Dopamine detox is a concept that has gained momentum in recent years. It’s a concept that describes taking a break from activities that release dopamine, like social media, video games, recreational drugs, or other compulsive behaviors which invoke a dopamine response activate our brain’s reward system.
The article covers dopamine and explains the dopamine detox concept and the prevalent misconceptions surrounding it. It highlights practices from the concept that can be used to achieve mental well-being. It also provides an overview of well-researched techniques that can improve mental well-being.
All About Dopamine
Dopamine is a specific type of monoamine neurotransmitter that is found naturally in the brain. It functions in several ways, such as a chemical messenger, transmitting messages between nerve cells within your brain and the rest of the body. Dopamine plays many critical roles, such as:
- Initiating actions
- Controlling movement
- Regulating emotion and behavior
- Facilitating learning
- Sleep and arousal
Naturally occurring dopamine is important for many bodily functions. It can act as a vasodilator in small doses, causing blood vessels to relax, or work as a vasoconstrictor in large amounts, causing blood vessels to constrict.
Dopamine also functions as a hormone (catecholamines), produced by the adrenal gland (a small gland located at the top of each kidney), and releases dopamine into the bloodstream. Dopamine is involved in the body’s “fight or flight” response. This refers to the body’s ability to respond to real or perceived threats, like fleeing danger.
Dopamine enhances sodium elimination (salt and urine) from the body. It decreases insulin production in the pancreas, slows GI content movement, protects the GI lining, and reduces lymphocyte activity in the immune system. Dopamine also functions as a neurohormone; the hypothalamus in your brain also releases dopamine. It is the “feel-good” hormone because it is responsible for feeling happy or experiencing pleasure. It is part of the brain’s reward system, which plays a role in human evolution. It rewards people for doing things needed for survival, like eating, drinking, and reproducing.
The human brain naturally pursues activities that activate dopamine release in our reward center. Engaging in pleasurable actions triggers a dopamine surge in the brain’s reward pathways. This leads to happiness and a desire for more of that enjoyable experience. This explains the addictive nature of junk food and sugar, as they stimulate the brain to release a substantial amount of dopamine, creating a pleasurable sensation and reinforcing the addictive behaviors.
When we have the right balance of dopamine, we feel alert, focused, motivated, and happy. However, when the levels are lower, we may feel unhappy, unmotivated, and tired and experience mood swings or trouble remembering things. People experiencing high amounts of dopamine might experience increased energy, euphoria, and sexual drive but may have problems with aggression, controlling impulses, or sleeping.
How to do a Dopamine Detox
So, what is a dopamine detox? Dopamine fasting is a concept first introduced by neuroscientist Dr. Christopher Sepah, but it wasn’t really about fasting. While his theory has not been studied or peer-reviewed, his intention was to create a technique inspired by cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce our reliance on dopamine triggers such as:
- Heavy internet use
- Emotional eating
- Excessive porn/masturbation
- Use of recreational drugs
Sepah’s work aimed to help individuals regain control of their lives, minimize the negative impact of modern technology, and limit addictive or problematic behaviors by engaging in healthier activities instead.
Dopamine Detox Misconceptions
As we learned earlier, dopamine is a neurotransmitter within the human body, playing a crucial role in various functions such as reward, motivation, learning, and pleasure.
Although dopamine levels increase in response to rewarding experiences or pleasurable activities, it is essential to note that they do not decrease when one consciously avoids overstimulation. Therefore, partaking in a so-called “dopamine detoxes” does not actually reduce dopamine levels.
Dopamine fasting and dopamine detox do not result in decreasing dopamine levels. Instead, the essence of dopamine fasting and detox lies in restraining impulsive behaviors amplified by dopamine effects. In essence, it’s not the dopamine itself that is being “fasted” from, but rather the impulsive tendencies that dopamine-fueled behaviors can foster.
Our society is full of things designed to give our bodies a hit of dopamine, and mental health around the nation suffers for that reason. Responding to recurring external stimuli, such as constant notifications on a smartphone, can become conditioned signals just as addictive as novelty-seeking recreational drugs. Dr. Sepah explains that these conditioned signals teach us to anticipate a reward and encompass negative reinforcement (relieving negative emotions) or positive reinforcement (encountering something new).
Sepah explains that this “double reinforcement” process can contribute to impulsive or addictive actions. Feelings such as boredom, anxiety, anger, sadness, or loneliness prompt the pursuit of these cutes to relieve negative emotions and offer enjoyable diversions.
Benefits of Dopamine Detox
So, while no silver bullet will instantly solve many of life’s problems or cure addiction, several “dopamine detoxing” practices can benefit our mental health and guide us toward healthier habits. First, it provides insights into human behavior and addiction.
