What Even Is A Dopamine Detox, & Should We Be Having One?


via Cottonbro studio

Do you need to be watching something on a screen to feel comfortable and entertained? Can you bear the commute to work without blasting music through your earphones or radio? Do you find yourself scrolling mindlessly on social media without even realising? If the answer is yes, you might want to take a look at ‘dopamine detoxing’, a habit-breaking method that has taken the internet by storm.

Just like most internet trends, this concept comes with a lot of misconceptions. Don’t worry, though, because we’re about to explore what dopamine detoxing really entails, how it works, and whether it can really help us feel content without the need for constant stimulation. 

Dopamine detoxing is a hypothetical way of breaking the connection between the production of dopamine, the ‘reward hormone’ and stimulating habits such as scrolling on social media or listening to music. The theory claims that when we engage in these enjoyable habits, we get a quick fix of dopamine, making us feel good.

However, if you tend to scroll on social media for hours, spend the day watching TV or always have music playing, dopamine is constantly being produced in your brain. Eventually, you become accustomed to this increased level of dopamine, so that when you’re not engaging in these habits, and dopamine decreases, you might feel anxious or depressed, driving you back to those habits in need of a boost. 

Pic: Pexels

Dopamine detoxing entails avoiding these habits for prolonged periods of time in order to break the connection and essentially ‘rewire’ your brain and dopamine levels. This could mean anything from putting your phone away for the day, not listening to music on the bus or even going digital-free for weeks.

Although some participants take it to an extreme extent by abstaining from all enjoyable activities such as eating, sleeping and sex, this is not recommended for your health and there is little to no evidence that it will result in lower dopamine levels and a happier life. 

In fact, there is not a lot of evidence to prove that abstaining from a dopamine-stimulating habit in any form will decrease dopamine levels, but a lot of experts say that this was never the intention. According to John Christy Johnson, a biomedical engineering student at the University of Alberta, a decrease in dopamine levels would lead to ‘a medical condition like Parkinson’s’. 

So, the term ‘detox’ is misleading, as these methods don’t actually affect your levels of dopamine, and you don’t want them to. Honestly, there is not a lot of actual science behind this new craze. Any evidence that supports its effectiveness is mostly based on research from clinical or drug addictions, which are not the same as a bad habit.

Pic: Pexels

There has been a lot of backlash among medical and scientific professionals regarding the way dopamine detoxing is portrayed on the internet as a medically or scientifically backed solution to overconsumption or bad habits.

Instead, we should approach it as a healthy way of taking time away from screens and other stimulating objects. You are much more likely to see a positive result if you’re not expecting some scientific miracle that will make you live your best life. That is not going to happen.

The good news is that this ‘detox’ can make it easier for you to spend time away from the screen, or any other habits you think take up too much of your time. By spending even a couple of hours a day with no distractions, you will probably find yourself less dependent on specific things to keep you occupied.

Try to spend that time cooking yourself a meal, or going for a walk. Although there is no evidence to suggest that you will end up feeling happier and motivated through altered brain chemicals, there is never any harm in breaking habits that you don’t want and using that time to reconnect with yourself and your surroundings.

Words by Aicha Chalouche