The Dopamine Dilemma

Reclaiming your power from the hormonal response that leads to addiction and depression

Your brain is incredible. It is also an addict, largely.


Dopamine, with it's claim to fame as the "feel good" neurotransmitter of the brain, affects many aspects of behavior, including learning and motivation. It's also strongly associated with pleasure and reward; though, not to make it seem too simple, because dopamine is one complex circuit creator, majorly contributing to motor function and decision making as well.


Dopamine is released anytime your body is expecting a reward. Which, if you're an advocate of expanding your awareness, you'll know happens nearly constantly, really. And, to clarify, dopamine does not create happiness, it merely helps to reinforce enjoyable behaviors and sensations.


Activities are associated with pleasure, compliments are associated with pleasure, completing a task, being near loved ones, the food you eat, the movies you watch...all signal the release of dopamine.


Anytime something new and exciting, on any level of the spectrum, comes to mind, the brain provides a swift hit of dopamine. For instance, each time you pick up your phone to check on the amount of likes you receive on an Instagram post; which, at least in large part, explains the addiction to our phones and social media.

Motivation, reward, reinforcement via dopamine, which can help you to feel motivated, alert, focused, happy, and even euphoric.


Too much dopamine can lead to mania and delusions. On the other hand, low levels of dopamine can lead to feelings of reduced alertness, difficulty concentrating, decreased motivation and enthusiasm, poor coordination and difficulties moving smoothly and efficiently (back to those innate motor skills).


The dopamine predicament

The challenge with the associated motivation-reward-reinforcement cycle of dopamine is that once you get what you're desiring, dopamine turns off. Like a light switch, it goes.


As a result, you end up feeling less and less satisfied, which can lead to a feeling of emptiness, only leading you to crave more, chasing after a false sense of happiness with even greater abandon.


This knowledge has caused dopamine to be deemed the “the molecule of more” because of its impact on fueling desires.


Of course, most anything in moderation can be a-ok. The problem arises when those things become addictive to the point that dopamine levels are overstimulated; your baseline level of happiness and joy go up, and at this point, you need even more of those dopamine hits in order to feel a sense of pleasure.

And then things get messy. Though it's usually internally-contained so you end up being the one cleaning it up. The best task when your vibration is low, right? Yeah, wrong.


To clarify, it is not dopamine that people become addicted to, but the activity, person, situation, etc. that triggers the dopamine response.


The dopamine detox

The most efficient way to reset the mind is a dopamine detox, which will help cultivate and bring back to homeostasis your "here and now" transmitters (serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin, and GABA), allowing you to more simply enjoy the present moment, experience beneficial connection, and reclaim peace with yourself - not needing external fulfilment and instant gratification.


Those “here and now” neurotransmitters are tapped into by removing behaviors that are proving to cause issues in your life...which you'll only be aware of by invoking the practice of self-honesty *nudge nudge*.


One you've chosen one of those items of focus for the motivation-reward-reinforcement loop, it's time to dedicate yourself to providing your mind a little rest, allow your baseline to return to a normal level.

There are some studies that support going on a 3-day detox from technology as a means to a dopamine detox. However, as the rebellion-loving human beings that we are, that can easily lead to further over-indulgence and bingeing if you aren't in an internal space to honor and invite such focus on the present, away from constant technological distraction.


I suggest starting by minimizing your distractions. That, of course, means first being truthful with yourself and paying attention to what the personal sources of your dopamine hits are in your life.


RELATED: Habits and the Power of Incremental Change


While you can’t be addicted dopamine, it does play an important role in motivating you to seek out pleasurable experiences. And, duh, not all pleasurable experiences are "bad". I'm not here to be the fun police.


I am here inviting you to pay attention to where you focus goes and why. To pay attention to how external forces and stimulations make you feel. And to be honest with yourself in regards to whether or not it is healthy for you and in alignment with your goals for yourself and your wellness.


Reflect away, I say!



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