If we go by an addiction expert’s book, “Dopamine Nation”, everybody could be an addict. The book describes an addiction spectrum that anybody could fall into because all our brains are wired to process pleasure and pain in the same way.
It all starts with Dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical, that triggers everybody’s pleasure-seeking reflexes. Turning to something that’s a guilty pleasure can give us some needed stress relief but it could also lead to harmful tendencies. How can we make the most of dopamine without damaging our mental health?
Getting To Know Dopamine Up Close
Dopamine is nothing to be afraid of. Without it, life would be well – lifeless. We get short bursts of these pleasure hormones every day just from normal activities like being with friends or pursuing our passion.
This brain chemical keeps us focused and lets us enjoy experiences so that we can thrive. The way dopamine works is much like how a person talks to another person to send a message. Normal levels mean you’re talking softly, while a dopamine overload is like shouting at a speaker.
Different things can increase dopamine in different ways. When people feel upset, sometimes they cope by seeking more intense pleasurable activities. What’s the difference between a harmless guilty pleasure and a destructive one?
Addiction expert Dr. Anne Lembke says you can get 50% more dopamine by eating chocolates. Sex ramps it up to 100%, while smoking sends you to overdrive with 150%. If we go into substance abuse, amphetamines give you a 1000% boost.
Everyday activities that we enjoy give us just enough happy levels so that we can come back down to a neutral state without feeling hungover. Compensating with something stronger is the problem, because going back to “homeostasis” or feeling balanced, will be a struggle. You’ll feel demotivated or not even enjoy normal things that used to give you pleasure.
Should You Do a Dopamine Detox?
Today, excessive dopamine stimulation comes to us in the form of digital addiction. Even before the pandemic, studies show growing concerns about everybody’s screen obsession.
One simple approach that Dr. Lembke recommends to her patients is to do dopamine fast. Sometimes it can be in the form of a digital detox. When you start hiding that phone away in a drawer, even just for a day, there’s a chance that your mind can reset. It’s not a magic solution but it’s like wiping your slate clean so that you can set the stage for feeling better.
If you feel constantly hyped and exhausted, it may be time to dial things down on simple guilty pleasures so you can get your balance back. That can mean better sleep and appreciating good food again. It can also help you creatively look for more natural highs that let you feel more inspired than drained afterward.
Healing Addictive Behavior
In Addictive Spectrum, author Dr. Paul Thomas also recommends having an environment and support that doesn’t enable your triggers. From doing a digital detox, you can tackle other undesirable habits that have been making your life less pleasant.
Parents can look into enforcing less screen time for the family and replacing them with equally rewarding bonding activities. Or if you are a compulsive shopper you could try volunteering or giving away excessive purchases to give you a similar satisfaction.
More importantly, healing addiction stems from resolving hurts and trauma that cause you stress in the first place. Doing something concrete about what’s bothering can end that compulsive streak. Talk to somebody you trust to get some release. If it’s something worrying, get professional help. Do baby steps if you must – the main thing is to get your balance back.
While there’s a stigma about extreme drug addiction treatment, everybody deserves to get the help they need to feel better.
Making Dopamine Work For You
Dopamine is a beautifully designed tool that points us to what makes life worthwhile. We need it to feel joy. Are you brave enough to find out what’s truly rewarding? It could mean the difference between misery and thriving existence.
Doing things to clear your mind like a digital detox can be a start, but it’s not the only solution. It may be time to discover the things that make you truly alive – without risking your mental health.
Just remember that everything is about balance. The highest high can bring the lowest low. So how you soothe and heal yourself, even in the smallest ways, makes a huge impact on your well-being.