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What Is Dopamine Detox And Why You Probably Need One? Graphic © healthpowerboost.com. Background image: Shutterstock #740391997 (under license)
Ever wondered why you can spend hours on Instagram or binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix, but a less stimulating activity like reading a book feels like a chore? This may have something to do with dopamine—a neurotransmitter in your brain.
We can argue that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to check your phone from time to time. But when the behavior becomes compulsive—when you can’t stop refreshing and scrolling through your social media feed even when you know you have something more important you need to do—perhaps a “dopamine detox” may be worth considering.
Read on as we break down everything you need to know about dopamine detox.
What Is The Role Of Dopamine?
Dopamine is basically a chemical messenger in your brain. It’s an important part of your “reward center”—influencing several body functions like mood, concentration, memory, learning, and more. 
One of the key roles of dopamine is its impact on pleasure-seeking behavior. We are hard-wired to seek pleasurable behavior that stimulates dopamine release in our brain’s reward system.
This is part of the reason why it is so easy to scroll from one social media clip to the next. For example, let’s say you enjoy and find pleasure in watching a TikTok. Your brain picks this up and releases a large amount of dopamine. This makes you feel good, and you get an urge/motivation to repeat that experience. Minutes later, you are still on social media when you’re supposed to be working.
The thing with dopamine is that it needs to be in the right balance.  You’re likely to feel focused, motivated, alert, and happy when your levels are balanced and well-regulated. However, overstimulation can lead to dependencies on certain activities or substances—and this is where the idea of a dopamine detox comes in.
As Leon Hendrix put it in a YouTube video where he was self-experimenting the effects of a dopamine detox, “If you’re compulsively doing something that you don’t even enjoy doing, you may need a detox.”
How Does A Dopamine Detox Work?
If you’re having trouble concentrating, you’re not alone. This is an increasingly common facet of our modern life. The goal of a dopamine detox is to detach yourself from compulsive problem behaviors that give you a quick “hit” of dopamine—in favor of less impulsive behaviors.
The idea of dopamine detox/fasting was popularized by Dr. Cameron Sepah—a clinical professor of psychiatry—as part of his goals to help his clients get rid of their dependence on certain stimuli. In his Medium articles, Dr. Sepah detailed the concept behind dopamine fasting—including how it’s based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques of stimulus control. 
Please keep in mind that despite what the term “dopamine detox/fasting” implies, you are not depriving yourself of all dopamine. That is scientifically incorrect. Even a simple task like taking a sip of water may trigger a release of dopamine.
As Dr. Sepah insists, dopamine fasting focuses on reducing specific behaviors that are impulsive and problematic—while encouraging healthy behaviors. 
Some examples of compulsive behaviors that may be linked to dopamine dysregulation/imbalance include:
• Excessive use of the internet
• Impulsive gaming
• Masturbation and pornography
• Emotional eating
• Impulsive shopping and gambling
• Thrill and novelty seeking
• Problematic use of recreational drugs
The idea is that by “fasting” or “detoxing” from such activities, you can become less dependent on the dopamine “hits” they bring. The outcome is that you may feel more “centered” and less affected by the usual triggers.
This is in line with a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions that looked at the treatment outcomes of patients dealing with internet addiction.  The researchers found that “moderate and controlled use of the internet”—rather than abstinence models—may be the more effective way to address internet addiction.
In another 2020 study in Experimental Economics, the findings showed that respondents who restricted their usage of Facebook reported feeling less depressed and engaged in healthier activities. 
Dopamine is a naturally-occurring chemical messenger that is important for healthy brain function.
But it can also be distracting and a hindrance to achieving your goals when it’s dysregulated. It’s what prompts compulsions or excessive repetition of feel-good behaviors like binge-watching and mechanically scrolling through social media.
A “dopamine detox” may be a useful way to detach or unplug from certain impulsive behaviors. Doing this may offer some health benefits, such as improved mental clarity and heightened focus. Note that this is a somewhat new topic and so there is a lack of concrete scientific evidence – yet – on the effectiveness of a dopamine detox.
 Olguín, H. J., Guzmán, D. C., García, E. H., & Mejía, G. B. (2016). The role of dopamine and its dysfunction as a consequence of oxidative stress. Oxid Med Cell Longev: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684895/
 Franco, R., Reyes-Resina, I., & Navarro, G. (2021). Dopamine in health and disease: much more than a neurotransmitter. Biomedicines, 9(2), 109: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7911410/
 Medium (Dr. Cameron Sepah): https://drcam.medium.com/why-the-media-lies-to-you-about-dopamine-fasting-dceed8be007e
 Medium (Dr. Cameron Sepah):https://medium.com/swlh/dopamine-fasting-2-0-the-hot-silicon-valley-trend-7c4dc3ba2213
 Young, K. S. (2013). Treatment outcomes using CBT-IA with Internet-addicted patients. Journal of behavioral addictions, 2(4), 209-215: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4154573/
 Mosquera, R., Odunowo, M., McNamara, T., Guo, X., & Petrie, R. (2020). The economic effects of Facebook. Experimental Economics, 23(2), 575-602: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10683-019-09625-y
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