Short-term Abstinence Effects Across Potential Behavioral Addictions: A Systematic Review


Fernandez, David P.; Kuss, Daria J.; and Griffiths, Mark D.


2020 in Clinical Psychology Review 76 (2020) 101828

  • This study examined existing research to determine the effects of short-term abstinence from potential behavioral addictions. In relation to pornography consumption, the research found that abstaining from pornography had positive effects, including increased relationship commitment and less delayed reward discounting. Results also showed that short-term abstinence from pornography may increase perceived compulsivity.
Observing short-term abstinence effects across potential behavioral addictions is vital for informing understanding about how addiction-related symptoms (withdrawal, craving and relapse) might manifest across these behaviors. Short-term abstinence may also have potential as a clinical intervention for behavioral addictions. This review aimed to synthesize existing research evidence on short-term abstinence effects across potential behavioral addictions in light of (1) manifestations of withdrawal, craving and relapse, and... READ FULL ABSTRACT
  • "Studies investigating pornography abstinence were limited in number (n = 3) but provide evidence that there may be some benefits of short-term abstinence from pornography. Two studies using similar 3-week self-restraint protocols found positive effects of abstaining from pornography, namely greater relationship commitment (Lambert, Negash, Stillman, Olmstead, & Fincham, 2012) and less delay discounting (Negash, Sheppard, Lambert, & Fincham, 2016). These effects were interpreted as alleviation of negative effects attributed to pornography use. Not all participants in both studies complied fully with the abstinence protocol, suggesting that some may have relapsed. Notably, findings from the third study (Fernandez, Tee, & Fernandez, 2017) suggest that a short-term self-restraint period could lead to insight about compulsivity in an individual's own patterns of behavior, through observing one's own reactions to abstinence (e.g., cravings/difficulty abstaining or relapses)."
  • "Another aim of the review was to assess the extent to which short term abstinence may have utility as a potential intervention for problematic behaviors. While largely preliminary, findings of the present review suggest that short-term abstinence might have specific benefits for specific problematic behaviors (gaming, social media use, mobile phone use, and pornography use). As a general caveat, it is important to note that positive effects were only observed in studies where abstinence was voluntary in nature. It is possible that any benefits of abstinence may to some extent be contingent on the individual feeling self-directed and in control over the abstinence experience."
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