Is the Internet Driving Pornography Addiction Among School-Aged Kids?

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Bulkley estimated that in the next five to 10 years, as the next generation moves into adolescence, online pornography addiction will become an epidemic.

Some studies show that seven out of 10 teens have been accidentally exposed to pornography online. Boys are more likely to view it, but more girls are getting hooked too. Breanne Saldivar, a 22-year-old from Austin, Texas, said she was addicted to looking at pornography on the Internet during all of her high school years.

"It tore me up on the inside that I could be talking to someone one moment and know this thing that's going on in my life," she said. "I started to isolate myself, because I hated what I was doing. I hated that I couldn't stop."

Like Haug, Saldivar said she first looked at pornography online around age 12 or 13, but within a few years, she was hooked and didn't understand why.

"I had no idea it was addictive," she said. "I would say that this is something that was not just me. I knew tons of students who were in my grade, my peers, who were struggling with the same thing."

Saldivar and Haug now work with a group called "Fight the New Drug," which is formulating a new kind of message on pornography. The group travels to schools across the country to teach students that finding images of sex a turn-on is not bad or weird, but normal, which is how it gets dangerous.

It's a discussion of brain chemistry: Viewing pornography is like pushing a button in the brain that releases four pleasure-inducing chemicals -- so you feel good. But here's the catch. The more chemicals released -- the more you want. It's a cycle, and it can get beyond your control. Your brain starts needing even-raunchier images to achieve the same high and it's hard to stop.

Clay Olson, one of the founders of Fight the New Drug, said he experienced pornography addiction in his own family. His message is to try to de-stigmatize the habit enough so that kids who are hooked will still seek help.

"After, pretty much, every assembly we do, I have probably two or three, sometimes four, different teenagers coming up to me and telling me their story of how they are currently addicted," Olson said.

Saldivar added, "All it takes is for someone to be vocal about a situation and that person who knows they're struggling and see it and say 'I am addicted, this is an addiction.'"

After finding the courage to talk with his father and a church leader, Nathan Haug got help and began a program the church designed. Almost a year later, Haug said he no longer feels trapped and is now putting himself out there to help other kids not feel so alone.

"I know there will be someone out there in my life, maybe I'll run into them, maybe I won't, and they'll have this attitude -- they'll maybe tease me," Haug said. "But it's not up to me to care, because, for all I know, they're suffering from the same problem."

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