Articles Mental Health

Everybody Has a Dopamine Problem

The world is changing and our bodies are changing with it. The industrial revolution has given birth to fast transportation and factories, while technology has brought far-flung places of the globe closer to us. The seasons change, fruits ripen and fall off, and the earth becomes warmer by the day.

But some things never change. Leaves will always be green, the lion will always remain the apex predator, and deep-down humans will always be animals. We have moved from living in caves, and hunting and gathering for food to skyscrapers and eating intercontinental dishes with fancy cutlery. The hunger however remains the same.

“Our whole being and the whole human race with it revolves around this small and seemingly insignificant neurotransmitter.”

Basic needs like hunger, sleep, thirst, and sexual libido are common to everyone. We have become the modern men of the 21st century but our lives continue to revolve around these basic animal instincts. A handful of people ever manage to rise above these desires and in a physically and mentally fulfilled state. These enlightened people understand that if we only live to satisfy our basic needs then there will be no difference between these animals we call wild and us.

More than 90 percent of the world’s population however remains animals deep within their so-called intellectual minds. The funny thing is that every one of us knows we have to eat, sleep and procreate but nobody knows why. We think we eat due to hunger but that’s not the complete answer. When we consume food or drink water or perform any basic survival activity a hormone called dopamine is released in our body. You might not have heard about this highly essential body fluid but don’t be fooled. Our whole being and the whole human race with it revolves around this small and seemingly insignificant neurotransmitter.

What is Dopamine?

To explain in layman’s terms, Dopamine is the reward and satisfaction hormone. Whenever we perform any activity that is essential to our survival, Dopamine motivates and reinforces that behavior through a hormone rush in our brain. That little happiness or satisfaction that you feel after performing a task? It’s the Dopamine patting your back for a job well done.

Structure of Brain

In the earlier times, human brains were not that developed. Our brain had a basic animalistic structure and the only things that mattered to us were food, water, shelter, and sexual satisfaction. We were in every way similar to our ape counterparts in that manner. But as the human brain developed the brain was gradually divided into three specialized parts. The older part became the Hindbrain which consists of the Medula Oblongata, Cerebellum, and Spinal Cord. If you remember your high school Biology, these parts of the brain are responsible for subconscious management of survival activities like breathing, heartbeat, and reflex actions among other things.

Next came the Mid Brain which consists of several specialized parts that act as an interface between the conscious and unconscious brain. The newest part of the brain is the Cerebrum which is also known as the Forebrain. This part consists of the most sophisticated parts of the brain like the Occipital lobe (visual processing), parietal lobe (sensory part), and the RAM of the brain Pre-Frontal Cortex. The forebrain is responsible for the complex decision-making and processing of emotions in humans.

Dopamine in the Modern World

But what does the structure of the brain got to do with Dopamine? These two things are highly connected since with the specialization of various parts of the brain, Dopamine also has changed its release schedule. For Neanderthals and earlier humans, Dopamine was released only when we performed basic survival activities. But now with the changing world, it has had to change its release mechanism. In this social media world, humans have started relating happiness with other activities like doing good in school, getting a good job, and getting likes on Instagram and Facebook. Now alongwith eating and sleeping Dopamine is also released when we perform activities we like or are interested in. For example, playing video games, using our smartphones day in and day out, or reading books.

Now these activities in themselves are not bad if they are performed in moderation. Nonetheless, we have made them negative because we have started sacrificing our core needs in lieu of these fringe activities.
For kids and teenagers playing video games once a day can contribute to their brain development and problem-solving skills. But when they start indulging themselves in these activities for six or seven hours a day it stops being a positive thing and instead becomes what we call a Dopamine Fix.

What is a Dopamine Fix?

Dopamine Fix is a habit or rather an addiction that we humans perform to satisfy the Dopamine needs of our body. Dopamine, if you haven’t realized already is ultra-essential for our body. It rewards basic survival instincts and a lack of Dopamine can lead to Depression and decreased interest in eating, sleeping, and basically any activity other than their addiction. That is why when someone becomes depressed due to a disturbed Dopamine cycle, they lose interest in eating, they can’t sleep, and can’t even function normally. The only thing they are interested in is fulfilling their addiction i.e. hitting their Dopamine Fix.

So, what are some other Dopamine fixes, and are they all bad? Some of the common Dopamine Fixes of the 21st century are alcohol, smoking, and others. While consuming these things in moderation is not that damaging to the body but when a person does drugs or alcohol on a high frequency, they stop becoming habits and become an addiction. And when something becomes an addiction it means that the body has started relating the consumption of that particular substance with happiness and hence necessitating a release of Dopamine only when that activity is performed. This is the reason that drug addicts can’t eat food even if they want. Their body has become so much dependent on drugs for its Dopamine needs that it only accepts drugs and nothing else as an energy provider.

Spooky right?

Dopamine is a Double-Edged Sword

Most recreational drugs disturb the Dopamine cycle and stop its re-absorption in the body. With time it so happens that when the addict consumes drugs or alcohol, then only his/her body releases Dopamine. As a result, they stop getting satisfaction after eating food or sleeping. That’s why drug addicts don’t feel hunger or thirst. Or if they do, it is most extreme and debilitating. The body starts shivering when the effect of the drug wears off because in absence of even basic amounts of Dopamine the body can’t function.

This physical addiction is so strong that it can make the addicts do things that even animals might be afraid to do. And the reason is very simple. In search of their Dopamine fix, they have stopped so far down to their animal instincts that they don’t even know what is right and what is wrong. That’s why disturbing Dopamine Cycle can be so dangerous.

Dopamine Fix can be Positive

All is not lost, however. There are less dangerous ways to satisfy yourself and get that Dopamine fix. These so-called Positive Dopamine Fixes include exercise, yoga, meditation, or even coffee and tea. If you condition your body so as to connect the release of Dopamine with beneficial things like working out, painting, music, or even tea your desire for Dopamine is also fulfilled and at the same time, your body is also not damaged.

The trick is to consume things in moderation. Alcohol or smoking is not bad in itself. But don’t be so dependent on them that your body rejects all other sources of Dopamine, even eating and sleeping. Recreational drugs however I would recommend not to take at all simply because they are so potent that they can damage the Dopamine cycle even after a single use. So, keep that in mind the next time you are forced by your friend to try drugs.

At the end of the day, remember one thing. Every thing in this world if consumed or experienced in moderation is good. But excess of even a good thing is bad. If you consume 600 liters of water in a day that can also be life-threatening.

Stay Safe & Healthy

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