Dopamine is the brain's pleasure, motivation, and reward chemical. Improving dopamine sensitivity can have profound effects on many day-to-day functions, including motivation, memory, behavior, cognition, attention, sleep, mood, learning, and activities such as intense exercise. Before attempting to boost your dopamine receptor sensitivity, it's important that you understand how dopamine works and what approaches are effective.
Part 1 of 2:Learning about Dopamine
1Understand what dopamine is. There are close to 86 billion neurons in the brain. They communicate with each other via neurotransmitters, which are chemicals released by nerve cells. Dopamine is linked to many aspects of human behavior including pleasure-seeking, motivation, and addictions.
It plays important roles in mood, learning, sleep, attention, memory, movement, and anticipation. Dopamine dysfunction (as distinct from desensitization) is the cause of a handful of diseases, most notably Parkinson's disease which is caused by the death of dopamine-producing cells.
Relatively few neurons create dopamine, and those that do are found in a just few areas of the brain. A few systems outside the central nervous system such as the kidneys, pancreas, and immune cells also use dopamine. Since it does not freely move across the brain's protective blood-brain barrier, this dopamine is created locally. Dopamine is typically associated with human-like traits, yet it is widespread in the animal kingdom and occurs in some plants.
2Know what dopamine does. Dopamine is your “motivation molecule."It boosts your drive, focus, and concentration. It enables you to plan ahead and resist impulses so you can achieve your goals. It gives you that “I did it!” lift when you accomplish what you set out to do. It gets your competitive juices flowing and provides the thrill of the chase in all aspects of life — business, sports, and love.
Additionally, dopamine is in charge of your pleasure-reward system. It allows you to experience feelings of enjoyment, bliss, and even euphoria. Poor dopamine sensitivity can leave you unfocused, unmotivated, lethargic, and even depressed. Dopamine is so critical to motivation that overstimulated lab mice lack the motivation to eat. Alarmingly, with desensitized dopamine receptors, they will choose to starve even when food is readily available.
3Understand what dopamine desensitization is. Desensitization refers to long-term changes involving a decline in dopamine signaling and D2 receptors. A numbed pleasure response, or desensitization, is probably the best-understood brain change that addiction or addictive behaviors induce. The main physiological feature of reward circuitry desensitization is a decline in dopamine signaling. Desensitization is caused by a number of factors, including:
1: Decline in dopamine (D2) receptors. Fewer D2 receptors mean less sensitivity to available dopamine, which leaves a person less sensitive to the pleasure normally found in experiences.
2: Decline in baseline (tonic) dopamine levels. Lower dopamine levels leave a person"hungry"for dopamine-raising activities/substances of all kinds.
3: Blunted dopamine in response to normal rewards. Dopamine normally rises in response to rewarding activities. Once your addiction is the most reliable source of dopamine, cravings arise urging you to use porn.
4: Decline in CRF-1 receptors, which function to raise dopamine levels in the striatum (part of the brain).
5: Loss of reward circuit grey matter, which means a loss of dendrites. This translates into fewer nerve connections or synapses. A 2014 study on porn users correlated less grey matter with more porn use.
6: Decline in opioids or opioid receptors.
Both #2 and #3 may involve increased dynorphin which inhibits dopamine, and weakening of certain pathways (glutamate) conveying messages to the reward circuitry. In other words, desensitization is rather complex, and an awful lot is left to learn.
4Learn the symptoms of low dopamine sensitivity. If you have low dopamine sensitivity, you'll have little joy for life. You'll be low on energy and motivation, and will often rely on caffeine, sugar, or other stimulants to get through the day. Low dopamine levels or sensitivity can also manifest as certain psychiatric disorders including depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), bipolar disorder, and addictions of all kinds. Here's a list of the most common dopamine desensitization symptoms:
Lack of motivation
Inability to feel pleasure
Inability to connect with others
Inability to concentrate
Inability to complete tasks
Engaging in self-destructive behaviors, especially addictions
5Learn what causes decreases in dopamine sensitivity. What causes desensitization? Too much of a good thing. Dopamine is where it all starts. If dopamine is too high for too long it leads to nerve cells losing their sensitivity. If someone continues to scream, you cover your ears. When dopamine-sending nerve cells keep pumping out dopamine, the receiving nerve cells cover their"ears"by reducing dopamine (D2) receptors.
The desensitization process can begin fairly quickly, even with so-called"natural"rewards such as junk food. How quickly it occurs depends on the intensity of use and the vulnerability of the brain.
How much is too much is determined by brain changes - not by outward behaviors, such as the amount of drug used, calories consumed, or time spent watching porn. No two people are alike.
Abnormally high dopamine levels are not necessary to cause desensitization. Smoking hooks a far greater percentage of users than cocaine, even though cocaine furnishes a bigger neurochemical blast. Many small hits of dopamine can train the brain more thoroughly than fewer, more intense hits.
