“Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence” by Anna Lembke, MD
In this profound but accessible book, psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist, Lembke, unpacks the role of dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter produced in our brains. When we are exposed to stimulants that produce pleasure or a positive sensation, dopamine spikes. Through a process of self-regulation our brains bring us back to a state of balance, or “psychologic equilibrium”. As humans, we are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain and that system worked perfectly well in times of scarcity; we needed a pleasure response to stimulants such as food and sex so we would eat and reproduce, and likewise, we needed a pain response to protect ourselves from injury.
Lembke explains this much more elegantly that I will, but it is when this pleasure seeking becomes unbalanced that addiction can arise because we can develop tolerance to a substance or stimulus. This means we need more (or a stronger version of) it to experience the effects we’re used to. It is not just drugs that produce a spike in dopamine that makes us feel good, it can also be ubiquitous things like chocolate and social media.
The problem is we live in an age of instant gratification, of indulgence, of unfettered access to high-dopamine inducing stimuli, like social media, gambling, shopping, work, gaming. We’re hooked on feeling good and as Lembke explains, it is finding balance that leads to a sense of wellbeing, to a life well lived.
One of the reasons I recommend this book is because it is far from doom and gloom; Lembke suggests and explains many helpful strategies to heal from addiction. Moreover, for people who are not clinically addicted, the strategies are helpful in modifying behaviours they might want to change such as reducing social media or alcohol consumption.