This is why you are constantly unfocused – and how to return to a state of equilibrium and balance.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that rewards us. It is like the sudden rush when the postman rings the doorbell because our online shopping spree has reached its final destination.

That’s a big one for me and I am pretty sure some can relate. I still remember working for the radio and one of the hosts was constantly receiving packages with clothing and cosmetics. The instant joy she felt – It resonated with me. 

My latest read Dopamine Nation by Anna Lembke shined some light on addictive behavior. It also explained a lot on whats going on with our society in general. Many of us have their “quirks”, scrolling through social media too much, drinking, smoking, porn, sugar, shopping. 

What gives you the ultimate high?

And how do you feel after? Guilty? 

That is quite common, sadly the rush never lasts for long and leaves us feeling disappointed and angry with ourselves. But why can we not stop? 

It is the instant rush of dopamine flooding our body. We sense “rewards” – and we want more.

Why are we chasing for happiness and never really seem to find it?

Dopamine and our bodies need to maintain balance may be the answer.

What is Dopamine doing to us?

Our body wants to stay in a place of equanimity, Lembke explains. She calls it “the pleasure and pain balance” and it is the reason why we suffer after over-indulgence. What we think is going to make us happy is not, actually. Dopamine is released when we anticipate our reward -the chocolate bar, the thought of opening our packet or whatever the drug of choice.

Dopamine plays a significant role in survival and experiments with genetically mutated rats have shown that when the dopamine is missing, rats will not go after food – existential for all organisms to survive. Without dopamine, they will basically starve to death because they do not have the motivation to go after food.

It can be concluded that dopamine is significant for motivation and survival. But the catch is; the more dopamine the body releases, the more pain it will feel to maintain its balance. 

The release of dopamine has shown to be triggered for rats by 55 % when it comes to chocolate, 100 % with sex as a reward and 1000 % with amphetamine as the reward – equal to 10 orgasms.

We could conclude it as “the more pleasure we feel, the unhappier we become”

It is frustrating. But we can get out of the vicious cycle.

Note; There is nothing wrong with drinking, smoking, shopping or else. After all, we are human and we are supposed to enjoy our lives. This includes indulging at times. This articles covers the “too much” of the spectrum. When pleasure turns into pain, self doubt and dissatisfaction, then it is time to overthink current habits. There is everything great with enjoyment and we are our best judges.

Eliminate your high Dopamine source

It will feel awful.

I went on dozens of detoxes and always found a way to “transfer” my dopamine highs on to other sources. I have always been prone to addiction -from alcohol to cigarettes, food, shopping and other.

Feeling bored is… well, boring and it is just natural to seek a way out. When I stopped drinking, I started over-eating. Craving sugary, crunchy, creamy and fatty foods. Lots. I craved it badly and went out of control. After eating, I felt horrible; guilty, stomach-achey and tired. Every time I swore I will better myself. But it was just so hard to overcome the craving. I’d find myself driving to the next gas station to get my drug of choice; peanut-flips, Ben&Jerry’s ice cream and Oreo cookies with double filling. 

I felt frustrated and disappointed afterwards. Addictive behavior patterns. 

Some people still doubt that sugar addiction is a real thing. But experiments have shown that rats, when offered Oreo cream or cocaine, would often choose the Oreo filling over the cocaine. A strong indicator for the addictive nature of sugar and fat. 

In his book “Salt Sugar Fat” Moss reveals how the food industry makes us sick and addicted to food. Humans are hardwired to enjoy food that is sweet and/or oily. 

Sweet and fatty – not many foods we find in nature are both. In fact, mothers milk is one of the few sources we find in nature being both fatty and sweet. The theory is that the emotion we feel when consuming sweet and fat is comfort and love. Just like we did when our mothers nourished us as babies. 

Emotions are a big topic when it comes to addictions. Different humans crave different feelings, which is why some addicts are drawn to the comfort of food, the relaxation of cannabis or the high when sniffing a line of coke, the euphoria on MDMA and ecstasy (let’s not forget about the high when the postman rings, either). 

Different substances and behaviors are linked to emotions we are craving – but by giving in, we make ourselves very, very unhappy in the long-term. 

Lembke is recounting a conversation with a cannabis-user who stated to use because she would feel anxiety when not smoking weed. Lembke suggested she would stop smoking and see if the anxiety might stop after consuming. After four weeks being cannabis-free, the patients anxiety has gone. The cannabis was not the cure for anxiety, it was actually the cause of it!

The patient further claimed she does not feel the need to smoke anymore, hinting that addictions can be overcome, although it may oftentimes take more than a month. 

Ultimately the voice of addiction becomes less dominant in users thoughts and they can reset to base-level.

Eliminating the dopamine rich source is the first step to take back control of thought and behavior.

I have posted in a previous post about Brahmacharya ,one of the yogic ethics that translates to as celibacy or moderation, and how it affected me to not buy anything for a month. Some people may not understand it, but here is the thing; We all have our little sins, the things that give us pleasure – but should not. 

For me it was the high from the postman ring and the expectancy of a sort of surprise. For others it may be cannabis, opioids, porn, exercise, work and many more. 

We should never judge a person by their vices. And never make fun of it, either. Just as we want to and deserve to be taken seriously, so do our fellow humans.

Meditate or participate in mindfulness activities

Meditation and mindfulness is so, so important and has shown to be similarly effective as cognitive behavioral therapy. I wrote about mindfulness in past articles.

In the craving mind Judson Brewer points out the effectivity of mindfulness in treating smokers who want to stop. The approach has shown to be promising in treating other addictions, such as social media addiction, as well.

The aim of mindfulness is not to fight our cravings, but instead to be living through them. Accepting that we feel this way. It is sitting with our discomfort. It may be truly discomforting. But so is our pain after the highs. And it lasts longer than our cravings.

You either suffer the pain of discipline

or you suffer the pain of failure

Choose your battle.

Find your healthy Dopamine highs

Pleasure causes pain – and the same goes vice versa: Pain can cause pleasure. Taking Ice Baths are incredibly comfortable. In order to keep a state of equanimity, the pain results in a rush of a dopamine. You remember the state of equilibrium our body wants to maintain.

Here is the catch; Too much of anything is not good for us. And this will be the topic for my next article.

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