What is a “dopamine loop” and how to break out of it

Dopamine has firmly established its reputation as the “hormone of happiness.” And this is quite true, because dopamine is not only involved in many physiological processes, but also plays an important role in the “reward system” of the human brain. Once upon a time this system worked as expected, but in the modern world everything has changed and such a thing as a “dopamine loop” has appeared.

What is a “dopamine loop” and how to break out of it

During human evolution, dopamine was needed to motivate food acquisition and reproduction. But now the world is much more complex and there are a lot of incentives around us that provoke the search for reward. This creates a dopamine loop or trap. This is a state where, in order to receive a reward, you need to receive a greater stimulus.

What is a “dopamine loop” and how to break out of it

It is this simple mechanism that underlies our addictions. There are many dopamine traps, but psychologists say the most common are substance use, porn addiction, social media addiction, and shopping.

A simple example can be given. A person constantly scrolls through his news feed on a social network. He seeks to receive a reward - interesting information. Anticipation of “hot” news, a feeling of surprise, cause the production of dopamine. As a result, the time spent on the social network increases and the user becomes addicted.

Another example is the addiction to wine. If you stretch out a bottle of wine over a week, it will be enjoyable for a while. But then it turns out that one bottle is not enough. You need to increase the stimulus to enjoy it. The reason is that tolerance to the pathogen develops. A glass of wine every two days is no longer pleasing.

What is a “dopamine loop” and how to break out of it

There is a disruption in the natural order of dopamine production. A person needs even more incentive. And it’s no longer about seeking pleasure. Anyone caught in a dopamine loop will look for a way out of chronic stress. Within a fairly short time, dependence on alcohol can develop, and then it is very close to chronic alcoholism.

How to recognize the dopamine loop that has “overwhelmed” you? It's simple - psychologists have provided a list indicating this serious problem:

What is a “dopamine loop” and how to break out of it

This condition is also characterized by cognitive activity aimed at searching for a stimulus. That is, a person spends time searching for alcohol, information on social networks or shopping. Of course, all this happens to the detriment of other things and negatively affects the quality of life.

The most effective way to combat the problem is through stimulus control. It is difficult for a person addicted to alcohol to be in an area where there are many liquor stores around. The incentive is easily achievable - you just need to enter the premises and pay for the purchase. You need to make sure you don’t end up in places that arouse desire.

What is a “dopamine loop” and how to break out of it

This simple method is the basis of the so-called dopamine diet or detoxification. It was developed by a psychologist from the USA, professor at the University of California School of Medicine Cameron Sepah. The main idea of the diet is to temporarily limit activities that cause arousal. At the same time, it is important to find an alternative to seeking instant gratification. Simply put, keep yourself busy with something.

To successfully exit the dopamine loop, psychologists recommend conducting an analysis and determining what affects the quality of life right now. Consider the pros and cons of staying in this position or changing everything. These will be the first steps towards understanding how addictions affect the quality of life and what keeps the “loop” in place.

What is a “dopamine loop” and how to break out of it

The next step is to remove or learn to strictly dose the stimuli that cause the desire to enter the dopamine trap. At the same time, it is important to keep yourself busy with activities that improve your quality of life. This could well be creativity, such as painting, singing or poetry. Sports, studying and just reading are also great help. These are all activities aimed at realizing healthy values.

Very soon, new activities will cause the production of dopamine, which means they will cause a feeling of satisfaction. But at the same time, experts recommend avoiding extremes. If you are addicted to social networks, you don’t need to give them up completely. It is quite possible to scroll through the news feed at a specially selected and limited time, for example, after finishing work or school.

What is a “dopamine loop” and how to break out of it

But you can’t always cope on your own. If we are talking about addiction to alcohol, gambling, drugs or cigarettes, there is no shame in contacting a psychologist or even a narcologist. A specialist will help you deal with the problem quickly and effectively.

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