Addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling, watching porn, playing video games, eating unhealthy foods and using social media which are responsible for high dopamine release are a new norm for our generation.
Are you addicted too ? Let’s find out.
Right from the beginning I’d like to point out that dopamine in it’s core is not bad, it plays a role in many body functions (movement, memory, pleasurable reward and motivation, behavior and cognition, attention, sleep and arousal, mood, learning, lactation). If you have the right balance of dopamine and if you are aware how is it released.
Dopamine is a molecule in the brain and body that is closely linked to our sense of motivation. It can also enhance our depth of focus and lower our threshold for taking action toward specific goals. The simplest way to think about dopamine is that when our dopamine levels are elevated, we tend to focus our attention on outward goals – the things we want – and we feel motivated to pursue them. “Dopamine is about wanting, not about having,” said Dr. Anna Lembke, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the chief of the Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Stanford. If you have a high dopamine level, you might feel: euphoric, energized and a high sex drive. When dopamine levels are low, we feel unmotivated, derive less pleasure from pursuits and feel physically tired. High levels of dopamine caused by drinking, drugs, gambling, watching porn, playing video games, eating unhealthy foods and using social media can trigger dopamine’s excitatory effects. Dopamine is part of our reward system. When you’re doing something pleasurable, your brain releases a large amount of dopamine. You feel good and you seek more of that feeling. This “excitement” motivates us to continue the activity, which can eventually lead to addiction.
Alcohol, the only drug nearly all people tolerate in developed countries. You need to excuse yourself to others when you say you don’t drink, what is rather “interesting”, because the same people will many times say that they would “never”do drugs not realizing that alcohol is also a drug.
I already did an article about drugs but I want to talk about alcohol separately because it is the only drug tolerated to be taken when celebrating, having fun or just chilling by everyone. In many cases it is encouraged.
Alcohol is classified as a Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant, which means that drinking alcohol slows down brain functioning, neural activity, and further reduces the functioning of various vital functions in the body. When someone consumes large quantities of alcohol, specifically more than the body is equipped to process, the result is depressant effects. Some of the many depressant effects from alcohol include: delayed reaction time, cognitive impairments, slurred speech, unsteady gait, poor coordination or lack of motor skills, distorted perceptions, lessened inhibitions, distorted judgment, sedation. Alcohol is also a stimulant, depending on the amount and rate at which the alcohol is consumed. In small quantities, alcohol is more likely to result in stimulatory effects: talkativeness, over-confidence, improvements in mood, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, euphoria. Whether drinking beer, wine, or liquor, the amount used can drastically impact whether the user experiences depressant or stimulant effects. According to a study conducted by Behavioral Neurobiology of Alcohol Addiction, there is a higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, also referred to as alcoholism, in people who experience a greater stimulant response after consuming alcohol. Drinking alcohol stimulates the release of endorphins and dopamine, both of which produce euphoric sensations, such as feelings of pleasure. Individuals who consume alcohol are not aware that alcohol can actually cause physical changes in the brain’s chemistry and functioning, which also plays a major role in the development of alcohol dependence. What may begin as recreational alcohol use can quickly become abuse and can easily transition into an alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence.
Are you addicted to alcohol ? What is AWS ? (sorry, but not an amazon cloud service)
When you suddenly quit drinking, or rapidly reduce the amount you consume, you will experience what is called alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), also known as withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol vary from psychological to physical and may include but are not limited to: hand tremors, or “the shakes”, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, seizures, delirium tremors.
Growing up, my family wasn’t perfect by any stretch of imagination, but I got extremely lucky that my parents didn’t abuse alcohol, I have never seen my parents drunk. My father does not drink alcohol at all, my mother would have a glass of wine sometimes. That was it. When I was a teenager I used to sometimes drink alcohol as a stimulant and to appear “cool”, but you know how it usually ends, I ended up acting like an idiot, not like a cool person. But I never enjoyed drinking alcohol. It didn’t taste good to me and I always hated feeling of losing control over my body and mind while drinking alcohol. (If you’re a teenager reading this, girl or boy, you build confidence by working out, learning, being healthy, trying to figure out what to do with your life by doing stuff that will challenge yourself and by trying to attack your fears, by “doing” not just “talking”, after that, you won’t have an issue with saying “No” if approached by losers who have nothing going for them in their lives, and your confidence will last because you earned it, unlike confidence you get from drinking alcohol or doing other drugs)
Do I drink any alcohol ? If so how often ?
My teenage years are long gone and over the years I developed a superpower, it doesn’t matter to me who invites me for a drink or offers me a beer. (or any other drug for that matter). My response is NO. I can discipline myself, when I say I’m not gonna drink till the end of my life it will be like that. When I say I will have one beer this year and that will be all it will be like that. I avoid drinking liquor completely (hard stuff usually over 40 %) and during past 10 years I’ve had 8 craft beers altogether. We have one 0,33 l bottle of craft beer in our fridge for over a year now, and I don’t feel any urge to touch it. Maybe I will drink it when I will return from a long trail run or sauna dehydrated, maybe it will stay in our fridge untouched forever. It is a no factor to me. (“No factor” is radio jargon, often used in aviation, to mean not a concern/does not require attention)
Alcohol is a tolerated drug by our society and it will probably stay this way for a while. It destroyed fortunes of families, their users and most importantly relationships. Unless you develop this “superpower” as I did, that you can drink “10 beers in 10 years” and that will be it, avoid it completely or suffer and pay. It is your choice.
How to maintain healthy levels of dopamine
We have a baseline of dopamine, and it can spike or drop based on various actions, compounds we ingest or even our thoughts. Our baseline dopamine levels are influenced by many factors, including genetics, behaviors, sleep, nutrition and the level of dopamine you experienced on previous days.
How to establish a healthy level of baseline dopamine and which are healthy ways to release dopamine:
- View early morning sunlight for 10-30 minutes daily, this causes the release of dopamine
- Eat tyrosine-rich foods: a diet rich in tyrosine will sustain your body’s natural dopamine production
- Avoid melatonin supplements, as these can decrease dopamine levels and can disrupt your normal sleep patterns. Melatonin is only recommended for jet lag
- Avoid viewing bright lights between 10 p.m.-4 a.m. This is essential, as it has been shown to activate a brain region called the habenula and drastically reduce the amount of circulating dopamine in your system. If you must view light at these times, make it very dim
- Ingest caffeine (approximately 100-400mg) in the form of coffee, tea or whatever form you prefer. This will cause a mild increase in dopamine but also increases the availability of dopamine receptors, so your body is more sensitive to circulating dopamine. Don’t do this too close to sleep. (See “Fix your sleep” article)
- Exercise every day (whatever you prefer)
- Eat healthy foods
- Meditate (or practice Yin Yoga)
- Cold water exposure ! – cold showers, ice baths = the body responds to cold water by up-regulating feel-good molecules like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine
Be careful and avoid layering too many sources of dopamine. Layering too many dopamine-triggering sources causes a crash afterward, ultimately undermining our longer-term motivation and continued drive.
Take care, talk to you soon.