You probably know someone who’s struggled with a severe addiction to drugs or alcohol. Maybe you’re battling a big addiction right now. Even if you don’t have a severe addiction, you might have a habit that you’re not happy with, like looking at your smartphone or playing video games too much. Whether big or small, these compulsive behaviors share a similar underlying cause: they’re an attempt to assuage pain through pleasure. But as my guest today argues, the problem is that the relentless pursuit of pleasure only leads to more pain.
Her name is Anna Lembke and she’s Chief of Stanford’s Addiction Medicine Clinic and the author of the book Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in an Age of Indulgence. At the start of our conversation, Anna unpacks the definition of addiction, why she believes it applies equally well to substances like drugs as behaviors like using porn, and how it exists on a spectrum from the serious and severe to the mild and minor. Anna explains why life in our comfortable, pleasure-filled modern society is increasing the problem of addiction, and argues that the reason we’re so miserable is that we’re working so hard to avoid being miserable. She then digs into the science of why we become addicted to substances and behaviors and how it all comes down to our mind and body trying to seek balance between pleasure and pain. We discuss dopamine’s role in this seesaw dynamic and how the substances and technologies of modernity can lead to a dopamine deficit.
We then walk through the process of getting a handle on your addiction, including the importance of doing a dopamine fast, and how long the fast needs to last to be effective. Anna shares tactics for sticking through this abstinence period, which include, counterintuitively, intentionally seeking out pain. She explains why a dopamine fast can help you rebalance your brain, what comes after it’s over, and much more.
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