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  • Raghav Sand

The Dance of Dopamine

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter. It plays a role in how we feel pleasure. Our body makes it, and our nervous system uses it to send messages between nerve cells. That’s why it’s sometimes called a chemical messenger. Like most other systems in the body, we don’t notice it (or maybe even know about it) until there’s a problem. Too much or too little of it can lead to a vast range of health issues.

More of the Same

Motivation, pleasure and pain are part and parcel of life on Earth. Various studies have been conducted to decipher the release of substances in human brain. The level of dopamine varies depending upon the person and activity undertaken. For example, eating chocolate increases dopamine by 50%, while nicotine consumption increases it by 150%

Alcohol works differently for most people. Same areas of brain become active during pain and pleasure. Our brain is wired to crave for more of the same. It never seems to have enough of what stimulates the neurons. When the brain does not get instant gratification, it becomes restless and our mind experiences emotions linked with unstable well-being.

Substance abuse is a shortcut to release dopamine. Almost anything that is not done in moderation can be classified as addiction. The mental preoccupation with a chemically induced state of mind works less with repeated exposure. Sooner than later, our mind and body develop resistance to certain degree of substance abuse or activity. Without professional help and intervention, the act of sudden cessation may result in life threatening withdrawal. Small tapering is the best way forward to reduce and eventually get rid of the dependence.

Pathological gambling, videogame and social media addiction also release dopamine, but the process is more behavioural than chemical. Our neurological wiring is one of the biggest factors responsible for survival and the same physiology makes us vulnerable. Modern life has brought overabundance for some and at the same time a large chunk of the population has acute dearth of resources. Boredom, trauma, poverty, unemployment and simple and inexpensive access to psychotropic drugs are some of the most common factors due to which people seek spurt in dopamine.

Honesty and Acceptance

Criminalising and demonising substance abuse has not helped in the past and it is not going to bear fruit in the future, as well. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted as a boon for some addicts, while others have slipped further into the void. Quarantine slowed down the world and some people came out of addiction. Terrible cases of overdose were also reported during the same time.

Addiction gets worse before its better. The tipping point also becomes the point of no return for a select few. What started as a feel-good exercise eventually ends up being the other way round. Adults over the age of twenty-five are hardwired as compared to young adults and teenagers. Habits that have the potential to cause self-harm can be rectified if the there is honesty between adolescents and their parents or guardians.

Balance is Key

Dopamine has many functions. Its levels are typically well regulated within the nervous system, but there are things we can do to naturally increase the levels. Eating proteins and cutting down on saturated fat can help in producing the right amount of dopamine required by our body.

Exercising often has multiple benefits. Improvements in mood can be seen after as little as 10 minutes of aerobic activity but tend to be highest after at least 20 minutes. While these effects are probably not entirely due to changes in dopamine levels, animal research suggests that exercise can boost dopamine levels in the brain.

Lack of sleep can reduce dopamine sensitivity in the brain, resulting in excessive feelings of sleepiness. Getting a good night’s rest may help regulate your body’s natural dopamine rhythms. Sunlight exposure can boost dopamine levels, but it’s important to be mindful of sun exposure guidelines to avoid skin damage.

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