What Is a Dopamine Detox and Does It Work?
Dopamine Detox. In today’s world, we’re often easily distracted and engaged. Whether we do it consciously or unconsciously, the fact remains: we’re rarely ever alone with our thoughts. There’s always some sort of activity that we “need to do” in order to get that shot of dopamine, helping us relax and getting us into our zone. So, what happens when we remove that factor from our daily routine? That’s what’s nowadays called a dopamine detox. Here’s how it works.
What is a Dopamine Detox?
Dopamine detox, also known as dopamine fasting, is a term coined by Dr. Cameron Sepah, a psychiatrist from California, who derived the method from cognitive behavioral therapy. His method is supposed to help people become less dominated by the constant stimuli such as texts, notifications, emails, etc, in order to give our brains a reset. It involves taking a break from compulsive behaviors such as scrolling through social media, mindlessly binging a Netflix show, gaming, as well as serial podcast listening.
What’s the Point of a Dopamine Detox?
The whole idea behind a dopamine detox lies in the need to spend less time engaged and more time in the “boredom” of day-to-day activities. Taking walks in nature without your headphones on, spending the evening with a book, meditating, cooking…doing all the simple pleasures of life without the need to be distracted by something else or multitasking.
Too many people are becoming addicted to their daily doses of dopamine and it’s beginning to resemble recreational drugs. For some people, it’s almost impossible to get that feeling of relaxation and temporary bliss any other way. How many times did you find yourself in a situation where your evening plans were canceled, and you actually looked forward to spending the night in front of the TV? Probably too many times to count.
That’s why dopamine detox is trying to help you find those same pleasures in doing other, typically mundane things, and, with it, help improve your mental health. Since Dr. Sepah came out with this method, there have been many misconceptions about how dopamine works. As he states himself, the goal was never to deprive the brain of dopamine or lower your pleasure, it’s just supposed to help you identify these impulsive behaviors, and find the best ways to encourage flexible thinking.
Does Dopamine Detox Work?
Your body’s pleasure response is more complex than you think, and it doesn’t only include dopamine. Studies show that the role of dopamine is to tell your brain to repeat a behavior, which gets translated into pleasure. That’s why all addictive behaviors involve high dopamine levels.
Since the dopamine detox can help you identify these unhelpful behaviors, the greatest success comes in the form of acknowledging your situation and finding the best ways to go around it. By learning your brain’s reward pathways and the way it produces dopamine, you’re able to “retrain” your reward system and build new, healthier habits.
Is it Possible to Have Too Much Dopamine?
Dopamine plays an essential role in the human body, especially the brain’s reward system. It can greatly affect one’s mood, motivation, and even overall health and well-being. Dopamine levels are also greatly connected to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, as not having enough dopamine in your system can often lead to negative mental health consequences.
However, the question remains: Can you have too much dopamine in your system? Can your brain produce too much dopamine? According to medical professionals, high levels of dopamine are linked to substance use disorder and schizophrenia, and can often lead to aggression when deprived of the activities and habits that induce a dopamine release.
How to Do a Dopamine Detox?
One of the most common ways to start a dopamine detox is to identify maladaptive behaviors and the negative experiences or feelings that make you want to engage in these activities, and then deliberately engage in another activity.
For instance, if you’ve had a bad day at work and all you’re looking forward to is scrolling on TikTok, put your phone in your pocket and go for a long walk. The goal is to find the same pleasure and release from your walk, so that when these negative experiences or feelings arise in the future, you’ll be able to turn to a more helpful response.
We tend to engage in a variety of unhealthy behaviors, so try to match each one with a healthier alternative (or even a complete opposite) in order to retrain your brain. However, beware of how you approach a dopamine detox, as going “cold turkey” can have a negative effect on your mental health. Doing this without the guidance of a mental health specialist can result in lowered levels of dopamine, social isolation, or a lack of physical activity, so it’s highly encouraged to abstain from doing a dopamine detox on your own.
Will dopamine detox work for you depends on you and you solely. There are plenty of factors in play that will determine whether or not you even need a dopamine detox, let alone how it will affect you. Some people are hardcore wired and need all the help they can get to rewire their brains, while others might be completely fine switching off for a while. Maybe you’ll discover a new skill, find that spending time in nature gives you an even better release than Netflix and chill, or you might increase your social circle and find memorable relationships. You can’t know unless you give it a try.
The naturally occurring dopamine in your system is there for a reason. It’s one of the most important neurotransmitters in the human brain, and it’s supposed to allow you to feel pleasure and satisfaction. When its pathways get stimulated by a variety of today’s unhealthy behaviors, it may be hard to take a step back. That’s why engaging in dopamine detoxes might help, encouraging you to transform your negative habits into healthy activities and allowing your brain to maintain healthy dopamine levels without the need for your usual “fixes.”