Can you reset the neurochemicals in your brain? Can you increase your levels of dopamine by fasting? Countless people have used detoxes to influence their brain’s reward system, but this is not your average detox. In fact, instead of abstaining from junk food or social media, a dopamine detox is a complete removal of all your favorite things. During a dopamine detox, people avoid social media, phones, games, food, and even social interaction. Anything that stimulates some sort of pleasure is off the table. But why should you cut out all these enjoyable things out of your life?
What is a dopamine detox?
This detox revolves around the neurochemical dopamine. Dopamine is commonly framed as one of many feel-good chemicals in the brain. However, your brain’s relationship to dopamine is a lot more complicated than you think. Have you ever wondered why your brain wants what it wants? Well, dopamine is the driving force behind wants and cravings. In other words, dopamine compels you to do whatever you want to do.
Imagine you are in the middle of work and your phone dings, you know that sound you have heard a million times. As a result of this, your brain responds instantly with a shot of dopamine and suddenly you feel compelled to check your phone. A burst of excitement and enthusiasm drives your brain away from your work, so you pick up your phone, you check your messages, and realize it is just spam or a text from your mom. That rush of dopamine dies down, you put away your phone, and you refocus on your work. When your phone dings again the cycle goes on.
Throughout your life you may find yourself chasing these bursts of dopamine because the chemical rush is often more exciting than the actual stimulus. Just think about that text message; was not the potential of that message more exciting than the message itself?
That is how dopamine works. It fuels your brain’s wants and desires but it does not control whether or not you enjoy something. Instead it pushes you to watch one more episode, click one more profile, and scroll though one more page. Rushes of dopamine keep you wanting more even if each stimulus leaves you feeling disappointed. Now as you can imagine, chasing dopamine can be a dangerous path. Many people cling to their smartphones and social media because they are searching for their next source of dopamine. Each time you engage with these devices you get a little rush of dopamine in your brain and that chemical keeps you coming back again and again; so why should you fast from sources of dopamine?
The truth behind dopamine
The goal of a dopamine detox is to change your relationship with this powerful chemical. By fasting from dopamine you are removing the sources of want and desire in your life. You are abstaining from all the things that control you on a daily basis because dopamine dependence creates a toxic cycle. A cycle that is incredibly difficult to escape from. By fasting you are removing all sources of dopamine from your life and escaping your bad habits. So, how do you perform a dopamine detox? What steps should you take to rid your life of this controlling desire? Before we break down step by step how to perform a dopamine detox there is one important distinction we need to make. Dopamine fasting was first conceptualized by a psychiatrist exploring the role of dopamine in addiction. He designed the dopamine detox to help people escape from compulsive and destructive behaviors, but the technique was soon adapted to different lifestyles. As it grew more popular, dopamine fasting became a blanket solution to our dependence on technology, food, and other sources of desire. However, dopamine fasting is not the answer to all of your problems. By performing a dopamine detox you will not suddenly live a different life or gain unstoppable self-discipline. Dopamine fasting does not actually increase or decrease the amount of dopamine in your body. This is a fact that countless people misunderstand. You are not chipping away at an overabundance of dopamine in your system nor are you refilling empty banks of this chemical in your brain. In other words, a dopamine detox will not increase the pleasure you feel on a daily basis. It will not amplify your favorite things or make them ten times more fun, because dopamine does not control how much you enjoy something; it controls wants and desires, not liking or pleasure (Todd, 2021). So what does a dopamine detox really do? This practice can significantly increase your resistance to temptation. It can give you a sense of control over your life. Right now you may feel glued to your phone. You may feel like a text ding or notification has more power than you do. A dopamine detox may not amplify your experience but it will affect your relationships with temptation and distraction.
During a dopamine detox you are forced to remove all temptations from your life. You gain a unique opportunity to reflect on the distractors that control and you learn how to live your life without them. By the end of your detox you will not be a different person. If you enjoyed social media before, you will enjoy social media after. The same goes for Netflix, video games, and junk food. But what happens the next time you hear a ding across the room? Instead of compulsively grabbing your phone, you may stop, think, and make your own decision; that is the power of a dopamine detox.
Procedure of a dopamine detox
Now that we understand what this chemical does and what role dopamine detox plays in your life, how do you perform your own dopamine detox?
First identify what temptations you want to avoid. Do you spend too much time on your phone? Do you find yourself glued to a screen for hours on end? Do you scroll through social media every time there is a lull in your day? Each of these compulsions represents a destructive behavior driven by that rush of dopamine. So, these are the temptations you want to avoid during your detox.
Many people think a detox means abstaining from all sources of dopamine. Not only is that almost impossible, it can interfere significantly with your daily life. Human interaction has become a popular component of dopamine fasting. People try to reset their brains by avoiding all human connection for an extended period of time. But this does not really do anything for you. In fact, the creator of this technique specified that avoiding human interaction was not part of his original plan because avoiding human interaction does not affect your brain’s relationships to dopamine. All this does is deprive you of love, solidarity, and connection. Instead of making you more introspective locking yourself away can leave you feeling lonely. To perform an effective dopamine detox you do not have to cut out everything that stimulates that rush of dopamine. Instead target your detox at the behaviors and compulsions that you have trouble with on a regular basis. Your phone, social media, unhealthy food, these are all great behaviors to address because you can tackle these issues without interfering too much with your life. So whether you are fasting from one thing or ten things you should start your dopamine fast by creating a list. This list will be your rule book throughout your detox, so whenever you feel like breaking the rules you go back and look at this list. Remind yourself which habits you can keep and which habits you cannot.
Next thing: take care of any outstanding problems that might come up during this period. If you have to let people know that you are stepping away from your phone, do it now. Make sure you do not have extraneous reasons to check your phone or to break your list of rules. Moreover, you should use this time to notify your friends and family; let people know what you are doing. Not only does this stimulate a sense of accountability but it helps you create a sense of space between your detox and your daily life.
When you have got everything prepared it is time to get started. The best time to start your detox is first thing in the morning; if you want to start on a Monday get everything prepared on sunday, so you can start your fast from the moment you wake up. Keep your rule book handy, keep your motivations in mind, and put your distractions as far away as possible because out of sight means out of mind. Most people maintain their detox for one 24-hour cycle. You wake up without temptation and you fall asleep without temptation. But others extend their fasting to 48 hours or week-long periods. However, if you are fasting from food, experts recommend you stop after 24 hours. A longer period may lead to more serious problems with your health. Whichever length you choose, remember to be realistic. If you have never done a dopamine detox before, you may struggle; do not expect yourself to suddenly fast for an entire month. Try 12 hours, and if you enjoy the experience, try a full day. Eventually you may have the self-control to detox for an entire week. Of course this self-control takes time and practice. As you dive into this period of separation, take plenty of time to reflect on your relationship with want and desire. Do you feel uncomfortable being away from your temptations? What makes you uncomfortable? Are you craving temptation? Experts recommend writing these feelings down because you will want to read them later.
Finally when your detox comes to a close, spend a few more moments in quiet reflection. Do you feel more in control than before? Are you less impulsively grabbing your phone? Many people feel a sense of empowerment after performing a dopamine detox. Try to maintain that level of positivity even after the fast is over because that is really where the hard work begins. Doing a detox is new and exciting, like a ding popping up on your phone it carries a lot of potential. Your responsibility after that is to incorporate those lessons into your lifestyle after the detox is done.
Lindsey Todd (2021). What to know about a dopamine detox | MedicalNewsToday. From https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/dopamine-detox