The bad news: It's hurt you already Published May 6, 2015 By Col. Thatcher Cardon 55th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- When meth first hit the streets several years ago I had the opportunity to see its effects first hand. It was horrifying. We put the user in a dimmed trauma bay where he knelt on the gurney and moaned a crazy moan while writhing around for hours - he was unkempt and frightening. What you may not know about drugs is that they act on systems or pathways in the brain that normally provide important, even vital functions. These normal pathways are taken over by the drug; the effects are way outside of physiologic limits. This is both highly pleasurable and highly damaging. When your pleasure pathways are redlining you ignore pain reflex, abandon relationships and honor, forget hygiene, and more. I can well imagine how pleasurable meth can be, I can also see the consequences and I recoil from them and the drug. There are those among us who have trouble avoiding the momentary pleasures even though we are convinced of the ill effects. Most can avoid meth because the drug and the consequences are so well and quickly connected. Other compounds are on the spectrum of addiction: heroin, spice, marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, sugar, caffeine are examples. They all have a final common pathway in the pleasure centers of the brain. There is another pathway in the brain that has been hijacked. That is the pleasure derived from seeing things that have a sexual nature to them. Some time ago, I was finishing my medical residency and had occasion to do an annual exam on a female patient in her late twenties. After the exam I commented that everything seemed normal and the patient said, "My husband says they [my breasts] aren't like they're supposed to be." I was momentarily stunned but knew right away what was going on and said, "Sounds to me like your husband is into pornography." It was her turn to be surprised and she asked me how I knew. I talked to her about the effect that pornography has on perception and informed her that any man who thought she looked abnormal had to be under its ill effect. You see, the pleasure in seeing images of a sexual nature is a natural pathway with an important, even vital function. However, these images can be presented in such a way that they exceed physiologic limits and will damage you. In this case the husband was damaged in that he couldn't appreciate the in-person vision of his beautiful wife. He was under the impression from viewing pornography that she was not up to par. (And I can assure you he was no Brad Pitt). The illusion of pornography is carefully constructed by teams of people: lighting, make-up, editing, computer enhancement, acting and so forth all by people who want to hijack your pleasure centers to get your money. They construct a product that is an illusion that cannot be recreated in life. No it can't. It is as much a fantasy as any spaceship or dragon CGI in a movie. People who come under its thrall spend time looking for it and trying to recreate it. They act as if it is reality and find that their ability to experience life and sex, as it really is meant to be, is blunted and frustrating. Exactly like traditional drugs, very often users will escalate their use to try and experience the high equal to the very first time they tried it. This will frequently lead to violent themes, child themes and other deviant forms. The pornography that incorporates violence or children is particularly damaging and has led many to heinous crimes and damaged lives. Seeking the impossible leads to problems. Marriages dissolve, sexual assaults are perpetrated, people are abused, and people live frustrated and confused about what relationships and sex are all about. Sexual function and satisfaction decrease and loneliness increases. Sure it's pleasurable just like other drugs but the consequences are not worth it. Because it is not ingested, injected, eaten or even physical at all, we as a nation have missed the fact that it is just as much a drug as any other and has devastating effects on millions of people. I say you are hurt already in the title because good statistics show that most of you use pornography regularly. If you look at the stats regarding porn use it is mind boggling how much of it is going on: 35 percent of all internet downloads, 30 percent of all data transmitted across the internet, more traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined is pornographic. But don't be fooled there is no safety in those numbers just like there wasn't safety in the majority when they all smoked cigarettes. You're not bad though, it's really tempting and the purveyors of the stuff are very skilled. All is not lost. Work to get free. You can do it. Focus your rage on the perpetrators of the lie, the ones that victimized you to get what they wanted. Every one of us has been negatively affected by pornography to one extent or another. Have you ever heard "Sex sells"? Well, it does. It's a proven fact. If an advertiser can tweak that pleasure center a little with a sexualized image they stand a far better chance of selling something to you. Those images have a bad cumulative effect on your understanding of sexual expression and on your arousal state, and must be consciously countered to be overcome. It is clear that pornography hurts those who use it or are exposed to it. Avoid it, shun it, get away from it and you will, over time, go back to the normal person you were. You can become well-adjusted and ready for real, lifelong fulfilling relationships. You don't have to do it alone either. You can get help at several base agencies and with online resources including: http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/. For a list of helping agencies on Offutt, click here.