This phrase can be overly simplest for something that is complex. It is used to describe a process that has many stages and this simple phrase is not complete and at times is not accurate.
Stages of Recovery
Addicted Person: When someone is an addict they have cravings that are difficult nigh impossible to control.
In-Recovery: Next is someone who is battling the addiction. They have acknowledged the addiction and are now taking steps to recover and allow the brain to heal. This process takes months.
Pre-recovered: Then there is pre-recovered were the person has won back their ability to choose to follow through with a trigger or not. The person sometimes chooses to do their Modifying Behavior and other time chooses to go through with the trigger and the addiction.
Recovered/Maintenance Mode: When the person finally chooses to consistently do their Modifying Behavior the person then becomes recovered from the addiction and goes into Maintenance Mode. Maintenance Mode is where you become more proactive. If you feel bored you do something about it right away. You are no longer looking or needing triggers to get you off the couch and doing your Modifying Activities. You’re continually doing your Modifying Activities just out of routine and habit. This is true recovery and Maintenance Mode.
Now as we go through this process of recovery the brain literally changes shape. The folds of the brain change shape. Not all of them but the part of the brain that is strengthening and the part of the brain that is weakening will change shape. This is neuroplasticity or brain plasticity.
Neuroplasticity/Brain Plasticity: refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury (Wikipedia: Neuroplasticity).
That brings us back to the original phrase, “once an addict always an addict.” Is this really true after the brain has literally reformed to a brain that is no longer addicted? When the cravings for porn are manageable and controllable is one still an addict?
The answer is probably “no.” There is little that resembles the actions of an addict including the shape and wiring of the brain.
However, what does ring true to the phrase “once an addict always and addict.” Is that the wiring has happened and could happen again. Relapses are real. The Limbic System can become overactive again if it is allowed to do so by the Frontal Lobe. Also, it is important that the recovered person realize that the addiction can reform an addiction to a different substance. Once having been addicted to porn it should be realized that addictions to alcohol or drugs could form quickly if the person consumes those chemicals. This would be another aspect of the “once an addict always and addict” which is the propensity in which a new and novel addiction can be formed.
If you do slip into a relapse, do not think all is lost. It is not. If you have made it to recovery your brain has found none addiction, brain circuitry that is acceptable not only to the Frontal Lobe but more importantly to the Limbic System. It will be much easier for the Limbic System to accept this circuitry again since it knows it can survive with this brain circuitry. Remember that the Limbic System’s main goal is survival (Read: Porn is NOT Your Problem: Brain Chemicals Are).
The brain is very similar to muscles. You might have experienced what some people call “muscle memory.” If you are unfamiliar with the term, it is the idea that if you work out and reach a certain strength that if you stop working out and let yourself go for while, upon returning to working out your muscles will have a rapid growth to where they once were in size. So if it took you 6 months to get to a certain fitness level, and then you stopped working out for a period of time, it won’t take you 6 months to get to your previous fitness level but maybe just a month or two. This is the idea of “muscle memory.”
The brain is the same way. It can bounce back to prior wiring and circuitry than if it was trying to make up the circuitry from scratch. The brain molecules already are familiar with the routine and can reshape and realign themselves to their previous configuration. So if you get to recovery and have a slip, recovery will be much quicker to obtain than when you went through recovery for the first time.
If you have a relapse just know you have to keep up with Maintenance Mode more often and double up on your Modifying Behaviors. Make your Modifying Behaviors daily habits so you don’t have a relapse in the future.
Remember a porn free life is a better life. Really start to live by living porn free!