How Dopamine Hurts Our Mental Health

How Dopamine Hurts Our Mental Health

It has been revealed that regardless of how much dopamine is loved, it is able to hurt our mental health really badly. Check out the latest reports about the matter below.

Dopamine hurts mental health

Do you find yourself easily distracted by notifications, endless entertainment, and sugary treats? These quick pleasures may seem harmless, but experts warn that they can have negative effects on our brains over time.

By constantly seeking out dopamine hits, we may lose our ability to appreciate life’s simpler pleasures and experience feelings of discontentment and anxiety.

It’s important to be mindful of our consumption habits and prioritize healthy, sustainable sources of happiness.

Resisting the things that feel good

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in our brain, plays a vital role in motivating our actions and facilitates the brain’s reward system, which makes us feel good.

According to Dr. Stephen Gomperts, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School, we rely on our reward system to measure value and find meaning in the world.

He compares it to a thermostat that helps us navigate our decisions to optimize rewards. The more significant the reward, the greater the dopamine release, which in turn brings greater pleasure.

Often, we are not aware of it, but we are constantly chasing the release of dopamine. However, this pursuit can have negative consequences.

The most significant dopamine spikes often come from rewards that undermine our physical and mental health. For example, drugs flood the brain with dopamine, hijacking its reward system.

People addicted to drugs often prioritize drug use over everything else in their lives because the drug’s effects make everyday activities seem less rewarding and meaningful.

This can lead to decision-making that is inconsistent with their previous values, which can put them and their loved ones at risk.

Stimulating the dopamine release and what it does to you

While drug addiction is characterized by significant and destructive spikes in dopamine levels, our society offers many other ways to stimulate dopamine release.

According to Dr. Anna Lembke, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University, even small but consistent dopamine drips can lead to addictive behavior.

This is evident in social media addiction, which can cause dopamine dysfunction similar to that seen in substance abuse, according to research.

Additionally, brain imaging studies have shown that social rewards can trigger dopamine release in the same way that drugs do.

A pilot study conducted in 2015 compared 33 teenagers who were diagnosed with internet addiction to 33 healthy teenagers.

The study revealed that teenagers addicted to the internet had significantly higher levels of dopamine in comparison to the healthy teenagers.

Additionally, the study found that dopamine levels were positively correlated with internet addiction scores and weekly online time.

According to Dr. Lembke, “Based on the neuroscience of addiction, we know that all reinforcing substances and behaviors work on the same final common pathway.” The brain adapts to repeated exposure to highly rewarding stimuli by downregulating dopamine transmission over time.
According to Dr. Lembke, drugs such as heroin or cocaine can lead to a dopamine shortage after the initial high. While the high is intense, it is followed by a significant low. Interestingly, everyday pleasures like caffeine in the morning or binge-watching Netflix at night can have the same effect.

The brain builds up tolerance to dopamine, which can cause the need for increased substance amounts to achieve the same high.

Modern dopamine triggers such as social media, processed foods, and TV can create addictive habits that fuel discontentment, anxiety, and depression.

“What is happening here is they are in a dopamine deficit state—clinically analogous to a deep depression—and they have lost the ability to choose not to use,” she said.

According to a study, social media addiction may be caused by a lack of life skills, such as socializing, resilience, and problem-solving. This finding supports Dr. Lembke’s claim that the balance of pleasure and pain in the brain can be disrupted.

Dr. Lembke notes that one of the most significant discoveries in neuroscience is that pleasure and pain are processed in the same brain region.

The brain aims to balance these signals, but excessive amounts of either can cause the scales to tip, resulting in neurons having to adapt, which can be strenuous for the brain.

Do not overload on dopamine

Throughout history, humans have sought pleasure and avoided pain as a means of survival. However, in today’s world, we have unlimited access to instant pleasures and very little pain. Dr. Lembke emphasizes the importance of curbing pleasurable behaviors to maintain a balance between pleasure and pain.

Overloading on dopamine can lead to addiction, depression, and other conditions that disrupt our pleasure-pain balance.

Americans spend an average of over eight hours a day on digital media and consume highly processed foods, leading to an indulgent lifestyle that clashes with our ancient wiring.

To regain balance, Dr. Lembke suggests abstaining from dopamine-spiking behaviors for at least four weeks so the brain can reset.

Moreover, it is crucial to pursue healthy pain-like exercise and learning, which sustains baseline dopamine rather than causing drastic peaks and plunges.

Rada Mateescu

Passionate about freedom, truth, humanity, and subjects from the science and health-related areas, Rada has been blogging for about ten years, and at Health Thoroughfare, she's covering the latest news on these niches.

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