Do You Need a Dopamine Detox?

Do you feel separation anxiety when you’re away from your phone, tablet, or video game console? Are you feeling flat, bored, depressed, or like you’ve lost your joie de vivre? Do you have low motivation but increased anxious thoughts? If so, these are signs you may need a dopamine detox.

Our brains are releasing a near-constant and overwhelming stream of dopamine, which exhausts the brain’s pleasure centers. Click To Tweet

This is especially true if you’ve been engaging in certain stimulating activities or impulsive behavior, such as too much social media use, shopping, recreational drug taking, or emotional eating, to name a few.

These types of behavior can dramatically increase dopamine levels and exhaust your brain’s pleasures centers. This can cause low motivation, flat mood, anxious feelings, and/or depression. It’s not uncommon in our modern world with access to near-constant stimulation.

Here’s what you need to know about dopamine, reward, pleasure, and how dopamine fasting could help protect your mental wellness.

ABOUT DOPAMINE

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in many important behavioral and physical functions, including motivation, learning, mood, attention, movement, sleep, and more. Often referred to as a “feel good” neurochemical, dopamine is an essential component of your brain’s reward system and pleasure centers.

The brain’s pleasure centers include structures such as:

  • Ventral tegmental area (VTA)
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Caudate nucleus (part of the basal ganglia)
  • Substantia nigra

Dopamine is released when you’re exposed to something that is rewarding and pleasurable. It cues the brain that it should repeat that experience.

This dopaminergic reward system is designed for learning and survival. It helps us to learn about and seek out positive behaviors such as reproduction, food, and comfort that ensure we will survive.

The problem is that today’s fast-paced, pleasure-seeking culture is impacting, and sometimes even exploiting, the brain’s reward system. Our brains are releasing a near-constant and overwhelming stream of dopamine, which exhausts the brain’s pleasure centers.

Activities such as too much text messaging, email, video games, social media, television, online shopping, and multi-screening can have a similar impact on dopamine release as drugs, alcohol, or caffeine. Medical experts estimate that drugs can cause a dopamine hit that is 10 times stronger than with natural rewards!

Too much or too little dopamine can cause mental health conditions. When your brain is exposed to intense stimuli, it can prompt such disorders, leading to behavioral or substance dependence.

Indeed, when dopamine production is excessively high for prolonged periods, the brain’s pleasure centers become less responsive to it. The dopamine “high” stops being as intense as it once was, requiring more stimulus and thus the addictive cycle begins.

For example, social media apps are designed to manipulate the brain’s reward system by triggering a dopamine hit every time you scroll to a new video, hear a notification sound, or see the red message alert. Research proves it. They are literally designed to lock you in!

WHAT IS A DOPAMINE DETOX?

Several years ago, Dr. Cameron Sepah, a researcher and psychiatrist from the University of California, San Francisco, coined the term dopamine detox. The catchy name is a bit of a misnomer though, because a dopamine detox is actually not about detoxing from dopamine.

It focuses on curbing or abstaining from the impulsive behaviors and/or activities that trigger a large surge or dump of dopamine in the brain’s pleasure centers.

The concept of a dopamine detox is rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), according to a review study. Dopamine fasting is also focused on breaking the classic conditioning response that drives an individual to engage in excessive behaviors.

This might mean a dopamine-fasting individual allows themselves to feel uncomfortable, lonely, or bored. They may choose simple activities rather than going for the high-octane ones that deliver a dysregulating dopamine dump.

Ultimately, it’s aimed at targeting problematic habits and restoring some level of control over behaviors that bring pleasure.

Amen Clinics similarly interprets a dopamine detox to mean limiting activities that dramatically increase dopamine or “dump” dopamine, while cultivating behaviors and activities that “drip” dopamine moderately and make you feel good over the long haul.

HOW TO DOPAMINE DETOX

You can do a dopamine detox by abstaining from the technology or behavior that is dumping an overload of dopamine into your brain’s reward centers. Do it for an afternoon, a day, a weekend, or an entire week.

Simply take a break from the intense stimulation and give your brain’s pleasure centers a chance to reset and recalibrate to a higher sensitivity. That way, you will not need as much dopamine to feel good.

Natural, sustaining rewards through behaviors such as conversation with a loved one, taking a walk in nature, reading an insightful spiritual passage, or playing a piece of music will likely be satisfying again. These are dopamine-balancing activities  as they “drip” dopamine moderately and provide a more sustainable feeling of well-being.

To moderate the effects of technology, consider taking mini-breaks during the day. Just 15 minutes away from your digital device or screen can be good for your brain. Consider making some of your rooms tech-free so you can unplug on a regular basis.

DOPAMINE-DUMPING ACTIVITIES TO LIMIT

 Here are a number of dopamine-dumping activities and behaviors to limit:

  • Consuming high-fat/high-sugar food combinations
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Online porn
  • Consuming caffeine
  • Gaming
  • Watching TikTok
  • Thrill seeking (skydiving, motorcycle racing, heli-skiing, running with bulls, etc.)
  • Gambling
  • Shopping
  • Getting into relationships for the “falling in love” feeling

When you fast from these behaviors, you’ll likely feel some discomfort. Stay with it. Journal if you need to.

DOPAMINE-DRIPPING ACTIVITIES TO PRACTICE

In addition to avoiding dopamine-dumping activities, embrace new behaviors that drip dopamine. Behaviors and activities that promote healthy dopamine production and enhance the brain’s pleasure centers without wearing them out include:

  • Regularly engage in exercise
  • Begin every day by thinking of 3 things you’re grateful for
  • Savor quiet pleasure that comes from simple things in your life (picking flowers from the garden, holding hands with your significant other, attending an inspiring lecture, or cooking a delicious meal)
  • Spend time in nature often
  • Meditate
  • Make time to laugh with friends or watching a humorous show
  • Bring together meaningful activities and pleasure, such as volunteering for activities you love
  • Drawing or painting
  • Playing with your pet
  • Yoga
  • Hugging
  • Listening to pleasurable music

Depending on how attached you are to behaviors that dump dopamine, you may need to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional. If you think you may have an addiction, reach out to a professional right away.

Addictions, impulsive beahviors, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

7 Comments »

  1. excellent advice!

    Comment by Doug Morris — November 28, 2023 @ 8:00 PM

  2. are there any supplements or foods that can help with the reset process?

    Comment by Bernie — November 29, 2023 @ 8:16 AM

  3. Excellent list!

    Comment by Mary Cominosd — November 29, 2023 @ 9:06 AM

  4. This is a very helpful article. Please continue to research and focus on the significant health impact that social media, etc., has on the minds of boys and men.

    Comment by Chad Holbrook — November 29, 2023 @ 9:31 AM

  5. Thank you for this article. I found it very helpful.
    Pray to the heavenly father for me to be more focused Amen

    Comment by Paulette — December 1, 2023 @ 6:45 AM

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