This chemical is certainly something you are familiar with, at least the affects of, even if you don’t know it by name. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for the “feel good” sensation in your brain, and is triggered by any type of reward or pleasure. Even anticipation of a reward can be enough to have this chemical shot into your brain.
As part of our ancient hardware operating system, this chemical is released to encourage certain behavior patterns. Whether it be finding a good source of quick energy foods (like honey) as a hunter/gatherer or in today’s world, getting that vibration on your phone for a text message or looking at things on Social Media. Your brain craves this chemical feeling, and so this in and of itself reinforces the consistent (constant) indulging of whatever you are deriving pleasure from. As you can imagine, this gets out of hand quickly in some cases, and is responsible for addictions of all sorts. From smoking and drinking, food, drugs, porn, sex, many anti-social behaviors like theft and other law breaking endeavors, each of these is triggering the release of dopamine. THIS is what you are actually addicted to, not necessarily the action/activity itself.
For the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on the dopamine traps of today versus throughout mankind’s history. The problem with the technology we live with providing the hit of dopamine we all crave is why we quickly become dopamine addicts. It is the most addictive chemical available. It is the pleasure source in the brain; it is not the drug or the food itself like you may assume. Eating a doughnut or surfing through Pornhub is the mechanism for dopamine, but the source is internal. That is actually good news, as it puts the control of this back in your hands directly. You are likely so used to the effects of this that you don’t even notice it any longer. You used to get that feeling when a text message or social media notification went off on your phone, but now it happens nearly constantly so the awareness of this has long gone unnoticed. And the need for that dopamine hit has increased.
We have been coerced into action, purchases, consumption, and indulging in all sorts of activities to achieve the feel-good rewards of dopamine. Some prefer retail therapy, others elicit activities, but either way, your brain is pickling itself in dopamine if you allow it to. You need to take control over this, as it can lead to a lot of bad habits and consequences. Social media fills a void by seemingly “connecting you” to the masses, but we all know these interactions are empty and shallow. One “bad” post and many of your “friends” and “followers” will block you or leave you in a blink. Those are not friends; real friends will be there through thick and thin. Despite our society and technology progressing so far in the past one hundred years, we as humans still have the same operating software from thousands of years ago. Part of this is real, direct social connection and technology does not do a good job of fulfilling those needs.
The real dilemma with this highly addictive chemical is that it influences your behaviors, many of which are bad. SOME of the things you do that are good, like helping others, cuddling with your spouse, etc. are the “proper” source of dopamine. They reinforce actions that are good for you mentally and physically. But there are easy substitutes for these good actions, and that is where monitoring this becomes critical. I am not advocating against eating doughnuts or watching porn, but it is how you manage these vices that matters.
Everything in moderation.
If you are overweight and hanging out in the doughnut shop versus going to the gym…not good. If you spend so much time watching porn that it diminishes your desire for intimacy with your partner, that is very bad, for both of you. I think the reasons for that are quite clear, so I will leave it there.
The constant drip of the potent cocktail of adrenaline, dopamine, anger and distraction that social media provides to the world is having some really negative affects. Add in video games, fast food and binge-watching and you have the perfect recipe for everyone to be drunk on dopamine most of the time. This makes it seem like we are in less need for real human interaction such as spending time with friends or helping others, and allows the lazy approach of self-supplied hits of dopamine to fill the void. While the temporary affects may have achieved the desired results, the long term affects are becoming more and more evident. Just look at the pre-teens and teenagers these days; they are struggling with increasing depression, isolation and even suicide. They are trapped in a world that has never shown them an alternative way to live. They have grown up with their face in their phones as a primary source of entertainment and social connection in their lives. At least older generations had a “before” to refer back to during their lifetime as a frame of reference.
I, like everyone else, falls victim to these same traps. One of my vices is sugar; delicious, delightful, bubbly and sweet sodas, sugary breakfast cereals, and CHOCOLATE! You name it, and I probably like it. I am not much of a drinker, and could never drink a drop of alcohol again and not care, but take away my access to sugar and I am going to suffer from some serious withdrawals. Now, that said, I do control my intake of this. I know that processed sugar is terrible for the body and brain, and I live accordingly. I indulge in it lightly, in controlled doses. I know that if I eat a big bowl of sugary cereal before I go to bed, I will lay there twitching for an hour or more a my body tries to filter that through the system. It affects my sleep patterns as well as giving me that “hang-over” feeling in the morning. I think I am less edgy/angry when I don’t consume too much sugar in a day’s time. I want as few bad days as possible, and monitoring things like this make a big difference. The short term mouthfeel and pleasure do not outweigh the longer term affects.
When it comes to social media, as I have professed for a while now:
I have access to Social Media, it does not have access to me….
I preach this all the time, for a myriad of reasons. Focus, productivity, “noise” reduction, it lessens my general anxiety, etc. I do not have ANY notifications on my phone other than text messages and my email. That’s it. When I CHOOSE, I will hop onto Twitter or Instagram and scroll through the blatherings and musings of others. If I really want to turn my brain off for a bit, TikTok it is. But these things all have time limits, and never within an hour of bedtime. I sleep better when I don’t indulge in this particular vice right before its time to sleep.
My suggestion to you is to look at the dopamine sources in your life and learn how to manage them effectively. You will be MUCH BETTER for it, believe me. You will experience less anxiety, you’ll sleep and recover better, and you’ll be more productive in general as well. The world is a big, beautiful place, and there are lots of people out there to meet and talk with. I have learned more about life and the world by doing this than I ever did in school. Don’t miss out on your chance to do the same.
I wish you luck in your endeavors, and breaking free from your own prisons.