Donald L. Hilton, Jr., MD the author of “He Restoreth my Soul” was asked to provide insight into Pornography Addiction for a new LDS website called Combating Pornography. We found these comments very useful and informative. I have included an excerpt of the article below, as well as a link to the entire article. Please take time to read this important information.
“Like a computer, the brain stores memories on a “hard drive.” This part of the brain is called the cerebral cortex, which also generates cognition and thought and initiates motor function. It may be called the “thinking” part of the brain. Under the cortex is a relay station called the thalamus, which is integrated into an area under it termed the brainstem. The thalamus and brainstem, among other important functions, regulate pleasure and pain and reward activities such as eating and sexuality, which are important in the survival of the individual and species.
In the brainstem, a chemical called dopamine is produced in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which has been found to be important in the brain’s pleasure and reward system. When activated by a pleasurable stimulus, the VTA causes dopamine to be released in an area of the thalamus called the nucleus accumbens. Other chemicals such as the brain’s natural opioids, the endorphins, also stimulate the nucleus accumbens. It may be that dopamine is more important in wanting pleasure, whereas the endorphins are more important in liking pleasure. These pathways are important because without them we would not value appropriate pleasures. An area of the cerebral cortex called the frontal lobe helps control the amount and context of the pleasure. It also helps us weigh the benefits and risks of a pleasurable stimulus. For instance, uncontrolled eating may be pleasurable, but it is unhealthy. Unrestrained sexuality may be pleasurable, but it destroys relationships and spiritual power and insight. It is thefrontal lobe that tells us to judge these risks and benefits.
When we overuse pleasure centers, the cells that produce dopamine are overworked, and in what may be a defensive reaction, the brain decreases the amount of dopamine available for use and also causes shrinkage in the cells that produce the dopamine and in the frontal control areas. Paradoxically, the pleasure cells in the nucleus accumbens may actually enlarge in the addicted state because they have less dopamine available for pleasure and are seeking to extract every possible molecule. These physical changes in the brain have been called long-term potentiation and long-term depression. Thus, in addiction, normal pleasures are not enough to alleviate the craving for dopamine, and this craving in the newly reset pleasure thermostat in the brain is likely key in the desire to relapse. The shrinkage in the frontal control areas also contributes to the compulsivity and impulsivity seen in addiction. Interestingly, as neurosurgeons, we see these same characteristics in frontal lobe shrinkage from traumatic brain injury, and this has been recognized by addiction scientists. Sexual addiction obviously involves other neurotransmitters, two of which may be oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin is important in bonding and increases trust in humans, and vasopressin may be important in sexual bonding, particularly in males. It may be a combination of dopamine-depletion craving and oxytocin-mediated bonding to pornography through masturbatory conditioning that contributes to relapse.”