaches kids about the dangers of addiction before they get involved with pornography or any other kind of drug. This is so empowering. Think about it–when kids understand how addictions begin and progress they have the crucial information necessary to choose to keep their brains safe.
How are you addiction-proofing your kids? Have you found any resources to help you?