Nor do dopamine levels need to be continuously elevated to cause desensitization. Compare overeating and becoming obese to cigarette smoking. Both produce the down-regulation of dopamine receptors, but far less time is spent eating than puffing.
Overriding natural satiation mechanisms may be a key factor in how natural reinforcers trigger desensitization. Overeating and heavy porn users ignore 'stop' signals, or more accurately their addicted brains no longer experience"satisfaction,"so they keep on consuming.
6Understand what increasing dopamine receptor sensitivity means. When we say that a food, supplement or activity increases dopamine, it sounds like more dopamine is being made. This is often the case, but not always. Sometimes the amount of dopamine has not changed, but it's being better utilized. What's really going on could be one or more of the following:
More dopamine is being made
Dopamine breakdown is slowing down
More dopamine is being recirculated
More dopamine receptors are being created
Existing dopamine receptors are working better
7Learn how to increase dopamine sensitivity. By giving your brain time to readjust itself to natural sources of pleasure, you can effectively"reboot"your brain and make it more sensitive to dopamine. This manifests in increased motivation, drive, happiness, and energy.
You'll want to avoid dopamine-spiking (dopaminergic) activities for at least 30 days to allow your brain to fully resensitize yourself. Afterward, you can maintain your dopamine sensitivity by pursuing interests and activities that provide healthier rewards.
Part 2 of 2:Taking Action
1Consider what you eat. If you want to increase dopamine sensitivity, there are some foods you should avoid. Junk foods like potato chips, candy, and cookies may make you feel momentarily happy, but they are not so good for your health or brain. Get rid of junk food, candy, and desserts, which are processed, concentrated sources of calories that hack your brain into pumping out large amounts of dopamine.
Eating a lot of saturated fat also decreases dopamine receptor sensitivity. Sugar has been found to boost dopamine, but this is a temporary, unhealthy boost that is more drug-like than food-like and ultimately contributes to desensitization. And don't reach for artificial sweeteners instead. Sweeteners like aspartame can even decrease brain levels of serotonin, another important mood-boosting neurotransmitter.
2Limit television time. According to some studies, the average American watches almost five hours of TV per day. That is equivalent to 35 hours per week and almost two months per year. Although some people use TV to relax, it can easily become a time suck and an addiction. It's a source of lots of novel content that's designed to pull you in and keep you watching.
In order to quit watching TV, you should slowly decrease the amount of TV you watch over time, cut your TV watching completely, or replace the time you spend watching TV with other activities.
3Moderate internet usage. Internet addiction is an increasingly prevalent problem that affects a lot of people. Psychological research is seeing a growing trend of addictive online behavior, with participants experiencing the same kinds of stimulus-based highs reflective of other addictions like gambling or compulsive shopping. Since it's a potent source of novel and exciting content, you'll want to limit how much time you spend on the internet. When you do use the internet, eliminate distractions and avoid spending too much time on sites you don't need to be on. Step away from the internet and improve your mental and social health.Trustworthy SourcePubMed CentralJournal archive from the U.S. National Institutes of HealthGo to source
4Skip the soft drinks. Here's something to think about the next time you're craving something sweet: it could be more than just a sweet tooth - it could be an addictive itch begging to be scratched. Brain scans have confirmed that intermittent sugar consumption affects the brain in ways similar to certain drugs. Sugar—as pervasive as it is—meets the criteria for a substance of abuse and may be addictive to those who binge on it. It does this by affecting the chemistry of the limbic system, the part of the brain that's associated with emotional control.
Intermittent access to sugar can also lead to behavioral and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of substance abuse.
5Abstain from masturbation and pornography. This is a key aspect of resetting your dopamine pathways. Mastering this will flow into other parts of your life as well. Pornography and explicit images release a massive amount of dopamine. Coupled with masturbation, this is one of the most extreme stimuli you can ever encounter. This makes everything else seem ultra-bland by comparison. Food, goals, and real women/men stop being exciting. Most people cannot handle going without masturbation and pornography for even a week. By removing these two artificial sources of dopamine from your life, your brain will be greatly benefited.
6Stop taking drugs. Many substances have the potential to be abused, and if you frequently use recreational substances (whether legal or illegal), you might find yourself less motivated than usual. Drugs can increase dopamine levels by decreasing the amount of dopamine uptake or increasing the amount of dopamine release. Drugs are so potent and stimulating that they can increase dopamine levels to over 1200% of their baseline levels.
Having a drug addiction can make you feel as though there's no hope for getting better. But no matter how bad things have gotten, you can beat your addiction with perseverance and patience. Start by defining your reasons for quitting, since that will help you stay strong throughout the process. Then make a good plan and draw on help from support groups and counselors as you deal with withdrawal and start creating a life without drugs.Trustworthy SourceRecovery.orgResource run by the American Addiction Centers organization providing people with educational resources about substance abuseGo to source
7Stop playing video games. Video games trick you into thinking you're getting things done, and they can be very rewarding and addicting. Video gaming is a very hard habit to overcome, but distancing yourself from them will give your brain a much-needed break.
