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.
Our Mamas were right when they told us:
“Do not take drugs !”
Have you ever heard your friend say “I don’t have a problem with drugs, I’m just an “irregular” user of them. It is a matter of time until they switch from irregular to regular or even better until they switch from marijuana to taking amphetamine and cocaine. Drugs can be taken also under medical supervision (people get addicted to them also, more info in the book), but I’m talking about most known and used illegal ones taken for pleasure.(cannabis, cocaine, amfetamines, mdma, heroine, ketamine, lsd, etc.) Drugs overstimulate your brain’s “reward center.” With repeated drug exposure, a certain area of your brain becomes less sensitive and you don’t get the same feeling of pleasure from anything else but the drug. You’ll often need to take larger and larger amounts of drugs to produce the same effect. At the same time, another area of your brain becomes more sensitive to the feelings of withdrawal, such as anxiety and irritability, as the drug effects wear off and you’ll seek drug use for another reason — to get relief from this discomfort. Scientists now think that dopamine’s role isn’t to directly cause euphoria, but serves as a reinforcement for remembering and repeating pleasurable experiences. When drugs cause surges in dopamine, it’s teaching your brain to remember the experience.
I’m going to stop here talking about drugs and dopamine, the message is clear and it’s always been clear: If taken for pleasure, avoid them at all costs.
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.