pinnoI recently had occasion to chat with a Stake President from a BYU stake. When he learned that I was an Addiction Counselor and had authored The Waterfall Concept, a blueprint for addiction recovery, the conversation turned to addiction. He was leading an effort in his stake to prevent addiction, especially pornography addiction, from occurring among his stake’s members. I have reflected on that conversation often and tried to articulate in my mind what I might say to a young person about the dangers of the addictive process. I know that education, while not the complete answer, would be a place to start.

I would start by saying the obvious, you are playing with fire, or perhaps more accurately fire and gasoline. Whether it be drugs and alcohol, video gaming or porn and the other sexual addictions we never see the real danger when we begin to experiment with using. We only see benefits (they are fun and exhilarating) and in the beginning there are seldom consequences that might deter us from using again. I can flat out promise, however, that at the other end of this spectrum, when a full blown addiction is developed there are no benefits (yes, that means it is no longer fun, and there is no exhilaration only a failed attempt to feel normal) and many, many consequences.

But the process occurs outside of our awareness. Our emotional management system gets hijacked through the process of conditioning. Patrick Carnes PhD says that “excessive use becomes compulsive use.” In effect we use one too many times. Our use develops a compulsive feature, the urge to use or act out becomes stronger than our will to say no. At this point we are in trouble, big trouble.

The interesting thing is that compulsive point is unpredictable. Some have addictive features to their use very quickly, the high they are getting is just too compelling to leave alone. Others may take longer and foolishly lull themselves into believing they are not susceptible to addiction, they are convinced they can quit any time.

And yes, when I talk about drug of choice I am still talking about those who alter their mood with porn or gaming. They are taking a “hit” when they indulge, they are still getting high, just like a user of meth or cocaine or marijuana. They don’t have to buy their stuff from a dealer or go to the liquor store, they have learned to release their own brain chemicals to get high. That is what makes recovery from the sexual addictions so difficult, the drug of choice is carried around in our brain and we can access them anytime by remembering or fantasizing.

The addictive process is a lot like when Pinnochio went to the fair. Remember the story? He was trying very hard to be a little boy. One day on the way to school with a couple of friends, he took the wrong turn and went to the fair instead. They saw an awful lot of upset donkeys on the way to the fair but really thought nothing of it.

The fair was a lot of fun. It did seem strange that some of the other boys at the fair had very odd ears and some even had tails, but that was their problem, not his. Pinnochio even noticed that some said Hee-Haw uncontrollably, but he was too busy playing to worry about that! Even after his first Hee-Haw he didn’t slow down. Surprisingly, seeing his friends with ears and tails and spouting incessant Hee-Haws did not deter his quest of play. And then it happened, Pinnochio played too long and he wasn’t a little boy any more, he was just another angry donkey.

For the strength of youth? Surely their strength lies in abstinence. In never starting down the path of using. There is a profound strength in the virtue of never having used that we only begin to understand when it is lost. May I raise my own voice of warning, as a person of recovery from addiction. My addiction robbed me of many things. It also robbed my family of me. I will never regain what I lost, it is forever gone, and my addictive behaviors and their highs were never worth all of that.

Please, run away from the gasoline and the fire.