8Don't drink alcohol. Alcohol acts on the receptor sites for the neurotransmitters GABA, glutamate, and dopamine. Alcohol's activity on the GABA and glutamate sites result in the physiological effects associated with drinking, such as a slowing down of movement and speech. But individuals do not drink alcohol only for the GABA and glutamate effects. Alcohol's activity on the dopamine site in the brain's reward center produces the pleasurable feelings that motivate many people to drink in the first place. Cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink and reap the mental benefits of sobriety.
9Moderate your shopping habits. For some people, it can be very tempting to buy items that you do not actually need. The rush and excitement that buying new things provides can be very difficult to resist. If you've lost control of your shopping habits, it is best to only carry a small amount of cash and stop using all credit cards. Spend your free time outdoors and learning new things instead of shopping.
10Limit social media use. Social media can enhance your life by allowing you to connect with old friends and share important moments in your life. However, if not managed properly it can become an addiction that can consume your time and affect your work and relationships.
It has been found that social media use is associated with a surge of dopamine; dopamine is stimulated by unpredictability, by small bits of information, and by reward cues, all of which are characteristics of social media use. The release of dopamine during online social networking makes it much harder for people to resist the activity.
11Don't overuse music. Music can invoke a wide range of emotions and thoughts, and it can elicit large changes in mood or energy. It can be used as a tool for inspiration, productivity, or mood-boosting. With all the benefits music can provide, it's not a surprise that music has the potential to be overused. With the near-endless number of songs out there, it's easy to forget about how much time you spend listening. Chronic music use could potentially affect your dopamine sensitivity over time. Even if you aren't addicted, cutting back the amount of time you listen to music can help rebalance your emotions and teach your brain to experience emotions without the aid of music.
12Cut down on YouTube watching. YouTube's algorithm is designed to discover your interests via your viewing history, and it displays videos that it predicts you'll enjoy. The site is structured to be as navigable as possible, making it easy to click from one video to the next. Altogether, it's an entertainment platform that has a very addictive potential. It's best to reduce your YouTube watching as much as possible, but if you plan to use the site in the future, don't click from video to video, and try to only watch videos you originally intended to watch.
13Limit caffeine consumption. Caffeine can help us feel more awake and alert, but drinking too much for too long can be bad for your health and brain. Caffeine provided an unnatural burst of energy, and, when misused, can desensitize your adenosine (neurotransmitter involved in wakefulness) and dopamine receptors. Quitting caffeine to reset your body and mind and move away from the highs and lows of caffeine can be difficult, but most people feel the benefits of a caffeine-free life fairly quickly.Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source
Caffeine is a drug, and like any drug, in order to free yourself from them, you have to be committed to your plan of action and be ready for the withdrawal symptoms and a serious dip in your energy levels.
Limiting your consumption of caffeine is held up by researchers and medical professionals as an effective way to help increase your dopamine sensitivity.
Excessive caffeine consumption produces increased concentrations of dopamine in your brain synapses, which is not too dissimilar to cocaine.
14Avoid excessive, artificial dopaminergic activities in general. There are indeed numerous articles on the internet which endorse stoicism as a way of life. Anything artificial that can make someone too"happy,"when abused for long enough, will make them numb. In order to maintain homeostasis (equilibrium), when an excess amount of dopamine is released, the dopamine receptors down-regulate, thus requiring more dopamine to achieve the same level of happiness. Hence, existence becomes depressing and we end up lacking the motivation we need to go about our daily lives.
Research has also suggested that delaying instant gratification leads to higher baseline levels of dopamine in the long run, though giving in may boost levels temporarily.
A hedonistic lifestyle only ends up feeding and encouraging an insatiable abyss.
In order to sensitize dopamine receptors, striking a balance between stoicism and giving in to the occasional urge is the key. Taking time off and allowing dopamine levels to normalize in your brain by abstaining from"quick fixes"also helps.
It boils to down to exercise, doing what you are supposed to (work/study) and letting yourself believe that you don't need an external reward for everything you do, without forgetting to treat yourself to the occasional dessert.
There are many things in life which we take for granted and are addicted to, without even realizing it. Being the person who is worthy of your own respect is more meaningful than gaining short-term pleasure indefinitely, only to find yourself in despair without it.
15Replace quick fixes with healthier interests and hobbies. If you don't establish sources of fulfillment and natural pleasure in your life, you'll inevitably be drawn back to instantly-gratifying behaviors and activities. Hobbies let you explore interests outside of your line of work. They let you be creative and try all kinds of new things. By building your life around meaningful sources of enjoyment (delayed gratification) instead of empty ones (instant gratification), you can greatly increase your quality of life.