Many of our feelings, decisions, and actions are influenced by neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and psychopharmaceuticals that control the central nervous system. Our daily experiences can affect the balance of chemicals in our brain, including a well-known neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine fasting is the newest fad, but does it effectively address how to reset dopamine levels when imbalances occur?
Neurotransmitters and the environment are integral factors in mental health. Understanding how neurochemicals can be impacted by day-to-day living is key for developing safe and effective strategies for maintaining brain health. Good brain health means an individual can realize their abilities and optimize their cognitive, emotional, psychological, and behavioral functioning to cope with life situations.
What are Common Neurotransmitters?
The brain communicates with itself by transmitting chemicals from one neuron, or nerve, to the other. And this regular, rapid-fire messaging plays a big role in how we feel and function each day. Imbalances in these chemicals can have a lasting impact on our overall health.
Different neurotransmitters carry out various functions. Although several different types of chemicals within the brain, the more commonly known neurotransmitters include serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and dopamine. These four neurotransmitters are often responsible for how much stress, anxiety, depression, and happiness an individual may experience.
Dopamine, in specific, controls many functions, including behavior, emotion, and cognition. This chemical also communicates with the brain’s front regions, which are associated with pleasure and reward. On the positive side, it provides the motivation to work toward achieving a reward.
Dopamine & Substance Abuse
The more sinister side of dopamine is its common link to illegal drug use, which targets dopamine receptors. Drugs and alcohol directly impact the brain’s reward system. Trying new drugs, drinking alcohol, misuse prescription medications, or abuse of illicit substances can negatively impact dopamine levels. One of the first steps in drug treatment is addressing how to reset dopamine levels and redirecting reward system triggers to more healthy activities.
Dopamine is responsible for creating the strong sense of pleasure and euphoria that is often accompanied by heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, marijuana, and alcohol. Dopamine can also reduce or eliminate physical pain and maybe why opioids and other pain medications have a high potential for addiction. Dopamine is often referred to as the “pleasure chemical,” and our mind needs to keep a healthy amount of dopamine within the brain to reduce the potential for severe and persistent mental health disorders.
How does Dopamine Impact My Brain?
Dopamine causes a person to want, desire, seek out and search. It increases general levels of arousal and goal-seeking behavior. It can also make individuals curious about ideas, plus fuels a desire to search for information. Dopamine creates reward-seeking loops. These loops will cause people to repeat pleasurable behavior in order to increase levels of dopamine.
What does this mean for the brain and how we behave? Something as simple as checking Instagram for its rewarding benefits may trigger spikes in dopamine. Eating unhealthy, albeit pleasurable, foods can also correlate with dopamine. Likewise, consumption of drugs and alcohol may flood the brain with dopamine and cause a person to repeat this type of behavior. Learning how to reset dopamine levels may reduce the chances of developing unhealthy habits.
What Happens If I Don’t Have Enough Dopamine?
Not having enough dopamine can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. Dopamine is a primary factor in our body’s reward system, allowing us to feel both pleasure and displeasure. Too much dopamine can cause addiction and impulse control problems, while too little dopamine can cause severe depression and lower self-esteem. Having a natural balance of dopamine is essential for overall health. Common signs of deficient dopamine levels include:
- Inability to focus
- Weight gain or loss
- Decreased energy
- Mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
Dopamine deficiency may cause many unpleasant emotional and physical experiences. As a result, individuals may seek dangerous methods of achieving more dopamine output in the brain. With time, these artificial spikes in the brain’s reward system may make it more difficult to reset dopamine levels once these bad habits are stopped.
What Happens If I Have Too Much Dopamine?
Having too much dopamine can cause a strong sense of pleasure and euphoria, but it does not occur without severe consequences. Common signs and problems of having too much dopamine in the brain include:
- Risky behaviors
- Increased sex drive
Several symptoms of elevated dopamine levels may be enticing but are often related to an increased risk for developing a substance use or abuse disorder.
How to Reset Dopamine Levels
The good news is that dopamine levels can be reset. The brain is already wired to create dopamine and other important neurochemicals on its own. It’s a matter of retraining certain systems to reactivate this natural process.
Unfortunately, with prolonged drug and alcohol use, dopamine creation becomes dependent upon the substance. Stopping the substance and allowing the brain to heal itself is critical for overall physical and mental health. Additionally, it can answer how to reset dopamine levels.
What is Dopamine Fasting?
Several psychologists have developed a process known as “dopamine fasting.” During this process, the person, along with a counselor or psychologist, will reduce the experience of several pleasurable activities such as drug use, sex, social media, socializing, and certain foods. The goal is to reduce the outside influence of dopamine on the brain, forcing the brain to create its own chemical.
There has been a significant amount of success with dopamine fasting. However, it does have some dangers associated with it and should be monitored closely with a trained professional. It can be challenging to perform proper dopamine fast. It is often used for extreme cases of addiction. Not all people may need dopamine fasting.
Resetting Dopamine Levels Naturally
There are other ways to balance dopamine levels naturally. Common ways to balance dopamine levels include:
- Eating healthy (Protein, less saturated fats, probiotics)
- Adequate Sleep
- Hobbies (music, reading, etc.)
- Mindfulness (breathing, meditation, etc.)
- Enough sunlight
- Vitamins and Supplements (Vitamin D and B)
Lifestyle choices can significantly impact the levels of dopamine in the body. Overall, a balanced diet and lifestyle can go a long way in increasing the body’s natural production of dopamine, helping the brain function at its best.
Pleasurable situations and activities are not limited to unhealthy choices. They can be achieved through regular exercise, plus natural foods that also carry many outside benefits. This means that while drug abuse can stimulate dopamine release, so can running, hanging out with friends, and getting adequate sleep.
How Can AspenRidge REACH Help?
AspenRidge REACH offers online substance abuse and mental health treatment. Our qualified treatment specialists understand that customizable treatment yields the best outcomes. We can help to address high or low levels of dopamine caused by substance abuse. We can help provide the tools that specifically address how to reset dopamine levels through our various program options, allowing your brain to recover from certain unhealthy lifestyles.
Reward-seeking behaviors must align with long-term sobriety and other drug-free goals. However, it’s not a simple process to retrain the brain to produce dopamine independently, especially following an addiction. Contact us for more information on our various programs at 720-650-8055.