Addiction recovery isn't about abstinence. It's about a lifestyle change.
That's the mantra of Daniel Gray, co-founder of Lifestar Network, a treatment program for pornography and sexual addiction in the U.S. and part of Canada.
Gray, Donald Hilton and Mark Chamberlain discussed recovery at the Pornography Addiction and Families social work conference on Friday at Brigham Young University.
The experts shared information with participants — social work clinicians, students and faculty members — throughout the day in keynote speeches, breakout sessions and a concluding panel discussion.
The theme of recovery also addressed ways pornography and sexual addictions affect couples and families in general.
"It's destroying intimacy in marriage relationships," Hilton said. "It negatively affects how men view women, therefore creating a chasm between (them). It is impossible to hide emotional damage, the family sees it."
Because members of the family are able to sense when someone is being affected emotionally, like with sexual and pornographic addictions, they also are affected, according to Hilton.
"Pornography addiction creates a man who is more critical and selfish," he said. "This creates a much less loving environment for the family."
Hilton believes pornography and the much easier access to it in today's world, is helping to fuel the increased divorce rate, especially among younger couples.
Technically, though divorces have reportedly gone down in the last few years, so have marriage rates. About 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, reported the American Psychological Association this year.
"In today's world, with Internet access, what we are seeing, especially with youth, it is easier for them to be pulled into it," Gray said. "In the 70s it was on videos, but now — talk about virtual."
Protecting children is tougher and tougher.
"It has infiltrated into homes. The average age of exposure is now 9 years old and more women and girls are coming into it," Gray said. "It is really troubling. There is an increasing potential of addiction."
In his keynote speech, "Therapeutic Strategies in the Treatment of Pornography and Sexual Addictions," Gray discussed top treatment strategies and much of the process that leads to recovery with addictions.
He emphasized the need for addicts to openly admit to a problem and ask for help with treatment to recover. Much of the time, open environments need to be created by those close to the addict, so that transparent and honest communication can take place.
"The lifeblood of these addictions are secrecy and lies; creating an environment to discuss, and allow for openness can self-soothe," Gray said.
A person who is struggling with an addiction but keeps to himself about recovery and wants to do everything alone is 100 percent guaranteed to fail to recover successfully, Hilton said.
Family support, ecclesiastical leaders, therapists and 12-step help programs are necessary for full recovery, the experts said.
"These are the things most people do to gain freedom," Hilton said. "Don't try and do it alone. Don't waste the years."
However, one struggle that is paired with these addictions is that of determining whether it truly is an addiction, or more like a habit.
"Biologically speaking, I believe there is a quick hook with pornography," Hilton said during the panel. The experts all expressed opinion surrounding the idea that, though simply habits can set in with these behaviors, addiction follows quickly.
Novelty is the biggest hook for both habits and addictions surrounding pornography. The human brain is always trying to learn something new, and with pornography there is always novelty, new things to digest that entertain the brain, Hilton said, which explains much of its allure.
If withdrawal takes place during recovery, that is often a sure sign of addiction. A young man going through recovery started experiencing severe headaches until he lapsed back into some of his previous behavior, after which the headaches went away; only then was he able to accept that he was addicted.
"We talk about rituals and healthy living with balance, but we all need to be in recovery work," Gray said on working through recovery for both addictions and negative habits. "With true recovery we need to get them understanding themselves, really help and go through all of the steps (with them)."
Hilton focused on the latest science about addictions in his keynote "Pornography and the Neuroplastic Brain: The Ultimate Process Addiction."
A processed addiction, also called a behavioral addiction, is an addiction to a behavior, such as overeating, gambling or pornography, he said. In August of 2011 the American Society of Addiction released a new definition for addiction which had two difference parts. The first states addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and the second states addiction includes not only substances but behaviors as well. That meant ASAM now includes sexual addiction as a true brain disease.
Despite these steps toward understanding pornography addictions better, there is resistance. The porn industry is desperately resisting being labeled as a serious addiction, because of what the addiction label did to different substances like cigarettes and tobacco, the experts said.
Hilton and his wife serve as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as programmers with LDS Family Services in San Antonio. They train and assist missionaries on how best to help people heal from pornography addiction.Comment on this story
"As a missionary working with my program, I have seen miracles in the past and continue to see them with those who have worked in the program to heal who find joy and continue to heal," Hilton said.
During the panel discussion, the experts briefly discussed the signs spouses or parents can watch for to know if their spouse or children are involved in pornography. Signs included irritability, unaccounted time use, increased isolation, disconnect with family and a host of others.
Though an addiction may be clear to the spouse or parent, the addict may not be willing to expose his or her problem right away, but "the parent or spouse needs to share a safe environment for disclosure ... I would not berate anyone dealing with this issue," Gray said on the panel.
If a pornography or sexual addiction is openly exposed (in the life of) a public figure, a parent needs to say "I'm sure this person is a good person" instead of acting openly disgusted toward the person. Otherwise, children will not feel comfortable bringing their own problem to light, Gray said.