Is Dopamine Detox a Thing?

Tuesday. President Biden will deliver his State of the Union address tonight. If you want to play a Daily Tonic-approved drinking game, take one sip of kombucha every time you hear “Build Back Better.” Here is our take on the state of our union – our health is declining, and the system responsible for keeping us healthy isn’t doing us any favors. Moving on to today’s topic. What is a dopamine detox, and should you give it a try? Let’s dive in.

Detox That Dopamine 

Dunkin’ Donuts, Best Buy, LuluLemon, Backstreet Boys, Spongebob Squarepants – for whatever reason, everyone loves alterations. They are catchy, fun, and just roll off the tongue. No wonder dopamine detox is the latest thing gaining momentum in some health circles. 

But can you detox from a substance naturally produced by your brain? Technically no. You cannot detox from dopamine, but that hasn’t stopped the concept from becoming a popular wellness fad. That said, there is some merit to the idea that is worth exploring. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is a part of your brain’s reward pathways. When you do something perceived as pleasurable, dopamine is responsible for cueing the brain that it should repeat that experience. Throughout human history, dopamine has been essential to our learning and survival. There was a point in our evolution when dopamine helped us learn about positive behaviors like reproduction, food, and comfort.

However, in the modern world, dopamine is often influenced by choices that aren’t always the most positive behaviors. The use of alcohol, caffeine, sugar, video games, pornography, and recreational drugs trigger dopamine releases, reinforcing behaviors that are no longer necessary for survival and could negatively impact our health. 

We know that we are more likely to engage in a behavior if it is pleasurable and capable of producing dopamine. So by identifying the triggers and habits that are not serving us well and replacing them with healthier behaviors, we could short-circuit the dopamine feedback loop that makes these things so addictive. To some extent, you are trying to get in front of the dopamine release that would tell your brain to repeat the habit you are trying to break. 

For example, if you wake up and checking your email or social media is one of the first things you do, it might be helpful to set up a screen time block that doesn’t allow you to open those Apps until later in the day. Then, you’ll want to replace checking your phone with a healthier habit during that time, like five minutes of light movement or stretching, 

Over time, repeating the healthy habit could help rewire the dopamine response that previously pushed you to want to check your phone first thing in the morning. This same approach of dopamine restriction could help break classic conditioning responses that contribute to unhelpful habits like gaming, excessive snacking, and drinking. 

Gaming disorder, internet addiction disorder, and alcoholism are all serious conditions that may require the support of a licensed healthcare professional. However, for most of us, these behaviors are still just dopamine-fueled bad habits that we could break with a little planning and discipline. 

The key takeaway? While you may not be able to detox from a naturally occurring substance in your body, there is something to be said about minimizing the behaviors that release dopamine today. We used to rely on dopamine to tell us what foods to eat and what we should do to survive, but in the modern world, dopamine is not as helpful as it used to be. 

So quit checking your email first thing in the morning unless you are checking to read the Daily Tonic. Then, we can make an exception.

What do you think?

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