A client of mine, a brilliant and thoughtful young man in his early 20s, came to see me for incapacitating anxiety and anxiety. He was also playing videogames many of every day and late into every night.
Twenty years ago the very first thing I would have provided for a client like this was recommend an antidepressant. Today I suggested something altogether different: a dopamine fast. I recommended that he abstain from all screens, including videogames, for one month.
Over the course of my career as a psychiatrist, I have seen a growing number of clients who struggle with anxiety and stress and anxiety, consisting of otherwise healthy young people with loving families, elite education and relative wealth. Their issue isnt trauma, social dislocation or poverty. Its too much dopamine, a chemical produced in the brain that functions as a neurotransmitter, connected with feelings of satisfaction and reward.
For my patient– the brain launches a little bit of dopamine and we feel good when we do something we take pleasure in– like playing videogames. One of the most essential discoveries in the field of neuroscience in the past 75 years is that satisfaction and discomfort are processed in the exact same parts of the brain and that the brain tries hard to keep them in balance. Whenever it ideas in one instructions it will attempt difficult to bring back the balance, which neuroscientists call homeostasis, by tipping in the other.
As soon as dopamine is launched, the brain adapts to it by minimizing or “downregulating” the number of dopamine receptors that are stimulated. This causes the brain to level out by tipping to the side of pain, which is why pleasure is generally followed by a feeling of hangover or comedown.
A patient of mine, a intense and thoughtful young guy in his early 20s, came to see me for disabling anxiety and depression. When we do something we take pleasure in– like playing videogames, for my client– the brain releases a little bit of dopamine and we feel good. One of the most important discoveries in the field of neuroscience in the past 75 years is that satisfaction and pain are processed in the exact same parts of the brain and that the brain attempts hard to keep them in balance.