By understanding the role that dopamine plays in pleasure-seeking and reward-seeking behavior, people can make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices and develop more effective strategies for managing their dopamine levels, such as limiting screen time, social media use, and eating processed foods and implementing healthy activities such as prioritizing self-care and incorporating regular exercise can help individuals achieve a better sense of balance in their dopamine levels.
This improves moods, productivity, and an improved ability to handle stress. Second, we can adapt to these ingrained automatic behaviors by limiting external triggers. This technique is rooted in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), known as “stimulus control.”
Sepah explains that this can be achieved by doing the following:
- Moving the stimulus, like your smartphone, further away makes it difficult to access.
- Participate in a different activity that contradicts the trigger, like going for a vigorous run if you are trying to manage stress eating.
- Utilizing software that blocks website access or relies on social accountability to avoid bypassing restrictions.
Another CBT technique, “exposure and response prevention,” can help expose us to the negative emotions that serve as internal stimuli and, over time, weaken the cycle of classical conditioning (habituation) and help restore behavioral flexibility.
If someone is researching ‘dopamine detox,’ it likely means they have experienced the harmful effects of our highly stimulating society. They may feel overwhelmed, addicted, or unsatisfied with everyday activities. Instead of focusing on a detox, exploring well-researched techniques that improve mental well-being, such as holistic-based strategies, psychiatric medications, and cutting-edge treatments, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy (TMS), may be more beneficial. Let’s review these in a little more detail.
While often individuals may require other treatment options, or a combination of options, holistic-based strategies, play an essential role in improving mental health and are generally easy to incorporate into everyday life, including the following:
One effective strategy for improving mental health is regular exercise. After physical activity, exercise lowers the levels of two stress hormones, cortisol, and epinephrine. Regular exercise can reduce stress, increase energy levels, and improve memory and overall mental health.
Healthy diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids (found in foods like fish, chia seeds, and walnuts), B vitamins (found in eggs, legumes, and whole grains), and magnesium can boost dopamine production and improve mood. There is also evidence that a diet rich in tyrosine increases dopamine levels and may improve memory and mental performance. Poultry, dairy, avocados, bananas, pumpkin, and sesame seeds, and soy are all high in tyrosine.
Another essential aspect of mental health is practicing self-care and prioritizing well-being. Engaging in activities that bring you joy, such as spending time with loved ones, practicing hobbies, and engaging in self-care rituals, can help boost dopamine levels and reduce stress. Additionally, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and seeking professional help when needed are all strategies that can contribute to improved mental health.
In some cases, psychiatric medications prescribed by a qualified healthcare professional may be necessary to manage mental health conditions. These medications can regulate neurotransmitter levels and alleviate symptoms.
- Antidepressants: There are several different types of antidepressants, but two of the most commonly prescribed classes are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs).
- Antianxiety medications: SSRIs and SNRIs are also commonly used to treat anxiety, but several other types of anxiety medications may be used, such as benzodiazepines and beta-blockers.
- Antipsychotic medications: Antipsychotics, such as typical and atypical antipsychotics, treat psychotic disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They can lessen or alleviate symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking.
- Mood stabilizers: These medications are used to manage mood swings and stabilize mood in conditions like bipolar disorder. Lithium is a commonly prescribed mood stabilizer, but other options exist, such as anticonvulsant medications.
- Stimulants: Stimulant medications are typically prescribed to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. They can increase focus, attention, and alertness. Examples of stimulant medications include methylphenidate and amphetamines.
- NMDA Antagonists: Spravato is a nasal spray medication that contains esketamine, a derivative of ketamine. It has been approved for treating treatment-resistant depression and can provide rapid relief for some individuals. Ketamine has been shown to strengthen the connection between two regions of the brain involved in producing and controlling dopamine.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy
TMS therapy is a non-invasive procedure involving magnetic fields to stimulate specific areas in the brain. It has been approved for treating depression and shows promising results in improving symptoms.
It’s important to note that these techniques should be approached in consultation with mental health professionals. They can develop comprehensive strategies and provide personalized guidance to improve psychological well-being. While a dopamine detox may not be supported by scientific evidence, exploring evidence-based techniques can help individuals feel better and improve their overall mental health.
Contact Neuro Wellness Spa today and embark on a journey of personalized care and transformative treatment options for enhancing your mental health and overall well-being. Our committed team is ready to guide you toward treatment and strategies aimed at your individual needs and preferences. Take the first step towards a healthier mind and happier life. Reach out now to schedule a consultation and start your wellness journey.
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