Dopamine detox has become a trendy practice to reduce time spent on social media. Although well intentioned, its seemingly scientific approach to rebooting the mind's reward system seems to fall short of getting to the root cause of misbehavior. In a world filled with instant gratification, our dopamine receptors can become overwhelmed, leading to addiction and mental health issues. This article explores the concept of dopamine detox, dopamine receptors connection to redox potential, and practical ways to avoid dopamine addiction.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and hormone that plays a vital role in our pleasure and reward system in the brain. When dopamine receptor levels are high from chronically releasing dopamine, it can lead to low dopamine states with symptoms such as restlessness and anxiety. On the other hand, balanced dopamine levels are essential for motivation, focus, and overall well-being.
“Dopamine is not just about reward anticipation; it fuels the goal-directed behavior needed to gain that reward; dopamine “binds” the value of a reward to the resulting work. It’s about the motivation arising from those dopaminergic projections to the PFC that is needed to do the harder thing (i.e., to work). In other words, dopamine is not about the happiness of reward. It’s about the happiness of pursuit of reward that has a decent chance of occurring.”1 - Robert Sapolsky
The figure below displays Sapolsky's quote that the relatively higher dopamine response to 50% certainty that a reward will be given for work compared to 100% certainty of reward. This mechanism is how a behavior like gambling can become addicting.
The Concept of Dopamine Detox
“Dopamine is just a mechanism that explains how addictions can become reinforced, and makes for a catchy title. The title’s not to be taken literally.” - Dr. Cameron Sepah, the creator of the dopamine fast. Dopamine detox is the process of resetting dopamine receptors and secretion to their balanced state even though there isn’t much long term research to prove this. By regulating exposure to unhealthy habits that excessively release dopamine, such as social media, sugar, or addictive substances, the dopamine receptors can function properly.2
The popularized practice of taking a dopamine fast seems to be taken to the extreme by eliminating all forms of stimuli, including reading and human interaction. This isn’t really the problem here even if it’s removing healthy activities as determined by Sepah. The larger issue is going back to the other extreme of partaking in addictive behaviors on a daily basis outside of these detoxes.
The restoration of dopamine naturally can take anywhere from a week to several months, depending on the individual's lifestyle and exposure to dopamine-releasing stimuli.
Redox Potential: Reduction Oxidation Potential
Redox potential is referred to as reduction oxidation potential, is a measure of the ability of a substance to gain or lose electrons. In the context of detoxing dopamine, redox potential is vital as it influences the overall health of the cells, including dopamine receptors.
Dr. Jack Kruse generally recommends starting with prioritizing light by paying attention to sunrises, using dim light and blocking blue light at night, and eating seasonally. Increasing redox potential can be achieved through proper circadian rhythm, hydration, and nutrition. This supports the dopamine detox process and enhances overall mental and physical health.3,4
Dopamine receptor dysfunction leads to neurodegenerative conditions like ADHD and Parkinson’s disease.5 These conditions may be worsened with abnormal dopamine levels or neurotransmission issues.
Functional Patterns Approach to Dopamine Addiction
At FP, we take a fundamental approach to dopamine detox rather than the popular method of just eliminating all pleasures for a few days. This approach takes into account the FP hierarchy of needs shown below focused around improving biomechanics, improving circadian rhythm, hydration, and organic foods daily. This promotes a better functioning body that is less prone to dopamine addiction and resort to spending hours on activities that may lead towards addiction.
Tuning into boredom is the phrase used by FP to take time to do nothing but also source out problems and deal with the backlog of projects in life. At surface level, tuning into boredom sounds more like those who dopamine fast to the extreme. Instead, it is more focused around problem solving that can combat dopamine addiction, rather than just removing stimuli.
Practical Tips and Advice
For those looking to embark on a dopamine detox journey, here are some valuable tips:
- Prioritize optimizing walking and running in training.
- Tune into the boredom by doing nothing.
- Aim to regulate exposure to addictive substances and behaviors on a daily basis.
- Finding the root cause of your addictive desires and address them
- Engage in activities that promote mindfulness and relaxation
- A strategy to avoid or deal with triggers that pull you into addictive behavior. Ex. training social media algorithms to only show you educational material.
- Learn relevant skills to be great at what you do for work that can outcompete your base desires.
- Time your day around sunrise and sunset exposure.
- At night, use dim light and block blue light.
- Focus on nutrition that supports redox potential and dopamine balance
Taking a dopamine detox seems to be trending and corresponds with how biology works but isn’t researched enough to show benefits from the practice. By understanding dopamine addiction and the importance of redox potential, individuals can take control of regulating their behaviors. The journey to rebooting dopamine receptors is within reach with a problem solving oriented Functional Patterns approach, and the lasting impact it can have on one's life is profound.
If you're interested in Functional Patterns, we recommend you to watch the @projectfunctionpodcast.
Learn more about Functional Patterns and dopamine in the following resources:
- Embracing the Earth: The Potential of Grounding
- Fluid Foundations: How To Hydrate Your Body With Movement
- The Link Between Caffeine And Anxiety
- Are Anxiety Tics Aging You Faster?
- Is Meditation the best tool to address Anxiety?
- Addressing the System, Not the Symptoms – Functional Patterns
- Principle #1: Actively Pursuing Homeostasis or a Parasympathetic State
- Functional behavior change doesn’t have inherent short-term rewards built into it.
- Functional Patterns philosophy: Learn to be at peace with doing nothing.
- Naudi Aguilar talks about how you can get high on your own supply.
- Endogenous vs. Exogenous Production of Hormones/Chemicals
- How important is body language for long term health?
- Dopamine Jackpot! Sapolsky on the Science of Pleasure
- How I Tricked My Brain To Like Doing Hard Things (dopamine detox)
- Why Boredom is Good For You
- ALWAYS REDOX, NEVER DETOX FIRST
- Sapolsky, Robert M. “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.” Penguin Books, pg 50,99, 2017.
- Grinspoon, Peter. "Dopamine Fasting: Misunderstanding Science Spawns a Maladaptive Fad." Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Medical School, 26 Feb. 2020, Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/dopamine-fasting-misunderstanding-science-spawns-a-maladaptive-fad-2020022618917
- Kruse, Jack. “REALITY #12: DOPAMINE BLINDS US FROM NATURE’S FRACTAL FABRIC.” Penguin Books, 25 May 2017. https://jackkruse.com/reality-12-dopamine-blinds-us-from-natures-fractal-fabric/
- Kruse, Jack. “The Redox Rx: How to Improve Your Redox Potential.” 13 Feb 2014. https://jackkruse.com/redox-rx/
- Leo, Damiana. "Dopamine Receptors in Health and Disease." MDPI, MDPI Special Issues, 31 Dec 2020. https://www.mdpi.com/journal/biomolecules/special_issues/Dopamine_Receptor#:~:text=Dysfunction%20of%20dopamine%20neurotransmission%20and,hyperactivity%20disorder%2C%20and%20Huntington%20disease.