Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fletch Do Porn (And Other Addictions) Affect Brain?

I posted a bit about this in a comment on Culture Vulture, but I thought it was fascinating enough to deserve a post of its own. I am sure there are people who won't even read the linked PDF, and will jump in and say that this is a lot of rubbish. To those people I can only - read it before passing comment.

The first part of the argument is that porn can become an addiction; I don't think there is much disagreement there. Stars like David Duchovny (from TV's The X-Files, and Californication) have gone to rehab for porn and sex addiction. The linked article (see below) argues that porn addiction is no different in the brain than any other physical addiction, such as drugs or overeating.

The second part of the argument, is that addiction can actually change and impair the brain by shrinking the frontal lobes, and that this is no different from the damage to the frontal lobes that people suffer in car accidents; and yes, there are studies to back it up.

Just a snippet -
In the front, over the eyes, are the frontal lobes. These areas are important in judgment, and if the brain were a car the frontal lobe would be the brake. The frontal lobes have important connections to the pleasure pathways, so pleasure can be controlled. In the center of the brain is the nucleus accumbens.

This almond sized area is a key pleasure reward center, and when activated by dopamine and other neurotransmitters it causes us to value and desire pleasure rewards. Dopamine is essential for humans to desire and value appropriate pleasure in life. Without dopamine, we would not be as incentivized to eat, procreate, or even to try to win a game. It’s the overuse of the dopamine reward system that causes addiction. When the pathways are used compulsively, a downgrading occurs which actually decreases the amount of dopamine in the pleasure areas available for use, and causes the dopamine cells themselves to atrophy, or shrink. The reward cells in the nucleus accumbens are now starved for dopamine, and exist in a state of dopamine craving, as a downgrading of dopamine receptors on the pleasure cells occurs as well. This resetting of the pleasure thermostat produces a ‘new normal.’ In this addictive state, the person must act out in addiction to boost the dopamine to levels sufficient just to feel normal.

As the desensitization of the reward circuits continues, stronger and stronger stimuli are required to boost the dopamine. In the case of narcotic addiction, the addicted person must increase the amount of the drug to get the same high. In pornography addiction, hard core replaces soft core, and progressively more shocking images are required to stimulate the person. As a feedback of sorts, the frontal lobes also atrophy, or shrink. Think of it as a ‘wearing out of the brake pads.’ This physical and functional decline in the judgment center of the brain causes the person to become impaired in the ability to process consequences of acting out in addiction. Addiction scientists have called this condition hypofrontality, and have noted the similarity in behavior in the addicted to the behavior of patients with frontal brain damage.

As neurosurgeons, we frequently treat people with frontal lobe damage. In a car wreck, for instance, even with an airbag the brain decelerates into the back of the forehead inside the skull, bruising the frontal lobes. Patients with frontal lobe damage exhibit a constellation of behaviors we call frontal lobe syndrome.

First, they are impulsive, in that they will thoughtlessly engage in activities with little regard as to consequence. Second, they are compulsive. They become fixated or focused on certain objects or behaviors, and have to have it, no matter what. Third, they become emotionally labile, and have sudden and unpredictable mood swings, and fourth, they exhibit impaired judgment.

So cortical hypofrontality, or shrinkage of the frontal lobes causes these four behaviors, and can result from a car wreck or from addiction!

Lets look at studies examining drug addiction and the effect on frontal lobes. This is a study on cocaine addiction published in 2002,9 and it shows volume loss, or shrinkage, in several areas of the brain, particularly the frontal control areas. What about methamphetamine? This study from 2004 shows very similar results

Of course, we expect drugs to damage the brain, so these studies don’t really surprise us. Consider, though, a natural addiction such as overeating leading to obesity. Your might be surprised to know that a study published in 2006 showed shrinkage in the frontal lobes in obesity which was very similar to the cocaine and methamphetamine studies!11 And pertinent to our subject, a study published in 2007 imaging the brains of persons exhibiting severe sexual addiction looked almost identical to the cocaine, methamphetamine, and obesity studies. 12

View or download the whole PDF HERE
As I said, I'm sure many will disagree with this and find it controversial.

2 comment(s):

bez999 said...

By analogy, one would hypothesize that religion does exactly the same thing...

ragingglory said...

Bez999 - no you could not.

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