Self-Development Knowledge Base

dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter found throughout the body, which regulates a huge range of human functions. 

It cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, so dopamine in the body, and dopamine in the brain, are referred to separately.

For this reference, we focus on Brain Dopamine (DH).

Brain dopamine (DH)

Brain dopamine (DH) aids in several aspects of brain function. These areas include;

  • motor function 
  • mood
  • emotion
  • behavior
  • alertness
  • impulsivity.

Possibly the best-known role dopamine plays relates to your perceived happiness. In fact, many pleasurable activities can cause dopamine to increase, such as having sex and eating. This relationship can also increase the risk of addiction to dopamine-increasing drugs. 

What is the purpose of Dopamine?

From an evolutionary perspective, dopamine is designed to strongly impel you to pursue things that your brain thinks are good for you. This includes food (survival) and sex (survival of the species).

Your brain is wired to be highly opportunistic. As a cave man, it probably wasn't every day that you came across a hot babe, or a tasty, ripe banana tree. Your brain is ready, at any moment, to shout-

"drop everything, THIS is more important than anything else you could be doing right now."

There is evidence that dopamine releases both before you pursue that thing (to draw your attention to it), and after you have acquired that thing (as a reward). In this light, the primary function of brain dopamine is probably motivation.

Note, however, that it's important to draw a clear distinction between what your brain thinks is good for you, and what is actually good for you. Just because your brain thinks that hamburger is good for you, doesn't mean you need it. Just because that incredibly hot chick smiled at you, doesn't mean you have to ditch your girlfriend. Your mammal brain might have the best of intentions, but it's not always helpful, and it can't see the big picuture.

What does Dopamine feel lIke?

Coach Mike's personal reflections on dopamine...

When a high level of dopamine has been triggered, it feels as though there is something in your immediate world, which has absolutely captured your attention. You desire it, to the exclusion of all else. At that moment, nothing else really seems to be a priority. 

Your immediate sensation is desire for that thing, whether it's an attractive woman, a hamburger, or a cigarette. 

Attractiveness Level and Dopamine Generation

The level of intensity in that desire varies, depending on how important your brain thinks it is. If you walk into a room full of people, chances are your brain immediately highlights the attractive ones. You feel a kind of warm, pleasant buzz, a sense of opportunity and happiness. By contrast, an incredibly hot girl can make it feel like your heart has stopped, and everyone else just fades into the background, indistinct.

The word attractive by definition describes something that triggers dopamine in you.

This sense of attraction-measurement operates at a very deep level. Have you ever wondered why you like the taste of sugar and fat, more than the taste of protein? Per gram, sugar and fat have nearly double the calories of protein. Your brain knows this, and literally makes you want those things more.

Dopamine Triggers

Personally I've identified two primary triggers for my own dopamine;

  • Sight. I see something that my brain finds appealing. Usually for me this is tied to food or sex. Seeing a very attractive woman, a pornographic image, of a photo of a juicy hamburger can send my dopamine soaring. I suspect sight is a common trigger, since advertisers use it aggressively - fast food ads look unrealistically tasty, and every car ad has a hot babe. 
  • Smell. Smells are also very powerful at triggering dopamine, which is why perfume/cologne sell for high prices, why casinos smell a certain way, and why Subway always smells like baked bread. I notice a nice-smelling woman at 20 paces, and good feeling wash over me.
Dopamine is best described as the feeling of lust, while Oxytocin can be described as the feeling of love. Often when dopamine is high, you feel impelled to pursue that thing, like you have no real choice. I must have that burger, now.

Dopamine Imbalance, & Consequences

The University of Texas College of Pharmacy describes dopamine as being similar to adrenaline. While most of the time your dopamine level is appropriately regulated, it is possible to have too much or too little dopamine in your brain. 

High-dopamine disorders

Officially, these are considered;

  • ADHD and hyperactivity. When dopamine is consistently high, your attention is continually pulled away towards different things- as your brain tries to figure out what am I supposed to be chasing?
  • impulsive behaviors & Obsessive-Compulsive Discorder ( OCD ). You feel impelled to do something. But what exactly?
  • addiction. Dopamine is incredibly powerful, and feels fantastic. Things which easily trigger dopamine, such as fast food, sugar, sex, gambling, caffeine, nicotine, etc. therefore create strong addictive behaviors.
  • stuttering.
  • extremely high-psychosis.

Low-dopamine disorders

  • implicated in disorders such as Parkinson's 
  • some forms of anxiety

See a list of feelings & behaviors associated with dopamine levels.

Managing Your Dopamine

Although you should consult a physician with questions about your dopamine level, there may be some ways you can manage or reduce dopamine.

Knowing what can cause a release of dopamine in the brain can help you improve your lifestyle while understanding how your brain works.

What increases dopamine?

These are thought to be among the most significant triggers for dopamine release;

  • Caffeine. Western Washington University notes that caffeine releases dopamine in the brain. If you struggle with hyperactive, impulsive behaviors already, caffeine intake could worsen these problems through increased dopamine. Stay away from coffee, black teas and caffeinated sodas to decrease your dopamine level. [ more... ]
  • Nicotine.
  • Alcohol.
  • Pornography.
  • Video games.
  • Social media.
  • Gambling.

What decreases dopamine?

Anti-psychotic medication. Antipsychotics are psychiatric medications that affect dopamine levels, and are used to treat serious mental illnesses such as schizoprenia, says MayoClinic.com. However, their use is not limited to psychotic disorders. Some antipsychotics are used to reduce dopamine levels in cases of impulsive behaviors, stuttering and addiction.

Serotonin. Some herbs may raise the level of another brain chemical called serotonin, which in turn lowers dopamine. Try certain herbal supplements. Examples include ginseng, St. John's wort and dandelion. However, keep in mind that scientific evidence is scarce regarding herbal supplements, and they are not regulated by the FDA. Never begin using an herbal supplement without first checking with your doctor.

Dopamine Addiction

On often debated topic is dopamine addiction, and how dopamine relates to other addictions, including caffiene, nicotine, sex, and recreational drugs.

Dopamine and Addiction

The Pleasure Trap [ TED Talk ]

https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm

http://bigthink.com/going-mental/your-brain-on-drugs-dopamine-and-addiction

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/feb/03/dopamine-the-unsexy-truth

Counter Evidence

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/women-who-stray/201701/no-dopamine-is-not-addictive