Dopamine Detox: What You Need to Know

Maria Cassel
Maria Cassel

| 3 min read

Scrolling social media on a mobile phone
If you are a frequent social media user, you might have stumbled upon the latest health trend called a “dopamine detox.
The health trend focuses on limiting the things that cause a quick fix of dopamine. Think of your unhealthy habits that bring you instant joy, but later regret. Things like emotional eating, mindless social media scrolling and excessive gaming are the habits you can’t seem to stay away from.
Why? Because they spark instant dopamine. These exact habits are what the dopamine detox targets.

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in your brain. It sends chemical and hormonal signals from your brain to the rest of your body. Dopamine can send movement, memory, mood and behavioral signals, but it most famously sends pleasure and reward signals. That is why dopamine has been coined as the “feel-good hormone” because it provides the sense of pleasure.
Your brain has been wired to crave dopamine, because it is released from completing basic functions, like sleeping, eating and hydrating. The more dopamine that is produced when doing an activity, the more your brain will crave it.

How does dopamine relate to your unhealthy habits?

You may have felt like you are most dependent on your unhealthy habits. No matter what you try you can’t seem to quit any of these behaviors. It’s completely normal, in fact, it’s the way your brain is wired. Things like sugary junk foods, scrolling social media and retail therapy have all been proven to release high amounts of dopamine.
These behaviors are highly accessible and instantly give the quick fix of dopamine your brain desires. The more you engage in these behaviors, the more your brain craves the high level of dopamine they provide. Activities like exercising and enjoying the company of loved ones don’t fix the dopamine craving, because they don’t provide the high levels of dopamine your brain is accustomed to.

What is a dopamine detox?

The dopamine detox was created by California native, Dr. Cameron Sepah. He recommends depriving yourself of the most common dopamine quick fixes, to “reset” your dopamine levels. Dr. Sepah suggests fasting from these behaviors in certain time intervals. He claims it conditions your stimuli to not crave these behaviors.

Ok, but does it work?

Yes and no. There is no actual way to “detox” your dopamine. It is a naturally occurring chemical in your brain, and you simply can’t get rid of it by abstaining from certain behaviors.
Furthermore, you need levels of dopamine in your brain to perform essential functions. What the dopamine detox does is help you to limit unhealthy behaviors. Things like constantly scrolling social media and consuming sugary-junk foods can have negative effects on your physical and mental health if you are dependent on them. Therefore, reducing some unhealthy behaviors will not “detox” your dopamine, but it might help your overall health if you can cut back on these behaviors.
If you feel like you crave or want to limit some unhealthy behaviors, here are some suggestions.
  • Get outside. Instead of picking up your phone, go for a walk or a bike ride, or sit in the park and enjoy nature.
  • Practice mindfulness. Activities like journaling, meditation and yoga can help you feel more connected and lower stress levels.
  • Find activities you like that are offline. Try out knitting, reading, or board games; or a new sport.
  • Change up your environment. Move to a different space that won’t activate your craving for an unhealthy habit.

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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