The 4 Stages of Porn Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

men looking ahead porn addiction withdrawal symptoms

What to expect in the first 90 days after quitting porn

Most men today are completely lost when it comes to healing from porn. They’re left to the white knuckle, manage their lust, and throw mud against the wall hoping something will finally work. The reality is that the first 90 days of recovery are tough! It can feel impossible to make it through these days when your body is experiencing withdrawals that cause pain and discomfort. But what if these days were just part of the process? What if the withdrawals and discomforts were a sign that you were healing?

Well, that’s why I created this resource. These first 90 days of recovery require a deep understanding, awareness, game plan, and forward outlook to be able to overcome them. It’s the only way you will be able to push through the pain and discomfort and say no to porn and masturbation as you detox and recalibrate your mind, body, and brain. This is what lays the foundation for men to experience lasting freedom from porn.

When you finally understand that in the first 90 days of recovery your body is going through a “detox”, you will be able to rationalize the pain and see it as a stepping stone to better days. This opens your mind up to resiliency and perseverance because you begin to look forward to what’s to come rather than what’s happening right now.

Get ready to learn about:

  • What’s going on inside your brain, body, and mind (and how they’re different)
  • What you can expect to experience and feel as you move through the stages 
  • The mindset shifts sobriety requires
  • Simple daily and weekly action steps to help you move through each stage.
  • How to look ahead to better days so you can get through anything today

Helping you move through the 4 stages of porn recovery:

The 4 stages of recovery are built on the foundation of sobriety, meaning that when you take action to quit watching porn (and for the best results, masturbation also) you will begin day one of sobriety and enter into stage one. When this happens, you’re officially in the “recovery process”. This process in itself takes PATIENCE! 90 days may not seem like a long time, but when you’re in the thick of it, it can feel like an eternity. This is why I have added mindset shifts and action steps for you along the way – These are in place to help you make good choices when you sense yourself getting impatient. So man, take this one day at a time, setting your eyes on the reward of getting through these 4 stages so you can experience the peace that comes when your brain, mind, and body begin to heal! Ref:

PS: If you relapse along the way of the 4 stages, you’re not a failure! However, you will begin again at stage one. If this happens, it’s best to tell someone you trust, learn from the mistake, pick yourself up and go at it again. I promise that it does get a little bit easier each time if you follow these simple steps.

Understanding The Brain & The Mind

As you read, you will notice that I separate the brain and the mind. It’s because they are different entities and both play a significant role on their own and in partnership. here’s a simple breakdown of each one to clear up any possible confusion.

The Mind:

  • Our consciousness, aka. The place of intellect and thought
  • Not a physical thing
  • Uses the brain by drawing information that has been stored in the subconscious
  • Developed through changing beliefs and thoughts

The Brain 

  • Physical complex organ
  • Controls our body
  • Responds and forms to the information given by the mind
  • Developed through changing your mind and behaviors

To learn more about how pornography rewires the brain, check out: Your Brain On Porn and/or Episode 22 of the Secret Habit podcast


Stage One: “Shock”: 1-3 weeks after quitting porn

Mindset: Follow the facts that you’re in the heavy days of the initial detoxing. Every day you feel the burn is another day your brain is recalibrating to the new normal

When you quit porn, your brain stops getting the unnatural dopamine surge it’s used to. Because of this, your ability to function as your “normal” self will be hindered for a few weeks. When this happens, you need to know that it’s okay to feel “off” and that your experiences are not dangerous. Don’t let your brain or body lie to you. Your brain is going into shock because of the lack of dopamine, but at the same time, something good is happening – The brain is working to recalibrate itself to the new dopamine levels.

What Porn Addiction Symptoms To Expect in the Shock Stage (1 – 3 weeks):

  • Irritability – You will likely find that the smallest thing set you off. It’s almost as if you are “hangry”. This is a normal response to the discomfort as your brain dips below its expected dopamine level.
  • Emotional Rollercoaster – Because the brain is in shock, but at the same time, working to recalibrate, your emotions will be an up-and-down ride. Just like anybody going through refinement, you can accept this as normal and move through the ups and down as if you’re surfing the waves.
  • Tension – It is common to experience stress responses such as headaches, body aches, and tightness all over the body. When this happens, you are being given a physical sign that you just need to take it easy and give yourself extra grace
  • Stress – This can play out as anxiety, fear, guilt, avoidance, and other crippling emotions/feelings. When you feel the weight of stress coming on, this is a great time to breathe and journal what’s on your mind.
  • Temptation – You may have memories, flashbacks, or fantasies about pornography you have consumed or pornography you would want to consume. You may even have sexual (wet) dreams. These are great times to call a brother and share what’s going on so you can be supported and prayed over
  • Insomnia – You have likely gotten so used to experiencing an orgasm before bed that your body is waiting for its “release” so it can “rest”. You need to hold onto the reality that you will truly rest when you no longer “need” an orgasm to feel good. This is an important time to purge what’s on your mind, release it to God and get whatever rest that you can.

