We get that feel-good rush of dopamine. And it can be too irresistible for us to manage.
Data from the American Addiction Centers show that Phoenix, AZ is one of the top users of addictive drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines.
And while I'm not going to preach here about why we shouldn't do drugs, myriad problems at the workplace can arise as a result of an employee being a substance abuser, including a decreased productivity and more disciplinary issues.
But scientifically, once we get it, we can't really stop, unfortunately...
We don't even need drugs to develop addictions.
For sure, there are many drug addicts and sex addicts out there — too hooked onto the feelings that the drugs or the sex acts bring to them, and they end up being trapped by it and unable to escape.
However, there are other bad habits out there, which we may not even realise have pervaded that deeply into our lives until it is too late.
Avarice, for instance, is one’s addiction towards material or financial gain.
Gluttony, for instance, is one’s addiction to delicious foods.
All of these "good" things give us a feel-good feeling that we want to replicate — it’s a dopamine rush!
The chemistry of addiction
As it is said in this research article about dopamine (DA):
However, it has been demonstrated that DA is involved in the hedonic component of reward. Several lines of evidence show that the receipt of rewards evokes an increase in DA activity; however numerous conditions exist for which this does not hold. Several hypotheses have been proposed to draw a different mechanism. For example, it has been suggested that activity changes in DA neurons encode an error in the prediction of the time and amount of immediate and future rewards (the prediction error hypothesis), therefore, the DA activity is hypothesized to indicate that the immediate or future prospect for reward is better than expected.
DA brings about a pleasurable reward high. The article goes further on to explain that:
For the most part, one’s motivation is to return to the rewards experienced in the past, and to the cues that mark the way to such rewards. It is primarily through its role in the selective reinforcement of associations between rewards and otherwise neutral stimuli that DA is important for such motivation. Once stimulus-reward associations have been formed, they can remain potent for some time even after the reward has been devalued by the absence of appropriate drive states such as hunger or thirst, or because the DA system is blocked.
When we do something and get a DA reward (or high) out of it, we tend to want to return back to doing that thing consistently to get that same dopamine rush.
However, the balancing of the frequency of those acts with the dopamine highs will determine how addicted to the act one can be.
Too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily good — one can die from water poisoning because the idea of a balance is always key.
When is an addiction an addiction?
We don’t need to have addicts around us to know what an addiction is like. There is an unhealthy amount of time or attention dedicated to a certain thing, which they feel like they cannot do without.
When access to that thing is limited, we can see how badly their withdrawal symptoms are hitting them, exaggerated as it may be, even on television or the movies.
We see how drug addicts end up shaking and shivering. Pleading for the drug even as they are forced to go cold turkey. All these cold turkey symptoms are also signs of dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS), which is defined as:
a severe, stereotyped cluster of physical and psychological symptoms that correlate with dopamine agonist withdrawal in a dose-dependent manner, cause clinically significant distress or social/occupational dysfunction, are refractory to levodopa and other dopaminergic medications, and cannot be accounted for by other clinical factors.
The symptoms of DAWS include anxiety, panic attacks, dysphoria, depression, agitation, irritability, suicidal ideation, fatigue, orthostatic hypotension, nausea, vomiting, diaphoresis, generalized pain, and drug cravings. The severity and prognosis of DAWS is highly variable.
The dopamine rush that addicts seek is one of the major reasons behind these withdrawal symptoms.
In Parkinson’s patients, a lack of dopamine neurotransmission has been implicated, and this lack of dopamine stimulation can also contribute to a lack of motivation and symptoms of depression.
The absence of one neurotransmitting chemical can be so damaging to us in a multitude of different ways.
When dopamine agonists (drugs that stimulate dopamine activity) are used on Parkinson’s patients, their motor coordination is improved.
However, some of them will face severe withdrawal symptoms from DAWS when dopamine agonist therapy is reduced for them.
And that forms the biochemical basis of addiction right there!
Parkinson’s patients have to experience those withdrawal symptoms, unfortunately, if they do not have timely access to their dopamine doses.
But for us “healthier” people…
Do we face any form of the “anxiety, panic attacks, dysphoria, depression, agitation, irritability, suicidal ideation, fatigue, orthostatic hypotension, nausea, vomiting, diaphoresis, generalized pain, and drug cravings” symptoms when we have to cut the frequency of our interactions with an activity that brings about dopamine high?
Because doing just about anything can bring about a dopamine high, depending on how our brain classifies an activity within the rewards system.
I will admit that I personally did face certain addictions in life before (and still do face a different set of challenges today).
- Driving Uber and hunting for big unicorn surge fares? Check. Seeing a triple-digit payout on a single trip always warmed the cockles of my heart. I lived and breathed the surge. It became a game of strategic positioning just to get the dopamine rush, and there were specific “do-not-disturb” hours for me to chase it.
- Watching pornography as a teenager? Check. Even when my mind thought that it was meaningless and I ought to get out of it. The dopamine rush from all that action, though… That’s one reason why men will be tormented by porn all the time, especially if they do want to kick the addiction habit and become better men.
- Obsessing over women? Check. I’d use to want to do anything for my crushes. Getting something in return from them would be like the ultimate prize of defeating the big boss in a game. It was a terribly one-sided, one-way relationship that was terribly unhealthy from a psychological and an emotional standpoint.
But what an addiction tells us, really…
Is that we have gotten our priorities all mixed up.
Because when we become so singularly focused on one thing that all others don't really matter...
Then it becomes a cognitive issue.
We who are in our right minds have to get our priorities right... or face cruel withdrawal symptoms later on in life when something else forces us to get our priorities right.
Because when our priorities aren’t right, our moral compass gets affected. When the moral compass is affected, the risk of slipping into other addictions can become much greater.
But how much can we control our activities and our lives to prevent that from happening? Self-awareness and an understanding of our strengths and weaknesses are key here!
It's like if I were addicted to porn and I wanted to break out of it, would I create situations for myself that gave me an easier access to porn, or would I occupy myself to keep myself away from it as much as possible?
When I'm out seeking the dopamine rush, unfortunately, wise logic goes out of the window.
But I do need to know my weaknesses so as to develop strategies to counter those weaknesses!
It all starts in the mind!
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