Dopamine – our dangerous friend

Just read a fascinating book called ‘Dopamine Nation’ by Dr Anna Lembke: ‘Why our addiction to pleasure is causing us pain’. It’s not clear what faith Dr Lembke has, if any, but I was struck by how Christiany, how committed to patient revolution, were some of her remedies. (Some other reviewers really hate the book for this.)

First, the problem. Dopamine, a happy hormone, is what we give ourselves when we reward ourselves, and evolved to keep us doing good things that make us healthy.

The problem is that our society is awash with unhealthy ways of giving ourselves a squirt of dopamine– rewarding us for unhealthy behaviours. So, for example, sugary and fat-laden foods; swiping on your phone; recreational drugs; shopping; opening a bottle; a long list of things we compulsively do but which aren’t that good for us.

Worse, our body adjusts to its squirts of dopamine. We come to need more reward to get the same feeling. We feel scratchy and irritated if we’re not doing whatever gives us our dopamine rush, and so we go back to it to get some more. So we spiral into addiction. Among the most compelling parts of the book are stories of her own addiction (she mentions an obsession with vampire romances) that are sobering because they show any of us can go there — if not with vampire romances, with something else.

The people who make it to Dr Lembke’s office are seriously addicted to lots of things. But her solutions are fascinating. They include:

  1. Making it difficult to do the thing you’ve been doing. She got rid of her Kindle, by which she’d been loading up on free books with no-one watching. A person troubled with sex-addiction had to root out all the triggers from his life, some of which were not triggers for other people. This is strikingly like the Bible’s command to ‘flee’ sexual immorality; get out of there.
  2. Quit, and endure the deep unpleasantness that comes from quitting. It will pass.
  3. Develop a habit of radical honesty. Again, this echoes scripture, ‘confess your sins to one another’.

What do you get back out of this? A happy life, untroubled by shame or secrets, not plagued with anxiety, back among the humans.

Plenty of people have issues with this book, but as someone starting from no-where, I enjoyed it.

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