Dopamine is a natural chemical released by the brain, and it can be a great thing. But it can also lead to nasty spirals like addiction, obesity, and other dopamine-related activities. But, should dopamine addiction be something you need to worry about it?
What is Dopamine?
To begin, let us breakdown what dopamine actually is. Dopamine is a neurochemical (a chemical produced and discharged by the brain) that’s released around activities humans find pleasurable. So, eating food, exercising, sleeping, watching TV – anything we humans might find pleasurable or satisfying, dopamine is released. What dopamine does is make all of these experiences more enjoyable and is part of the reason we choose to do them again and again and again. It’s the reason, even though to begin with it’s painful, people train to run marathons, stuff themselves full of food even though they know they’ll bloat, have lie-ins when their alarms are going off, and binge-watch Netflix series when we’re too sleepy (we’ve all been there for that one). But, while dopamine makes experiences that much better, is it possible to get addicted to it?
While dopamine makes experiences that much greater, studies have been done where people choose dopamine high over and over again, regardless of any detrimental side effects of the so-good feeling.
One of the most powerful inducers of dopamine is drugs, and the reason they’re called addictions is that people become intoxicated by the dopamine rush that the drugs give them. As mentioned above, studies were completed where people chose dopamine highs over and over again, regardless of how dangerous the outcome could be. This is exactly what happens with drugs such a heroin. While everyone knows it’s a dangerous drug, and most stay away, there are those few who don’t listen and find themselves in a dangerous dance with dopamine highs. Even though, after being warned since childhood to avoid drugs, knowing the terrible outcomes, people use it again and again, because of the neurochemical that’s released: dopamine.
So, while dopamine can be a good thing for things such as exercise, to keep you motivated through the training and soreness of muscles, to reach the goal of being fitter and stronger, it can be very dangerous.
Is it a choice?
While we can wish as much as we want for more control over our bodies and their processes, sadly, dopamine highs are not something we can control, or have any choice over. So that means regardless of what it is we enjoy, be it exercising, eating, sleeping, we have no choice as to when the feel-good chemical is released. This is why dopamine is so controversial.
For some people, it’s even worse. From birth, genetic factors determine your dopamine receptors. Those with less active receptors are more likely to form addictions because of how much it increases their dopamine uptake. These people are also more likely to have depression and other conditions associated with intense low moods.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are those with very active dopamine receptors. These lucky people get great amounts of dopamine release when doing anything that’s “feel good”. These are the kinds of people that are the most likely to train hard enough to reach marathon levels and achieve what many other people would find too hard to do, all because of their dopamine release levels.
However, too much dopamine can also be a dangerous thing. Because of the high levels of dopamine released from the smallest of activities, to get a higher dose, they have to do things that will release more. This means that often people with high-dopamine levels do intense activities to get intense highs. This could be anything from extreme fitness to cliff diving. But just like those with low dopamine levels, those with high dopamine levels can become addicted to dangerous activities and again, drugs.
There are people who’ve been trialing a chemical called antidopamine, which can help people with high dopamine levels. What the chemical does is