Dopamine Networks & The Addiction Cycle

 

WHAT IS DOPAMINE?

Dopamine is a one of our major neurotransmitters (also known as chemical messengers) that acts as our primary motivation molecule, giving us the drive and determination to seek out rewards for our actions and behaviours. It plays important roles in attention, memory, mood, learning, sleep, movement, pattern recognition and anticipatory pleasure. This miraculous molecule is a large driving force that gives us the feelings of euphoria when we accomplish specific goal-oriented tasks. 

DOPAMINE DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS

When we are low in dopamine, it can bring us into a soul-crushing state of defeat and doubt. Listed below are a few markers of such a deficiency:

  • lack of motivation
  • fatigue
  • apathy
  • procrastination
  • inability to feel pleasure
  • low libido
  • inability to connect with others
  • sleep problems
  • mood swings
  • hopelessness
  • memory loss
  • inability to concentrate
  • inability to complete tasks
  • engaging in self-destructive behaviours, especially addictions

​A deficit in dopamine can also be a causal factor to certain psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder (ADD), bipolar disorder, and addictions of all kinds. 

THE DOPAMINE ADDICTION CONNECTION

Addictions are caused by a lack of healthy connections which results in making poor decisions while gravitating towards harmful behaviours as a proxy in order to fill certain voids in our life. People low in dopamine are more prone to addictions and often rely on caffeine, junk food, energy drinks, smoking, or other stimulants to boost their energy, focus, and drive. What they are really doing is self-medicating to increase their dopamine levels. Using self-destructive behaviours to overcome dopamine deficiency can lead to addictions of all kinds — video games, shopping, gambling, sex, porn, chronic cannabis consumption, blue-lit technology, money, power, alcohol, and drugs.

Dopamine deficiency sucks the zest out of life. It can leave us feeling apathetic, hopeless, and joyless. It makes it hard to start things and even harder to finish them.

​The world we observe today has been designed by marketers and advertisers to create chronically addicted, low dopamine members of society to the products & services they provide. By grooming a culture of addicts, you create loyal customers who are unable to recognize the patterns of deception that are being used against them for the sole purpose of sustaining profit margins. 

HOW ADDICTIVE PATHWAYS WORK

When we consume substances that increase our pleasure/reward centers of the brain, there are both healthy and unhealthy ways of achieving higher levels of dopamine. 

In this case, steady levels of dopamine are increased where filtering mechanisms are in place to prevent a huge surge of dopamine. 

Dopamine levels spike beyond normal levels thus increasing the dependency of X substance to feel pleasure.

Artificially forces the brain to pump out more dopamine at dangerous rates.

The drugs in the GIFs above increase dopamine by as high as 1000% from initial baseline! Normally we are compelled to stop a habit such as exercise, but with these drugs there are no filters, and the person is compelled to keep going, potentially leading to an overdose. 

​THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ADDICTIONS

When people form addictive habits they are ultimately looking for a hit of dopamine rather than the substance itself, in order to feel a sense of reward and pleasure to offset depressive-like symptoms that would be more profoundly present had they not been consuming the substance to mask the symptoms in the first place. This initiates the viscous cycle of addiction. We then find ourselves having to take more of a particular substance and/or indulge in a particular behaviour to feel less, rather than addressing the root causal factors that would lead people into an addictive state of mind. Addictions are mainly about avoiding an emotional charge that arises to the conscious surface resulting in the addict keeping those charges embedded in their subconscious mind as a protective mechanism built into their mammalian brain. The unfortunate draw back to the repression of emotions is that doing so tends to amplify the stored emotions, usually in a harmful fashion.

