Dopamine Detox; Everything You Need to Know
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Dopamine fasting first gained notoriety amongst Silicon Valley entrepreneurs trying to supercharge their productivity and output. Since then, it has earned the interest of regular people who feel that their relationship with junk food, their phones, or anything that causes a distraction has become a problem.
The underlying idea of a dopamine detox is that if you cut out any pleasurable activity that has become compulsive, your dopamine levels will rescind back to the level they were before the behaviour became addictive, resetting your relationship with it.
Regaining control over unhealthy behaviour is obviously a worthy pursuit, but is a dopamine detox the way to do this, or is it an oversimplification of how our brains work and a massive waste of time?
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What Is a Dopamine Detox?
The dopamine detox was created in response to the rise in new technology that rewards compulsive behaviours. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and the general internet are all designed to keep us interested by stimulating our dopamine levels through positive feedback loops.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that feeds our dopamine receptors, creating a feeling of satisfaction and happiness when activated by a pleasurable experience or stimuli.
Dopamine is released after completing a task or receiving feedback which tells our brains that we have done something well. If this process is too readily available to us, it can become addictive.
Like any addictive behavior, a period of abstinence can help us detox until a healthier relationship with the stimuli is established.
How to Dopamine Detox?
A dopamine detox is a two-step process that begins with identifying the external stimuli we’re exploiting too frequently for our dopamine hit and then creating a schedule that helps us slowly ween ourselves away from it.
Step 1:Identify the Behaviour You Want to Reduce
What behaviours are causing you stress, procrastination or addictiveness?
Common behaviours people fall into unhealthy habits with are;
- Excessive use of the internet or digital devices
- Emotional or binge eating
- Masturbation and porn
- Alcohol addiction
- Recreational drugs
Also, try to identify the situation and places that cause you to indulge in these impulsive behaviors. For example, do specific social interactions lead you to drink too much or take drugs? Will you binge eat when you are bored at home? Do you go shopping in response to stress?
Step 2; Create a Schedule That You'll Be Able to Follow.
Over 2-12 weeks, slowly build up the amount of time you reduce your behaviour. For example, if you are doing a digital detox, you will try to reduce your time on your device for a couple of hours one day a week.
Once this has been achieved, you can reduce the time you spend on the device by one weekend per month, eventually building up to one week per year.
Start small and gradually build up the amount of time your cutting out the habit.
Does Dopamine Detox Work?
A controversy surrounding dopamine fasting claims that the process is impossible and that dopamine fasters misunderstand the science.
The misunderstanding comes from thinking dopamine fasting reduces the amount of dopamine in our brain, but this is false; dopamine is essential for functioning as a healthy and happy human being.
Dopamine detoxing actually works by helping you reduce destructive behaviour, not reducing dopamine itself.
This practice is based on CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), an evidence-based approach practised by thousands of professionals across the globe for changing behaviour.
CBT solutions based on stimulus control can help you reduce the probability of engaging in impulsive behaviors.
If you are seriously struggling with substance abuse to addictive substances, please seek professional help. Here are some recourses that could help.
Frequently Asked Questions
If we reduce the amount of time we spend on activities that feed our brain dopamine, then the number of dopamine hits we are giving ourselves will go down and our reliance on that activity. However, dopamine detoxing actually works by helping you reduce destructive behaviour, not reducing dopamine itself.
If you find that some of your behaviours are causing you stress, impairment or addictiveness, then a dopamine detox can be a good way to reestablish your relationship with them.
First, identify the behaviours you want to change and then create a realistic schedule (4-12 weeks) where you slowly reduce your engagement with them.
MindEasy founder & meditation teacher
Griff Williams is an accredited meditation teacher and founder of MindEasy. He spent 12 years working as a London firefighter before changing paths to pursue building MindEasy. He received his diploma in meditation teaching from The British School of Meditation.