Random notes about dopamine and compulsions

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Vanderbilt University Dopamine Study
(from Journal of Neuroscience)

Individuals who were novelty seekers, or risk-takers, had few dopamine receptors, meaning their brains don’t limit the amount of dopamine it produces during exciting activities. The result is a bigger high for these individuals leading them to want to continue doing the activity in order to maintain the high.

German Dopamine Study (Science, Dec. 2007)
Individuals with fewer dopamine receptors (high amount of dopamine in their system), had a weaker reaction to negative feedback, meaning they had a harder time learning from their mistakes.

Dopamine Study with Parkinson’s Patients

400 Parkinson’s patients given medication to treat their disease that turned out to be a dopamine agonist (works to raise their levels of dopamine). 16% developed highly addictive behaviors that weren’t there before, in particular slot-machine gambling, compulsive masturbation, shopping addiction. Addicted to the reward that comes from dopamine of creating patterns from randomness. Over-stimulation of dopamine results in decrease of dopamine receptors and the remaining receptors become less sensitive to the dopamine, which equals desensitization or tolerance.

Harvard Mental Health Newsletter (January 2007)

Dopamine tells the brain “do it again.” Creates lasting memories lining the activity (porn) to a pleasurable reward. Long-term memories are formed by the activity of brain substances called transcription factors. All perceived rewards (including porn) increase the concentration of transcription factors. So repeated exposure to porn changes the brain cells and makes the memory of the pleasurable effects very strong. Even after transcription factors return to normal (can take up to 90 days), addicts can remain hypersensitive to porn and the cues that predict its presence.

“Addiction: Pay Attention” from Psychology Today
(November 1, 2004)

Dopamine isn’t just telling us to feel good. It’s telling us what’s salient (what’s vitally important to pay attention to), the unexpected bits of new information we need to pay attention in order to survive or succeed. Dopamine’s role is to shout “Hey, Pay Attention to This!”, and only as an after thought might whisper “Wow, This Feels Great.”

People who grow up in stimulating, engaging surroundings are more protected against addiction because they have a naturally responsive dopamine system. If you connect to the world in a meaningful way, and have more chances to get excited about natural stimuli, you’re less likely to need an artificial boost. In sexual experience and a sexual life without porn, dopamine is more naturally modulated, because normal life experiences automatically modulate the dopamine release (e.g., there’s not a readily available sex partner – you have to wait until circumstances are right for your partner to want to be sexual with you; you can’t relate sexually with every sexually attractive, sexually arousing person that crosses your path – she may to be interested or she might already have a partner who could be an aggressive threat if you sexually pursued her. Internet porn, on the other hand, inhibits a natural modulation process. Available 24/7, whenever you want, with a willing and available partner who will meet any of your fantasized desires and needs.

Additional Perspectives on Dopamine

Dopamine is more associated with anticipatory desire and motivation (commonly referred to as “wanting”) as opposed to actual consummatory pleasure (commonly referred to as “liking”).

Reward anticipation = associated with reward-seeking behaviors such as approach, consumption and addiction.

When a reward is greater than expected, the firing of dopamine neurons increases desire or motivation towards the reward.

Libido can be increased by drugs that affect dopamine, but not by drugs that affect opioid peptides or other neurotransmitters.