What do you think? Can porn be addictive? More mental health professionals are telling us “yes it can,” and further, it can be as addictive as hard-core drugs and it’s known to change the health of the brain.

Those who study such things say addictions create chemical, anatomical and pathological changes that result in impairment to the frontal lobe, where the braking system of the brain resides. In other words, chronic porn use can damage the “stop button,” which most of us rely on to control harmful behavior. If that’s true, it explains the presence of porn in many horrific crimes as well as the destruction of relationships and families.

And, what is addiction, really? Neuroscience Professor Eric Nestler writes, “Addiction occurs when pleasure/reward pathways are hijacked by exogenous drugs such as cocaine or opioids, or by natural processes essential and inherent to survival such as food and sex” (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

“The frontal lobe of the brain actually changes and shrinks with repeated, compulsive use.” That, according to Dr. Donald L. Hilton Jr., MD, and Dr. Clark Watts, MD, JD, both leading neurosurgeons and medical educators.

Further: Psychiatry and Psychology team Raymond M. Bergner and Ana J. Bridges tell us: “Evidence indicates that it (porn) does indeed cause harm in humans with regard to pair-bonding.”

I deliberately list multiple sources in this two-part report because of the controversy. As we well know, porn is the sacred cow of users and of money makers.

Mental health experts urge“ serious discussion” about this too-little-understood problem and the need to consider medication solutions. Such solution-testing is already, successfully under way at Mayo Clinic where the drug, naltrexone, is used to treat compulsive, pornography users.

We can talk about it, but we can’t know the hell many are living. Note portions of a letter I received from one husband who is fighting to save his marriage:

“….The years of secrets and lies have seriously damaged our relationship. Pornography is a totally selfish behavior — the whole focus is how you feel, your pleasure, your desires. Even though my wife didn’t know that I was engaged in it, what I could not hide was the spirit of selfishness that grew in me until I was barely functioning as a husband and father. I also had such overwhelming loathing and disgust for myself.”

One East Valley therapist, who provided sources for this report offers startling clarity: “With chronic, compulsive, problematic pornography use, the human love and sexual relationship is almost always impaired, and often, sadly, is shattered. Due to powerful human chemicals that cause us to love and bond, we can bond to pornography the way we were meant to bond to a spouse.”

Re-read that last line. And, there it is. Yet the naysayers are determined to justify and protect their compulsive voyeurism. For one summary of the mental health industry concerns, visit http://www.drjudithreisman.com/archives/2011/02/pornography_add.html.

Where can the desperate go for help? In my research for this series, support groups and therapists are clearly available, even 12-step programs, which have been so successful for alcoholics are all right in our East Valley; find them in your web search.

In the meantime, protect children from porn. It can suck them into a tragic vortex. Most of all, protect them from those who defend and chronically use the stuff. If these mental health experts are right, habitual users truly are not functioning with healthy brains.

• East Valley resident Linda Turley-Hansen (turleyhansen@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist and former Phoenix veteran TV anchor.

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