8 Natural Dopamine Enhancers to Fight Addiction
Low dopamine is both a precursor of addiction and a result of extensive substance abuse. If you are craving drugs, alcohol, gambling or a sugary soda, what your body is really after is another rush of dopamine. Here are 8 ways to increase your dopamine levels – naturally!
Dopamine is the ‘feel-good’ chemical in your brain responsible for the experience of pleasure. As your dopamine reward system plays a major role in addiction, and your everyday dopamine levels can become depleted by substance abuse over time, finding natural ways to increase this neurotransmitter is essential to your recovery and overall feelings of wellbeing. In addition to seeking addiction treatment, there are some techniques you can use to increase dopamine without the use of harmful substances.
Dopamine’s Role in Addiction
The brain’s dopamine response is extremely sensitive to addictive substances and behaviours like alcohol, drugs, junk food, gambling and sex, which initiate a strong dopamine response. This explains why addiction is so difficult to escape. Stronger rewards are deeply ingrained in learning, so we are more motivated to repeat behaviours that result in higher intensity of pleasure.
People who are more susceptible to addiction have naturally lower levels of dopamine. For these individuals, engaging in addictive behaviours is actually a form of self-medicating to treat a dopamine deficiency.
Are You Dopamine-Deficient?
Those with very low levels of dopamine experience less enjoyment from what would normally be pleasurable activities. Similarly, since the dopamine reward system plays a major role in motivating behaviour, people with naturally lower levels of dopamine will feel much less driven to complete tasks and may have difficulty focusing. The following symptoms may point to a dopamine deficiency:
- Poor memory
- Low energy
- Lack of zest for life
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty with focusing and concentration
- Dependence on caffeine, tobacco or other stimulants for motivation
- Restless Legs Syndrome
8 Healthy Ways to Increase Dopamine
Even though destructive behaviours such as taking drugs or compulsive eating may feel good in the short term, they actually decrease baseline dopamine levels in the long run. Fortunately, if you suffer from low dopamine you do not simply have to live with it – there are several lifestyle changes you can make to increase dopamine levels naturally.
Exercise increases not only dopamine levels, but also dopamine receptor count and dopamine activity. Ideally, you should get at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise to take full advantage of this benefit, but noticeable results can be achieved with as little as 10 minutes of low-impact exercise. Exercise also signals the brain to release serotonin and endorphins, two other brain chemicals that help you feel good and reduce levels of harmful stress hormones.
2. The Dopamine Diet
There is no such thing as a dopamine pill – we cannot simply ingest dopamine; it is something that the body must produce on its own. But we can make sure we eat a diet that provides the proper building blocks to synthesize dopamine. One of the main dietary considerations to facilitate dopamine production is to ensure we eat enough tyrosine – the amino acid precursor to dopamine. Tyrosine can be found in many foods, including:
- Meat, eggs, dairy, fish, poultry
- Legumes, nuts, seeds
- Green leafy vegetables
3. Get Some Sunshine
In order for our bodies to turn tyrosine into dopamine, we need exposure to bright light. You can consume all the tyrosine you want, but without exposure to light (ideally sunlight) your body will not be able to process it into dopamine. Additionally, a link has been found between lack of sun exposure and a reduced dopamine receptor count. Thirty to 60 minutes of sunlight each day will ensure that your body synthesizes dopamine and prevents light-related reductions in dopamine receptors.
4. Listen to Music
Ever notice that listening to music can make you feel really good? Studies have found a link between listening to music and dopamine release. Even the anticipation of listening to music can stimulate this response. You can easily benefit from this by simply listening to your favourite tunes regularly.
Prolonged exposure to stress has been shown to reduce dopamine levels. Try to cut out as many stressors from your life as possible, and develop coping methods to protect against the stressors you cannot avoid. Mindfulness meditation therapy, yoga and massage are not only great ways to relax and de-stress, but also have all been found to increase dopamine levels in the brain in their own right.
6. Challenge Yourself
As mentioned previously, dopamine plays a role in behaviour and motivation. When we accomplish a goal, our brain releases dopamine. Setting and reaching goals is a great way to increase dopamine. Learn to harness this effect by creating to-do lists. Each time you check a task off the list, such as making your bed or taking out the garbage, your brain rewards this sense of accomplishment with a little hit of dopamine. Break down large tasks into smaller ones. This helps you stay motivated by providing small doses of dopamine along the way to achieving your larger goals. So, set some goals, and not only will you be more productive, you will also feel better while you are at it.
7. Switch to Green Tea
While it is true that caffeine from coffee or energy drinks will give you a rush of dopamine, over time, they may do more harm than good. Excessive caffeine can increase your cortisol levels, thus increasing your stress, which actually lowers dopamine over time. Green tea is a much healthier caffeine option. It is packed with antioxidants that fight the effects of stress and provides an energy boost without the post-caffeine crash.
8. Get Help for Your Addiction
Indulging in any addictive act, such as watching porn, taking drugs or drinking alcohol creates a flood of dopamine. Unfortunately, this effect depletes the brain of dopamine and leads to a crash. Over time, your brain builds a tolerance to these stimuli and requires an increasingly larger amount to achieve the same effect. Furthermore, the time it takes for your brain to replenish its dopamine supply becomes longer and longer. While these addictive substances and behaviours may seem like the best quick fix for dopamine, in the long run you actually end up with a dopamine deficiency worse than what you started with. This lower level of dopamine renders you less able to experience pleasure in any area of life.
Unfortunately, by the time you are addicted to a substance or process, your ability to stop using it is often beyond your control. This is why it is so important to seek professional help for your addiction.
At The Cabin Bangkok, our holistic treatment approach incorporates the best aspects of mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and the 12 Steps for best results. Our intensive outpatient treatment programme allows you to access a high level of care, while still being available to attend to your daily obligations. For more information, contact us today.