Ask Dr. Valbuena: What Is Dopamine Fasting?

The idea of Dopamine Fasting was coined about 2-3 yrs ago, but recently has been re-popularized in Silicon Valley. It has become quite the buzz among celebrities and the health and wellness crowd.  

What is dopamine? 

To understand the effects of a Dopamine Fast we need to first know what dopamine is. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, something released by nerve cells. Your body makes it and sends messages to nerve cells. Put more simply, it is an organic chemical that helps us focus, helps us thrive, and helps us in motivation to do things that are pleasurable and that are interesting to us. Essentially it prompts us to want things. Note that dopamine itself is not what causes the pleasure, it is only the driver, or the reason why people seek out pleasurable things to do. Therefore it has a direct relationship in causing the feelings of pleasure. 

What causes our brains to release dopamine?

Dopamine is “turned on” usually by some sort of activity that brings us pleasure. It causes us to seek out pleasurable activities. Dopamine alters our brain chemistry. That is why it can actually lead to addiction in some cases. Think of addiction to social media, sex, gambling, and eating. Dopamine is turned on in all these instances.  Without dopamine, you will find it nearly impossible to concentrate and have a lack of motivation. For instance, consider a catatonic patient or someone with no emotion or will to live. While these are extreme cases of dopamine depletion, they still serve as a solid example of why we desperately need dopamine to thrive. 

What Is Dopamine Fasting?

We need dopamine to thrive so you may wonder why someone would suggest fasting from it. Dopamine fasting is basically taking a break from our everyday addictions. When you fast from your vices: phones, sex, eating, gambling, your dopamine system is still running. Spending time meditating, getting offline in a quiet place can be your way of doing a dopamine fast. It can allow us to find a way to reconnect to ourselves, reconnect with people we love, and reconnect with our body and spirit. It may even trigger and spawn new things about yourself you didn’t know. Dopamine Fasting gives us a break from those vices and allows our brain to reset and find pleasure in things besides our screens and other unhealthy habits. 

Benefits Of Dopamine Fasting

Dopamine Fasting can help you to regain control of how we spend our time, because maybe there are things we are neglecting in life. Giving yourself a break from things that trigger dopamine excessively helps our mind and body reset. Dopamine stores get exhausted if we don’t reset ourselves unless more pleasurable activities are pursued, so we end up participating in bad behavior. I.e., drug use. Just like someone who takes ADHD medications, there is an immunity to the dopamine release if its taken daily, and without taking a holiday from this, the effects the the focus is not as robust.

Too Much Good Can Be Bad

Too much dopamine can be bad. As seen in psychiatric illness and drug use , largely from stimulants like cocaine and meth. Changing your way of thinking, typically done cognitive behavioral therapy, can be very effective. The premise of Dopamine fasting, put most simply is, taking a break from being addicted to things like your phone notifications or getting used to the uncomfortable feelings of being anxious, depressed, or lonely. Finding different ways to obtain pleasure instead of what could be maladaptive behavior ( over eating, excessive gambling and shopping, social media addiction).

It’s A Process

This is not something that happens right away. Like anything worthwhile it takes work and determination. In other words, you have to restructure your pattern of thinking. Teach your brain that some of these activities that release excessive dopamine are really not that pleasurable. Once you start, it becomes much easier to control.  The basis of this theory and some potential outcomes are that some people may: decrease bad habits and addictions while getting in touch with their body, mind and spirit. This can possibly mean living a healthier and happier life.

Help With Addiction

Dopamine Fasting can be an excellent way to curb everyday addictions and vices. There are some cases when addiction becomes unmanageable on your own and dangerous. Seeking help from a qualified professional is strongly recommended in those instances. If you or someone you know is struggling to the point that daily life has been affected, please reach out for help.