A dopamine detox entails fasting from dopamine producing activities, or “pleasures,” for a certain amount of time with the hope of decreasing reward sensitivity. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this method.
Those who attempt a dopamine detox aim to detach themselves from everyday stimuli, such as social media, sugar, or shopping. They are replaced in favor of less impulsive habits and lifestyle choices. The fast can last for a few hours or several days.
It is very important to note that a dopamine detox is not a scientifically researched approach. Evidence of any benefits is anecdotal, and most benefits come from refraining from potentially addictive activities. However, they are not related to actually detoxing from dopamine.
The entire concept of a “dopamine detox” is scientifically incorrect, and reduces the brain to a very simplistic level. It is, in fact, far more complex that this “dopamine detox” trend suggests.
This article will explore dopamine detoxes in further detail, including potential risks, and even some incidental benefits.
Dr. Cameron Sepah is the creator of the dopamine fast, or detox. He commonly uses the technique in clinical practice on tech workers and venture capitalists. Dr. Sepah’s goal is to rid his clients of their dependence on certain stimuli, such as phone alerts, texts, and social media notifications. Much of his research around this new practice was based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). What he was trying to accomplish with this concept is different from what people have come to understand that “dopamine detox” is.
The general concept behind Dr. Sepah’s “detox” is for people to let themselves feel lonely or bored, or to try simpler activities instead of reaching for quick “hits” of dopamine. Ideally, people will start to notice how certain stimuli might distract them.
Dr. Sepah identifies six compulsive behaviors as targets of the dopamine detox:
- emotional eating
- excessive internet usage and gaming
- gambling and shopping
- porn and masturbation
- thrill and novelty seeking
- recreational drugs
By fasting from these activities that trigger the brain’s neurotransmitters, people become less dependent on the emotional “hits” that dopamine provides, which can sometimes lead to dependence or addiction.
Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter in the brain. It is naturally produced by the body as a chemical messenger, and it affects many behavioral and physical functions, including:
An excess or deficiency in dopamine production can cause mental health conditions. Exposure to overwhelming levels of stimuli can prompt such disorders, leading to dependencies on certain substances or activities.
During a dopamine detox, a person avoids dopamine triggers for a set period of time — anywhere from an hour to several days.
The dopamine detox requires a person to avoid any kind of arousal, specifically from pleasure triggers. Anything that stimulates dopamine production is off-limits throughout the detox.
Ideally, by the end of the detox, a person will feel more centered, balanced, and less affected by their usual dopamine triggers. However, it is important to note that a true dopamine detox, whereby a person successfully halts all dopamine activity in the brain, is not possible.
The human body naturally produces dopamine, even when it is not exposed to certain stimuli. A more accurate description of the dopamine detox is a period of abstinence, or “unplugging” from the world.
Doing so may have positive effects on those who implement the practice from time to time. However, the term “dopamine detox” by its very nature is problematic, and not at all scientifically correct. Dr. Sepah himself says the name is not meant to be interpreted literally.
We have already clarified that a complete and total detox from naturally-occurring dopamine is not possible.
That said, the decision to unplug and detach from certain impulsive behaviors may come with some health benefits, one of which is the potential for heightened focus and greater mental clarity.
Dopamine is often distracting, and may be a hindrance for some people from achieving their goals. It is what prompts the excessive repetition of certain feel-good behaviors, causing people to scroll mindlessly on social media or binge-watch their favorite TV shows.
These unnecessary compulsions detract from spending time more productively on work, health goals, home organization, and more. When people actively avoid these distractions, they may free up more time for the things that matter more to them.
In short, a dopamine detox is not technically possible, and any evidence of its positive effects are purely anecdotal.
However, by avoiding certain behaviors, such as spending hours scrolling through a smartphone and social media sites, people may be able to achieve a greater
For those struggling with certain addictive behaviors, meditation can be a great way to achieve a state of mindfulness. Learn about the 7 types of meditation here.
The misunderstood version of the “dopamine detox” is little more than a fad, with no scientific evidence to support its effectiveness.
A true “dopamine detox” is impossible because the brain continues to produce dopamine all the time. However, refraining from activities that stem from compulsion and impulse may prove beneficial for short periods of time.
Since many of the activities and substances people turn to can become addictive over time, a bit of distancing from outlets such as social media, fast food, and mindless TV can have an overall positive impact on a person’s mind and lifestyle.
Other practices such as meditation may be a far more effective way to achieve a better state of mindfulness, as a “dopamine detox” is not a scientifically proven method, and is at best misleading by definition.
Seeking help for addiction may seem daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support. If you believe that you or someone close to you is showing signs of addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 800-662-4357 (TTY: 800-487-4889)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255