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New ‘Dopamine Fasting’ Trend Emerges

Leave it to Silicon Valley to embrace unconventional “out of the box” trends when it comes to conquering addictions. The latest concept (which was recently covered on the Vox website) is called “dopamine fasting” and involves complete isolation from any action that may stimulate the pleasure seeking zone of the brain. The idea involves a 40 day break from habits such as “alcohol, recreational drugs, caffeine, nicotine” and the like. But it goes even further than that, recommending abstinence from porn, television and even social media.

The latter habits could be worth digging into more. Research has shown that dopamine reactions could be triggered by habits well beyond drugs and alcohol. Even smartphones, for example, have been known to stimulate our pleasure seeking zones. And in that vein, it could certainly become a slippery slope into using.

Cameron Sepah, a professor at UC San Francisco, was quoted in the Vox piece and emphasized that too much dopamine stimulation could lead toward self destruction.

“Taking a break from behaviors that trigger strong amounts of dopamine release (especially in a repeated fashion) allows our brain to recover and restore itself,” Sepah emphasized. “The point of dopamine fasting is to increase behavioral flexibility, by reducing impulsive behavior for extended periods of time.”

As we’ve mentioned before on our blogs, dopamine is involved in rewards-based learning and motivation. Indulging in something stimulating (like a drug or a drink) triggers the brain to release dopamine and form a context-dependent memory. The more these types of indulgences take place, the more the brain will send signals to increase the cravings.

Dopamine fasting has been in the lexicon since roughly 2016. It initially started as a viral “Dopamine Challenge” that encouraged people to let go of all potential pleasure seeking vices for one month. Interestingly, those who participated found it to be a helpful tool in curbing casual addictions.

Though Sepah was quick to point out that there is no hard scientific evidence to prove that dopamine fasting can lead to the end of an addiction, he did offer a trial regimen that could potentially be a step in the right direction. His advice was to unplug from all of the pleasure seeking vices for 1-4 hours at the end of each day. And, if possible, stepping away for one full weekend a month.

It may seem like a baby step but, in our opinion, it’s not a hard challenge to take. And it’s one that can lead to a healthier lifestyle on many fronts.