Dopamine Nation Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence – Anna Lembke
“Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence” by Anna Lembke is a book about the intertwined relationship between pleasure and pain, and how our brains are wired to seek out pleasure through activities such as bingeing on social media, gambling, and substance use.
Throughout the book, Dr. Lembke draws on her experience as an addiction specialist and shares stories of her patients to illustrate how the pursuit of pleasure can become addictive and ultimately damaging.
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The book has been praised for its authoritative and compassionate tone, as well as its valuable insights into addiction and the brain. It has been a bestseller in several publications, including The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.
The Pursuit of Pleasure
Addiction is compulsive and continued behavior despite its self-harm. The biggest factor in getting addicted to something is its easy access.
We are living in a dopamine-driven economy.
Food is manipulated by adding artificial flavors to satisfy our modern appetite. Digital drugs that were not existing a few years ago are in the hands of every person. It doesn’t care about how you get to your desired goal.
The art of consumption has become a drug itself. The internet promotes compulsive overconsumption. Humans are social and contagious. They do what they see others doing.
Running From Pain
People are afraid to fail. They are afraid of being exposed as not knowing.
We are living in an age where even showing kindness and helping others is framed as a strategy for personal happiness.
In recent times, we have lost our ability to tolerate even minor forms of discomfort. We constantly seek to distract ourselves from the present moment in order to be entertained.
Boredom forces us to face bigger problems in life and ask questions that seem threatening. That’s why most people can’t stand boredom. But it is often an opportunity for discovery and invention.
Running from Pain
We are all running from pain. Some use drugs to run away from it. Some binge-watch Netflix. Some engage in pornography. We are doing almost anything to insulate ourselves from pain. But this is only making it worse.
With so much technological advancement and progress, why is the rate of unhappy and depressed people rising sky-high?
It’s because we’re working hard to avoid being miserable.
The Pleasure-pain Balance
Dopamine is a brain chemical involved in reward processing. It plays a role in motivating people to get a reward.
A genetically engineered mouse that was unable to release dopamine didn’t seek food and starved to death. But when food is directly put in their mouth, they chew it.
- Pleasure and pain are co-related
- Pleasure and pain are processed in overlapping brain regions.
- Pain and pleasure are self-regulatory. When the balance tips to one side, the self-regulating mechanism comes into action to bring it back to the same level.
When you repeatedly expose yourself to a similar pleasurable stimulus, the pleasure side gets weaker and the pain side gets stronger. Scientists call this neuroadaptation.
The reason people relapse even after sustained periods of abstinence is the pain-pleasure balance. When the scales are tilted to the pleasure side for a long time, we crave the pleasure just to feel normal. But if we wait long enough, the brain will readapt to the baseline.
The pursuit of pleasure for its own sake leads to an inability to enjoy pleasure of any kind. A dopamine-deficient state drives craving and seeking out reward.