Dopamine fasting involves abstaining from overstimulating activities, such as playing video games and eating junk food. Proponents claim this can help the brain’s dopamine receptors “reset.”
This article contains quotes from personal interviews with experts on this topic.
According to supporters of dopamine fasting, regularly engaging in overstimulating practices bombards the brain with too much dopamine. Consequently, taking a break from them may foster calmness.
To do a dopamine detox, a person identifies their overstimulating activities and replaces them with less stimulating ones, such as reading or gardening. That said, it is worth noting that it is merely a theory and research does not currently back it.
Read on to learn more about dopamine fasting, including how it works, potential benefits, side effects, and when to call a doctor.
Neurotransmitters are substances that send chemical messages from a nerve cell to a target cell. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter
According to licensed professional counselor Marissa Moore, MA, LPC, dopamine fasting aims to reduce overstimulation of the brain’s dopamine system.
Moore explains that in today’s modern world, people are constantly bombarded with stimuli that can lead to excessive dopamine release, such as:
- social media
- video games
- junk food
However, it is important to note that research does not back the theory underlying dopamine fasting.
“Proponents claim that overstimulation may potentially lead to reduced sensitivity to dopamine over time,” says Moore. “They contend that this makes it harder to find pleasure in everyday activities and causes a lack of motivation.”
People who use the practice claim that it helps their dopamine receptors reset.
If a person wants to
Identify overstimulating activities
The first step is for people to identify the activities in their lives that overstimulate their dopamine system. These may include any practices that provide instant, but short-lived, pleasure.
Abstain from overstimulating activities
Abstain from these overstimulating activities for a specific period.
The duration of the detox can vary depending on individual preferences and needs. People may choose to do it for a day, a weekend, or even longer.
Engage in less stimulating activities
Instead of engaging in overstimulating activities, focus on less stimulating, mindful activities. These may include:
- spending time in nature
- engaging in physical exercise
- pursuing hobbies
- spending quality time with friends and family
“Dopamine fasting or detox may be beneficial for individuals who are excessively reliant on instant gratification activities and feel a lack of motivation in their lives,” says Moore.
“It might help those struggling with productivity, focus, or attention issues stemming from excessive use of technology or other stimulating activities.”
Licensed clinical psychologist Jeanette Raymond, PhD discusses the potential benefits of dopamine fasting.
“Taking breaks from dopamine hits may calm the nervous system, as well as enable a person to find their center and feel more grounded,” said Raymond. “It may also prevent developing tolerance, which is needing more and more dopamine to produce the same effect.”
However, there are more natural ways of getting the necessary amounts of dopamine.
“Having satisfying interpersonal connections that include touch — which increases dopamine — helps prevent the addictive qualities that dopamine binges foster,” says Raymond.
According to licensed psychologist Dr. David Tzall, PsyD, while dopamine fasting may not be inherently harmful, people should approach it with caution.
“Mental health professionals do not approve or recommend it because it lacks empirical evidence,” says Tzall. “The brain’s dopamine system is complex, and it is not feasible to reset it through short-term behavioral changes.”
He also notes that abruptly stopping pleasurable activities that may serve as coping mechanisms can negatively affect a person’s mental health. “This could be especially true for individuals who heavily rely on these activities to manage stress,” Tzall says.
Additionally, if the detox involves avoiding essential tasks or responsibilities, it may negatively impact a person’s daily functioning.
“Additionally, a rebound effect may happen when the detox period ends and people experience a strong urge to engage in the activities that they previously restricted,” says Tzall. “This leads to binge-like behavior, defeating the purpose of the detox.”
Dopamine detox is not a scientifically proven therapy. People should approach it with caution and understand that individual outcomes will vary.
“It is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or mental health expert when a person is considering making significant changes in their lifestyle,” says Moore.
Also, when some behaviors, such as eating junk food, become difficult to control, it may be time to seek help. Mental health professionals have a broad range of interventions they can offer that can foster positive changes.
Dopamine fasting entails temporarily abstaining from activities that provide a constant bombardment of stimuli. Examples include playing video games and eating fast food.
To detox, a person identifies the overstimulating activities in their life and substitutes them for less stimulating activities, such as spending time in nature.
Potential benefits may include calming the nervous system, which presumably fosters healthier habits.