When you are experiencing any of these Stage One challenges, it’s so important to slow down, realize what’s happening and accept the fact that this is part of the recovery process. You’re allowing your brain the space it needs to heal, it’s just that the healing will feel pain before it feels good. Don’t let that get you down, you can do it!

Remember: “Short-term loss for long-term gain”

BE ON ALERT: The “Shock Stage” Craving

One of the hardest milestones for an addict to hit is getting out of the “shock stage” (1 -3 weeks). This is because it feels intense, unfamiliar, and incredibly uncomfortable right when you think you’re doing pretty well. This is the “shock stage craving” that can derail the best of us. 

In most cases, the craving comes around day 7, but it can come on day 5 or even day 21. It may last one day, but it can last several days too. Regardless, it’s crucial that you’re aware of it. Scripture says pride comes before the fall! Don’t get prideful of how good you’re doing. Keep your mind focused on the facts and realize that you can handle this onslaught because you know that short-term loss and pain will lead to long-term gain and victory.

Your Job: Expect it, plan for it and overcome it

But how do you do that? Here are 3 tips to ensure you’re prepared for the shock stage of craving

Pinpoint the potential threats: Being clear on the threat is the only way to overcome it! The best sports teams study the other team so they can best attack and defend.

What could cause you to relapse? (Think about your triggers)

When might it happen? (Think about when are you often the weakest)

Who may influence this? (Think about people who “set you off” or cause you to shut down)

How may your guard be down? (Think of ways you may get prideful or weak)

Gameplan what you will do when you feel tempted: After naming the threats, create a plan of action that will get you through the fiery trial and into the next day.

What will you do? (Think of things that bring you joy, fulfillment and reassurance)

Who will you call? (Have a few safe people on speed dial)

Where will you go? (Changing your environment is really helpful)

Tell 2-3 people: It is critical that you share your threats and game plan with 2 others so they can pray for you, keep you accountable, and be prepared to answer a call when you need them.

Who can you tell about the threats and your plans? (Tell them about your “shock stage craving” gameplan)

Confirm with them that you can call them anytime you need their support

Encouraging Scripture: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

  • Mindset shifts during stage one:
    • “Everything I am feeling right now is part of the process of healing”
    • “I am becoming a man who is free from porn one step at a time”
    • “Every day I get through is another day closer to freedom”
  • Action steps to help you during stage one:
    • Make a commitment statement (Ex. “I am committed to getting through stage one no matter how hard it gets because I want to be free from porn. When it feels hard, I will call Brian, go for a walk and journal about my thoughts)
    • Deep breathing when stressed
    • Get moving: plan times at the gym, running, playing a sport
    • Take a hot bath and rest your mind
    • Journal/internal inventory + releasing prayer
    • Shut off your phone at 9 pm

Encouraging Testimony:

“Before joining Secret Habit, I felt controlled by my emotions and susceptible to temptations like pornography.  I was stuck in a pattern of bondage that I didn’t want anymore.  When I heard about Secret Habit, I took a leap of faith by admitting to myself that I needed help to change.  Through mentoring, which lasted over a 5 month period and lots of arduous work to discover the meaning behind my emotional suffering, I was able to break free.  Today, my emotions do not govern my unwanted behaviour. I have been equipped with an understanding of my past and the tools to work through each situation.  I am excited to share my good news by letting others know that we do not have to resign ourselves to being controlled in this way.  There is freedom in understanding why we fall into temptation.  Every aspect of my life is stronger because of Secret Habit.”

Joe Dipenta

DO YOU NEED HELP OVERCOMING THE NEGATIVE PORN ADDICTION SYMPTOMS? LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR PORN RECOVERY COACHING HERE


Stage Two: “Test”: 2-8 weeks after quitting porn

Mindset: Follow the facts that you’re well into your detox and you’re developing the character that lasting freedom requires

Because your brain is learning to function on a much lower dose of dopamine, in stage two, you’re going to experience what is called “flatlining”. Flatlining is where you just feel dull and often discouraged. It’s the classic “withdrawal symptom” everyone experiences when they give up an addiction of any kind.