​We are psychologically wired as human beings to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Addictions of all kinds allow us to escape into short term conscious pleasures while avoiding long term subconscious pains, which usually predates back to our childhood. When we avoid the long term pains we never truly heal them at their root. We need to flip the equation around and have enough will and courage to experience short term pains in order to come to the glory of long term pleasures. Otherwise, we only mask the symptoms of the underlying condition we are avoiding in the first place by trading valuable rewards with cheap, instant gratification. Rather than avoid the feelings of discomfort through escapism, embrace the discomfort and walk through it with courage. Become comfortable with discomfort to break free from the cerebral cage imprisoning us from living our lives authentically. Comfortability is a disease. Discomfort is the ironic cure for lasting pleasure and success. The key in all of this is to recognize the habitual patterns that lead ourselves to turn to addictive behaviours for the convenience of comfort and instead have enough courage to work through the dark shadow material deeply embedded in the subconscious mind to create beneficial changes to our lives. 

FOUR WAYS ADDICTIONS CHANGE THE BRAIN

There are four major ways in which addictions change the brain; both structurally and functionally. Firstly, the brain undergoes sensitization to a specific stimulus related to a particular addictive behaviour. For example, a former alcoholic will become psychologically sensitized to the sound of a drink being poured that may trigger that individual to relapse back to old patterns. Nerve cells that fire together wire together. Their brain has become hardwired to seek out reward through alcohol consumption based on repetitive conditioning so anything related to alcohol (sights, smells, sounds, etc) can cause someone to fall off the rails. 

Secondly, the brain becomes desensitized to repetitive stimulus by building up a tolerance to a particular substance and/or behaviour leading to more frequent usage with a higher dosage dependency. Activities that normally would give us pleasure have now become dull such as going to the beach, or playing sports with friends, because the beach nor your friends cannot compete with the super-normal stimulus of certain addictions such as pornography or drug use in respect to dopamine output, thus our pleasure response becomes blunted. In other words, we become desensitized to anything outside of our addictions and hyper-sensitized to anything related to our addictions. 

Thirdly, the brain experiences structural changes known as hypofrontality; which is a shrinkage of size in the pre-frontal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for making good decisions by overriding our primal instincts with logical thinking skills. Our pre-frontal cortex gives us the executive function to withdraw from harmful practices but when electro-chemical activity is inhibited in this region of our brain, we constantly think about getting our next fix or in other words, our next hit of dopamine.

Lastly, the brain has a maladaptive response leading overtime to dysfunctional stress circuits. Our ability to adapt to stressful circumstances are compromised when the mind is in an addictive state because we are accustomed to sequestering the feelings of stress through addictive measures to ease the wave of emotions coming to the surface. Basically, our brain has become wired to seek and satisfy addictions under stress giving us an intense urge to remedy this state of mind without the presence of rational thoughts.

HOW TO NATURALLY INCREASE DOPAMINE

Below is a brief list of ways we can optimize our levels of dopamine that will help to enrich our daily lives:

- Sunlight (converts the amino acid l-tyrosine to l-dopamine)
- Cold therapy (increases dopamine by 250%)
- Cleanse the body and mind with whole and natural foods
- Tyrosine rich food sources
- Checklist small tasks daily
- Create something (write, paint, sing, dance, etc)
- Dopamine enhancing herbs (macuna, bacopa, ashwaganda, etc)
- Don't restrict carbs
- Sauna therapy
- Red light therapy
- Blocking artificial light with blue blocking glasses
- Hiking
- Exercise
​- Movement
- Massage/osteopathy (boosts dopamine by 30%)
- Get good quality sleep
- Meditation
- Music
- Breathwork (nasal breathing, buteyko breathing)
​- Sex
- Going on new adventures
- Socializing with friends and family
- Healthy activities that make you happy (key word: healthy)


In doing these above mentioned suggestions we can achieve increased ocular and neuronal levels of dopamine, and decrease factors that drop our dopamine significantly. This is how we can put our physiology into a more favourable position to thrive in its environment. Addictions destroy lives. Knowledge and its application is the anecdote to the destruction. Overall, a balanced diet and lifestyle can go a long way in increasing our body’s natural production of dopamine and helping our brain function at its best.  

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