What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a brain chemical. Dopamine is a chemical that sends signals inside your brains. Dopamine is part of your brain's pleasure and reward system which includes your motivation, memory, and emotions. Dopamine is sometimes called the "feel good" or "pleasure" hormone. Other feel good chemicals include serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.
What is a dopamine hit?
A dopamine hit is when you experience something that you want and your brain releases dopamine. When your brain released dopamine, you feel good. When this happens, you connect the experience with the feeling of pleasure.
Common activities that trigger a release of dopamine include: Sex, food, exercise, music, caffeine, drugs, alcohol, completing work, talking to a friend, unexpected surprises, playing video games, watching a show/movie, social media, and accomplishing a task. Many activities in life can give you a dopamine hit.
Many people chase the activity that they hope will result in a dopamine hit. They look forward to both the activity and the pleasure that follows. There is an anticipation, a looking forward to, and a longing for that dopamine hit. Once they are able to achieve a dopamine hit, the feeling is often described as: a high, a release, euphoric, numbing, an escape, taking the edge off the pressure, stress, and worries of life. Some describe dopamine hits disconnecting from the burdens of life. It is a pleasurable and powerful experience.
What is dopamine hit addiction?
Technically, we cannot be physiologically addicted to dopamine. Dopamine occurs naturally in our bodies. But we can develop a dopamine hit addiction with any activity that increases our dopamine levels. By definition, an addiction is, 1) An activity that you can't stop doing even though you are trying to stop, 2) It's causing problems in your life, and 3) You've built a tolerance to the activity, which means that you need more of the activity to achieve the same desired effect. Behavioral addictions are real, and dopamine hits have a role in causing addiction.
A dopamine hit addiction causes you to compulsively chase after the rush and the pleasure of dopamine. This may look like compulsively needing to work, play video games, exercise, gamble, or be on your phone. It's why we are on our phone so much. Doing the compulsive activity triggers the release of dopamine, which results in you feeling good. This pattern becomes such a big part of your life that it starts to cause problems in your life.
Dopamine hits becomes an addiction when you spend too much time pursuing these behaviors to the neglect of other responsibilities in your life. You feel like you have to engage in the behavior just to feel normal. The activity is taking too much time in your life , and it gets to the point where you are neglecting other areas in your life. Dopamine hit addiction has consequences. It is this inability to stop the behavior despite the negative consequences that make these dopamine hits an addiction.
For example, dopamine hits can lead to sex addiction. Because sex makes us feel good, we may seek sex out in ways that are not safe or that have consequences.
Another example is: Dopamine hits can lead to eating disorders. When your relationship with food is more about feeling good than being healthy, it becomes a problem.
Alcohol and drug use is one of the most straightforward ways that dopamine hits leads to addiction.
Work, shopping, exercise, video games, social activity, social media, pursuing your goals, this list could go on and on. Any activity, when they become an obsession, can lead to a dopamine hit addiction because of their nature of feeling good when we do them. Yes, we enjoy pleasurable experiences, but we don't want to become addicted to that activity. We want to maintain our agency, our ability to choose how to act and live. We need to have the self-control to stop.
How to treat dopamine hit addiction
If your dopamine hit addiction is causing problems, compulsion, and tolerance, here are some ways to intervene:
1. Dopamine detox.
Make a commitment to stop the activity that you are addicted to in your life. Develop a list of self-care activities and coping skills to engage with to replace the addiction in your life. You may need to reach out to your support system for accountability.
2. Set boundaries.
Too much of a good thing can spiral into an addiction. Set reasonable boundaries. Make healthy work out plans. Meal plan. Implement time and task management to organize your daily and weekly life so you can account for how you spend your time. Budget your money. Set specific times for technology. Set a specific time to turn off devices at the end of the day. Keep a regular sleep schedule. Put limits around the activity that you are having problems with. Keep it in moderation. Don't let it run your life.
Build relaxation into your daily routines. Stretch. Do yoga. Simply sit still for a few minutes. Practice mindfulness. Instead of being driven 24/7 by the chase for and the high of dopamine, develop a lifestyle where you are able to pause and be still.
Contentment is being thankful for what you have. Practice contentment so that it's a part of your mindset and attitude. "I have everything I want." "I am content."
Take the time to self-reflect, to evaluate, to be aware. Dopamine hit addiction may be affecting you without your awareness. Develop the routine of checking in with yourself. How you are living your life. What am I doing? Why am I doing what I'm doing?