Monday, 14 December 2015

The Science of Habit Change

Part 12/14 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)

Click here to listen and/or download this article as a professionally recorded AUDIO BOOK (45 minutes).

In closing: How can we apply the lessons above to lust addiction?

Scientists have studied the brains of alcoholics, smokers and over-eaters and have measured how their neurology – the structures of their brains and the flow of neurochemicals inside their skulls – changes as their cravings became ingrained. Particularly strong habits seem to produce addiction-like reactions so that wanting evolves into obsessive craving that can force our brains into auto-pilot, even in the face of strong disincentives, including loss of reputation, job, home and family.

A porn addiction often becomes a person’s source for escape, comfort, and focus, so it cannot simply be stopped, leaving huge gaps in all of those areas, without being replaced by something else. Regular porn usage changes the chemistry of the brain by requiring more and more of the feel-good chemicals, dopamine, to be released to feel the same level of excitement as when the user first viewed porn (Porn Changes the Brain, n.d., and Hilton, D., & Watts, C., 2011). When kicking a porn addition, the brain must rebalance itself to return to a normal release of pleasure chemicals. Creating new habits is crucial in this rewiring of the brain.

The first step is to recognize which cravings are driving the behavior. AA and other 12-Step groups have identified certain triggers which are the main causes of the addict launching into his addictive routine.


R.I.D = Restlessness, Irritability, Discontent

R.I.D is usually caused by: H.A.L.T = Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired

Stress and boredom are also common triggers.

Once we recognize the cues and triggers, we need to identify the rewards that we have come to anticipate, which fuel the habit loop:

The rewards from the addictive acting-out are usually C.A.P = Control, Alive, Pleasure.

CONTROL: When the world feels overwhelming and out of control, the self-soothing addictive behaviors put us back into the “driver’s seat” and make us feel in control again.

ALIVE: When we feel apathetic, lazy and dead inside, the fast pulse and the high of the chemical releases that the acting-out brings makes us feel alive (much like the reason some people like riding roller-coasters).

PLEASURE: The self-soothing / self-medicating behavior brings us pleasure, which solidifies the reward circuitry in our brains, ingraining the routine into a powerful habit.

With the recognition of the triggers and rewards, we can work on attacking the various elements of the habit loop:

Removing Triggers

When triggered by R.I.D, we can learn to change the routine of acting out and instead train ourselves to do another action that brings similar feelings.

Firstly, since R.I.D is usually triggered by H.A.L.T, we need to make sure that we aren’t hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

Also, although the world is full of triggers, we still need to try and remove the obvious triggers as much as possible. It’s easy to associate habits with the times and places where they are used, so removing those triggers is essential. If you find yourself watching porn in the privacy of your room, remove internet-enabled devices from your room. Be sure to make all internet-enabled devices safe by placing filters on them to block pornographic content.