Are you a doper? Want another hit? Oh, no, not you? Well, let me ask you this -- Do you ever find yourself sitting down at the computer just for a second to seek out a bit of trivial information, only to look up and realize the search has led to an hour of Googling? Thank dopamine. You are a doper -- more specifically, a dopaminer.
Actually all our electronic communication devices—e-mail, Facebook feeds, texts, Twitter—are feeding the same drive as our searches. We are restless, easily bored creatures, and our gadgets give us in abundance qualities our seeking/wanting system finds particularly exciting. The dopamine system is activated by finding something unexpected or by the anticipation of something new. If the rewards come unpredictably—as e-mail, texts, updates do—we get even more carried away. No wonder we call it a "CrackBerry."
We can get into a dopamine induced loop: dopamine starts us seeking, then we get rewarded for the seeking which makes us seek more. Dr. John Ratey, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says, "It's an addiction. It creates a dopamine squirt, being connected. It turns on our attention system, and we love to be attending to something all the time." Dr. Ratey added that without e-mail we all suffer from withdrawal symptoms, including "feeling a loss of control and out of connection." (Joanna Stern, "BlackBerry Addicts Can't Shake the Habit," www.laptopmag.com, December 4 2007)
How You Become A Doper
Dopamine is a naturally occurring hormone in the human brain which plays a vital role in regulating your emotions, mood, and ability to handle stress, anxiety and such other sleep patterns. A pre-programmed reward system makes sure you eat, desire to procreate, and basically survive.When your body releases dopamine, a chemical in your brain, it provides feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate you to do, or continue doing, certain activities. Dopamine is released by naturally rewarding experiences such as eating food and having sex.
Here is a simple explanation for the operation of this reward system. (Lori Pate, "Dopamine, Methamphetamines, and You," KCI The Anti-Meth Site, 2011)
"Brain chemicals, including dopamine, are stored in cells, which we can think of like barrels full of that chemical. When something occurs like a good meal or great sex the brain pours out some dopamine from the dopamine barrels into an open space in the brain called a synapse. It floats around there. Think of the synapse like a street, and dopamine is like little cars driving around aimlessly on the street.
"Across the street (not far) from the barrels of dopamine are Dopamine receptors. These receptors have little parking spaces on them that only fit Dopamine (or a substance VERY similar in chemical shape to Dopamine) into them, like a lock and key. As the Dopamine floats around in the synapse, it finds parking spaces at Dopamine receptors, and "plugs in" to the receptors. THIS is the point where you feel good, when the Dopamine is parked in a receptor's parking space."
Getting Good Dope
Many things other than using electronic communication devices are said to raise your dopamine levels. For example, eating certain foods produces significant dopamine releases. Foods rich in antioxidants such as bananas, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, prunes, and red beans are believed to be beneficial, but foods that are just plain sugary and foods high in saturated fat can lower dopamine levels. ("How To Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally," blog.itechtalk.com, 2011.)
Caffeine increases the production of dopamine, and this release helps promote your dependent consumption.
Chocolate contains the chemical phenylethylamine which releases dopamine. The compound is thought to be responsible for the high you experience after eating chocolate.
The Brookhaven National Laboratory reports that exercise stimulates brain activity and the chemicals within, particularly dopamine. This release of dopamine, along with other chemicals, can reduce your feelings of fatigue. Because it takes this long for the dopamine to be triggered, you should work out for 20 to 30 minutes daily. (Jonathan Croswell, "How Do I Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally?" www.livestrong.com, 2011)
Too Much Or Too Little Dope?
So, should you strive to become a more dependent doper? When your dopamine levels are balanced, you experience heightened states of alertness and awareness. But, when your dopamine levels are too high, you may be caught in distorted perceptions of reality, dangerous risk taking, and increased aggression.
A severe deficit in proper dopamine levels may cause a complication in both motor function and emotional state. Therefore, symptoms such as drastic mood swings, decreased libido, inattention and sleep disturbances are often attributed to low dopamine levels. Illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are also linked to low dopamine levels.
Still, dopamine release can cause problems. When dopamine or dopamine agonists repeatedly stimulate dopamine receptors, the over stimulation decreases the number of receptors, and the remaining receptors become less sensitive to dopamine. This process is called desensitization or tolerance. (Dr. Keti, "A Case of Low Dopamine and Serotonin Level, www.drketi.com)
Mary Ann Copson, founder of Evenstar Mood and Energy Wellness Center for Women, (www.evenstaronline.com) offers ten signs that dopamine levels are too high:
1. You have an excessively demanding sex drive.
2. You are an information and news junkie.
3. You feel trapped when you do not have something risky and exciting to do. You may engage in dangerous risk taking.
4. You fear being alone and having nothing to do. You cannot tolerate relaxation or calm. Peace and quite bore you.
5. You are prone to violence and aggression. You may deliberately create conflict to get a thrill.
6. You feel a lack intimacy and you do not want to make deep connections with others.
7. You are a junk food junkie.
8. You feel insecure, paranoid and try to control your environment in overt and destructive ways.
9. You are chronically stressed, frustrated, and anxious. You are a workaholic, driven by success, and burned out.
10. You are overly competitive and determined to win at all costs. You are demanding and lack the trust of those around you.