How are dopamine and addiction linked? How can fasting help with addiction?
Our brain chemistry is based on the balance of neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and noradrenalin which do play a big role in how we feel. Our neurotransmitters can easily be knocked out of balance leading to addiction, depression and anxiety.
There isn’t and will never be such thing as a happy pill or any compound which can give us all the elements of happiness. The correct balance of neurotransmitters can lead to wonderful experiences like ‘Flow States‘.
In addition different things make different people happy as 50% of our neurological wiring in the brain is the same and the other 50% the wiring depends on life experiences. This means that different things excite, interest and please different people.
Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is involved in what we perceive as enjoyable, but there are other factors. Dopamine is involved pleasure, learning, movement, motivation, addiction and boredom.
Too much dopamine is bad and is linked to psychotic episodes and too little results in Parkinson’s diseases, It is about balance or the ‘goldilocks amount’.
Dopamine and Pleasure
When we do something pleasurable, dopamine is released and our brain learns what that stimulus was and motivates us to do more of it to get more pleasure. Your brain will then prompt you to seek out this enjoyable experience again, which if allowed to go out of control can lead to addiction. Unfortunately your brain can associate all sorts of things with pleasure and some of them are not socially acceptable or healthy.
Cocaine, sugar, exercise, pornography, video games, shopping, sex, gambling, arguing, shouting, getting likes on social media, eating junk food, smoking cigarettes, giving people gifts, helping people, watching sport and extreme sports are some activities which tend to give a good dopamine hit. Not all of these are bad of course, particularly in moderation!
The problems also comes down to dopamine floods and dopamine drips. Activities which create a dopamine flood like a sugar rush, cocaine and the exhilaration of gambling are a big problems as the dopamine receptors get used to the flood so you need more and more to get the same effect. Over time things which you used to find fun or pleasing like having a bath, a cuppa and a laugh with friends or a nice walk become boring, as your brain has become de-sensitised to simple pleasures. This will have an impact on your happiness.
The dopamine pool needs time to refill, so there will be a horrible low while this happens after a dopamine flood. You can’t feel exhilarated or totally amazing all the time, our brain chemistry doesn’t have the capacity or resources.
However, you can feel content and happy most the time if you let the dopamine drip out at a slow steady pace and have the odd dopamine flood now and again for fun.
That was a little bit about some of the biochemistry of happiness and pleasure.
Do you have an addiction or something you feel might turn into one?
Is your habit impacting your relationships or affecting how you function as a human being?
Is it stopping you from doing other things you enjoy?
Are you keeping secrets about how often or how much you are spending on your habit/hobby from friends and family?
Is it making you feel like a bad person ?
Are you rushing home (or staying at home) to have a drink, a joint, go online or play a video game rather than doing something social?
What do if you think you are addicted to something
You do not necessarily need to see a therapist as you can manage things yourself. In general there is the pulling the plaster off in one go or pulling it off gently, but the plaster has to go.
Fasting does not only apply to food. Social media fasts, Netflix fasts, all electronic devices fasts, dry January etc. This will help re-calibrate your dopamine system and overcome the dependence on these activities
Intermittent or prolonged fasting is very helpful for overcoming junk food and sugar addictions as your taste buds and brain will re-sensitise over time and normal food with start to taste amazing again. This is true for other activities, if you do them all the time, they are no longer special as you have become sensitized to your dopamine meaning you need more and more to get the same pleasure.
However, if you do seek therapy, a good therapist wont judge or laugh and could well have been addicted to something themselves. Therapists specialise in different addictions so you can seek out one who specialises or has experience of yours.
Get in touch if you would like some help