The good news here is that your brain is continuing to recalibrate to the new normal, one day at a time. A lot of people want their journey to freedom from porn to feel awesome, but that’s just not how it works when the brain needs time to detox and rewire. So with this knowledge, I encourage you to stick it out and get through the short-term pain of stage two so you can experience the long-term gain of freedom!

What To Expect in the Porn Addiction Withdrawal “Test” Stage (2 – 8 weeks):

  • Low Energy – Be ready for much lower energy than you’re used to having. In this stage, you will feel sluggish and tired. When this happens, plan for extra time to rest and get lots of fresh air.
  • Brain Fog – Efficiency will be challenging in this stage due to fatigue, tiredness, and lack of focus. Be prepared for tasks to take longer than normal. Because this can hit us, men, right in our pride, it’s important to process what is really happening and come to the conclusion that it’s only temporary
  • Social Awkwardness – Because you’re going through so much behind the scenes, it can cause you to focus on yourself and all that you’re going through. Because of this, awkwardness and anxiety are common. This is a great time to find a few fun things and safe people that you can shift your focus to.
  • Low Sex Drive – Unfortunately, sex doesn’t become a quick alternative to porn. Sex requires healthy dopamine levels and right now, your brain is out of whack as it works to recalibrate. It’s often recommended that men take 90 days away from sex while quitting porn so don’t let this get you down, it’s perfectly normal. When you know this, it becomes part of the process and is a necessary step to recovery.
  • Loneliness – It can feel as if nobody understands what you’re going through or that you’re the only one struggling with these recovery stages. This is not true, but it can certainly feel true. That’s why it’s important to utilize your 3 friends on speed dial and get the support you need when you need it. You don’t need the world to understand you, but you don’t need a few guys in your corner who can be there for you when you’re feeling down.

Encouraging Scripture: If you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.

1 peter 2:20b
  • Mindset shifts during stage two:
    • “I am suffering for Christ and can draw closer to Him and His strength  through my weakness”
    • “I am a man who knows what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, and how to do it”
    • “I have already made it past stage one, I can make it past stage two”
  • Action steps to help you during stage two
    • Decide on who and what you can focus on and take action to make time for them
    • Set up daily calls with friends to stay connected and encouraged, to learn more about how, read our blog: What Are Christian Accountability Partners For Porn Recovery
    • Plan a board game night at your home and have some fun
    • Get some extra rest – take a nap and/or go to bed early
    • Journal/internal inventory + releasing prayer
    • Shut off your phone at 9 pm

Encouraging Testimony:

“Before I started working with Shawn of Secret Habit, I was deeply addicted to pornography for 12 years. On top of that, I was in deep denial of the fact that I was even addicted in the first place. After my wife found out about my pornography addiction, I went to Shawn for help. This was genuinely the best choice I have ever made. While some sessions were more difficult and vulnerable than others and the process of breaking free of my addiction was long, it was all very worth it. Now that I am on the other side, life has never been so vibrant, colourful, fun, meaningful and godly. Living life not chained down to an addiction and not tied to sin is so much better than I could have ever imagined. I can be truly intimate with not just my wife, but with God and everyone around me. For the first time in my life I am free to be fully known and fully loved. Now with the help that Shawn has given me, I seek to do the same as him, helping those who are addicted and bringing them into the light where they can experience life and life more abundantly. Thank you, Shawn”

Noah Nelson

LOOKING FOR HELP? We Can Help You Navigate THE Porn Addiction Withdrawal Stages. LEARN MORE ABOUT working with a Porn Addiction Coach


Get Full Access To All 4 Stages Here

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Shawn Bonneteau

Shawn Bonneteau

Author of this Article

Shawn is the co-founder of Secret Habit. He loves to write, speak and coach men. He has a story of addiction to porn and masturbation, as well as a struggle with Erectile Dysfunction that haunted him for many years into his marriage. He feels called to use his story to bring hope and healing to those stuck in sexual bondage.

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men looking ahead porn addiction withdrawal symptoms

Overcome Your Porn Withdrawals: How To Get Past The First 90 Days Of Quitting Porn

In this free E-Book you will learn:

How To Get Through Intense Porn Withdrawals

How To Prepare & Plan For Success

Action Steps For Each Day

Mindset Shifts For Each Day

 
 

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