Dopamine fasting: What is it and why you may, or may not, need it

And how the popular claim that dopamine fast helps reduce drug intake is noteworthy but deceiving

To get a better idea, let’s start with the basics.

What is dopamine?

But dopamine is about more than just physical.

You are reading: Dopamine fasting: What is it and why you may, or may not, need it

“As humans, our brains are hard-wired to seek out behaviours that release dopamine in our reward system. When you’re doing something pleasurable, your brain releases a large amount of dopamine,” it adds.

What is dopamine fasting?

According to Psychology Today, a dopamine fast is about either reducing or eliminating pleasure — a feeling associated with dopamine — that comes from a long list of life activities, including eating, having sex, engaging on social media and using recreational drugs.

The fast can last for a few hours or several days, according to Medical News Today, adding that dopamine fasting “is not a scientifically researched approach.”

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The cognitive behavioural therapy is meant to help individuals “become less dominated by the unhealthy stimuli — the texts, the notifications, the beeps, the rings — that accompany living in a modern, technology-centric society,” per the Harvard Health Blog.

The idea is to simply give the brain a break and chance to “reset from this potentially addictive bombardment” by allowing oneself to be lonely or bored, or to engage in simpler and more natural activities, writes Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician, at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Resetting can help address compulsive behaviours like drug use

It is thought that resetting can help restore control so a person can be better equipped to address compulsive behaviours.

Can a person fast dopamine?

As is the case with many other concepts, there is confusion about what dopamine fasting is and what it is not. Dr. Sepah maintains the name is not meant to be taken literally.

“People are viewing dopamine as if it was heroin or cocaine, and are fasting in the sense of giving themselves a ‘tolerance break’ so that the pleasures of whatever they are depriving themselves of will be more intense or vivid when consumed again,” notes the Harvard Health blog. “Sadly, it doesn’t work that way at all.”

What happens when there’s too much or too little dopamine?

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Sometimes, too much dopamine may simply be too much. Along with a high dopamine level producing euphoric and energized feelings come the less desirable effects like trouble sleeping, poor impulse control and more aggression.

“While dopamine does rise in response to rewards or pleasurable activities, it doesn’t actually decrease when you avoid overstimulating activities, so a dopamine ‘fast’ doesn’t actually lower your dopamine levels,” the Harvard Health blog explains.

In people struggling with an addiction, Piper told the publication, “the turbulence of dopamine swings related to addiction effectively drowns out signals from other realms of life.” Retraining an addicted person’s dopamine system takes time, likely many months of staying away from the drug or stimuli, the article adds.

How to naturally improve dopamine levels

For example, the fast — coupled with pleasurable activities like being outside, on a trip or during a vacation — could be done in many ways: one to four hours at the end of the day, one weekend day, one weekend per quarter or one week per year.

Goop reports that Dr. Sepah even recommends a feasting time, when a person schedules five to 30 minutes for impulsive behaviour one to three times a day.

Meanwhile, rather than indulging in a dopamine fast, Kent Berridge, PhD, proposes practicing mindfulness instead.

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