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.
“I feel tremendous guilt,” admitted Chamath Palihapitiya, former Vice President of User Growth at Facebook, to an audience of Stanford students. He was responding to a question about his involvement in exploiting consumer behavior. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works”.
An issue with social media is similar to Porn. Their availability is 24/7, and together with our “smart” gadgets they are turning us into walking zombies. When they first became global and everyone wanted to use them, I did as well. But very soon I realized how they rip me off my free time, how they cause a weird “fear of missing out”, how I sometimes feel depressed by looking at other people’s amazing lives while knowing that it is all a falacy. It is not real. That’s why I deleted all my social media accounts long time ago even before I knew what dopamine is. It would be great if we used social media to follow people who spread knowledge, give you ideas how to change your life for the better. The reality is that social media are the biggest “time killer” ever invented. It is an awesome place for marketers, manipulators and corporations to promote their products by “fake influencers” while using smart algorithms that make you look at the screen more. It’s all been figured out long time ago, how people react to which product, colour, behaviour of people promoting their products and all psychology behind it. (I will go deep into this topic in series about Consumerism). The idea that social media are here to connect might be the biggest stupidity I ever heard. While they are here to “connect us”, people feel more disconnected than ever. We need to meet in person and interact with each other, there is no way around it. I would like to talk to one special group called “men”. You might have discovered that most of the social media are pretty women promoting products. By doing actually nothing at all but ripping you of your free time and making them rich. Do you even realize that while there are female doctors who had to work extremely hard to be able to do their profession, at the same time some pretty useless hot girl on social media who takes photos while lying on the beach earns 10 times doctor’s salary. How sick is that ? You might think it is funny and cool, but it is slowly creating a big issue all over the developed countries, young people are not that motivated to work hard, study and learn difficult things, why would they ? They see that not hard work creates fortunes but being able to sell your soul online does. As it is mainly men’s problem, please, stop being a loser and stop following all your online “queens”. I assume you have a daily job or your own business that requiers you to work to make money. But you do not mind that someone makes sometimes 100 times your salary by stealing your free time and making you addicted to dopamine release ? Come on. You can do better.
Back to the science
About 73% of people claim to experience this unique flavor of anxiety. Studies are beginning to show links between smartphone usage and increased levels of anxiety and depression, poor sleep quality, and increased risk of car injury or death.
Be careful when pointing your fingers on a drug addict doing cocaine !
Although not as intense as hit of cocaine, positive social stimuli will similarly result in a release of dopamine, reinforcing whatever behavior preceded it. Rewarding social stimuli -laughing faces, positive recognition by our peers, messages from loved ones—activate the same dopaminergic reward pathways. Smartphones have provided us with a virtually unlimited supply of social stimuli, both positive and negative. Every notification, whether it’s a text message, a “like” on Instagram, or a Facebook notification, has the potential to be a positive social stimulus and dopamine influx.
How come you never get tired of social media ?
Research in reward learning and addiction have recently focused on a feature of our dopamine neurons called reward prediction error (RPE) encoding. Many apps implement a reward pattern optimized to keep you engaged as much as possible. Variable reward schedules were introduced by psychologist B.F. Skinner in the 1930’s. In his experiments, he found that mice respond most frequently to reward-associated stimuli when the reward was administered after a varying number of responses, precluding the animal’s ability to predict when they would be rewarded. Humans are no different; if we perceive a reward to be delivered at random, and if checking for the reward comes at little cost, we end up checking habitually (e.g. gambling addiction). If you pay attention, you might find yourself checking your phone at the slightest feeling of boredom, purely out of habit. Consider Instagram’s implementation of a variable-ratio reward schedule. As explained in this 60 Minutes interview, Instagram’s notification algorithms will sometimes withhold “likes” on your photos to deliver them in larger bursts. So when you make your post, you may be disappointed to find less responses than you expected, only to receive them in a larger bunch later on. Your dopamine centers have been primed by those initial negative outcomes to respond robustly to the sudden influx of social appraisal. This use of a variable reward schedule takes advantage of our dopamine-driven desire for social validation, and it optimizes the balance of negative and positive feedback signals until we’ve become habitual users.
I do not think that there is anyone in the world who can be fully active on social media and discipline hereself/himself not to get addicted to it. Social media are made to make us addicted to them. If you have to use them for example as a business owner, you’ll need to be aware of your behaviour and watch your time spent on them. I’m not a hypocrite, having no social media presence for your business might be “a suicide” for it, but do you really spend your time on social media only for doing business and learning ?…
How do I use social media ?
There are information from doctors, scientists, teachers from all over the world online available to us and mostly for free. This is simply amazing. I also use social media for learning how things can be repaired, built or similar. I love that you can search on youtube and video pops up instantly. But my list ends here. No wasting time on social media allowed. If you are not searching for particular information that you wanted to learn, fix, build or similar, you are wasting your time and you’re probably looking for that “like” giving you pleasure by releasing dopamine.
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.