Dopamine Fix

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The pressure felt like my mind was going to explode! I had to get a fix! The pain I was feeling was pushing me up against the wall. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to get out of there. My need for an escape made my entire body feel the urge.

Straight to my room, locking my door, I crashed on my bed. Pulled out my phone and well…  Let’s just say what happened next happens to a lot of guys under stress.

There may have been a dopamine fix washing over my brain, but the fallout ended worse than the short-term high. The sad thing is it wasn’t the first or last time. My addiction in handling stress became a destructive pattern that was affecting my brain.  Little did I know that the issue wasn’t the dopamine brain rush. The issue was the way I was getting it.

Science tells us guys who struggle with things like porn and masturbation, are seeking a dopamine rush that is wiring the neurotransmitters inside the brain in a way that has a detrimental effect, similar to using heroin.

SPECT (single-photon emission computerized tomography) brain scans compare a normal brain (non-porn user) to that of a heroin’s brain. Like a heroin brain,  porn creates holes in the brain such that it impairs reasoning.  NCOSE National Center on Sexual Exploitation).

Watch this video that explains the image seen above.

The thing about dopamine, the rush needs increasingly more of whatever you are going after to reach the same level of satisfaction.

Now before we kick dopamine to the curb, keep in mind that God created it as an essential chemical we need to live life. Dopamine plays a role in many body functions.

As a neurotransmitter, dopamine is involved in:

  • Movement.
  • Memory.
  • Pleasurable reward and motivation.
  • Behavior and cognition.
  • Attention.
  • Sleep and arousal.
  • Mood.
  • Learning.
  • Lactation.

None of which are wrong or sinful. We need dopamine. The real question is how we go about getting it.

Here’s a diagram of the brain and where dopamine is produced.

Here’s an excerpt taken from the Cleveland Clinic on dopamine.

“Dopamine is known as the “feel-good” hormone. It gives you a sense of pleasure. It also gives you the motivation to do something when you’re feeling pleasure.

Dopamine is part of your reward system. This system is designed to reward you…when you’re doing the things you need to do to survive — eat, drink, compete to survive, and reproduce. As humans, our brains are hard-wired to seek out behaviors that release dopamine in our reward system. When you’re doing something pleasurable, your brain releases a large amount of dopamine. You feel good and you seek more of that feeling.

This is why junk food and sugar are so addictive. They trigger the release of a large amount of dopamine into your brain, which gives you the feeling that you’re on top of the world and you want to repeat that experience.”

“Dopamine pathways in the brain are designed to reinforce behaviors for our good and flourishing. The problem is we can hijack the system with easier-to-obtain, short-cut behaviors, which engage the dopamine system without the intended beneficial effects.” Justin Riffel, MD

And so does porn. The problem is porn is a cliff. It’s a ledge so far up that one slip and the fall will take out more than your life. Relationships, marriages, and families are devastated because your “little secret” got out. 

In what is a well-intended move, guys will say they need to do a dopamine detox. From a behavioral perspective cutting off social media, and changing some lifestyle patterns such as asking for accountability and practicing things like pre-emptive strikes are effective to some extent. They aren’t the full story, however.

May I suggest that there is a direct link between your biology and your spirituality?  Two verses in the Bible speak to this duality we who claim to follow Jesus often overlook.

Ephesians 5:18

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

People get drunk because they are looking for pleasure and satisfaction through an altered state of consciousness.  The Bible is clear that drunkenness is destructive. Debauchery is defined by Merriam-Webster as

extreme indulgence in bodily pleasures and especially sexual pleasures: behavior involving sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. that is often considered immoral

What’s interesting is how the Bible, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, contrasts drunkenness (a negative choice) with that of being filled with the Spirit (a healthy choice in finding satisfaction and pleasure). 

The other verse that speaks to this is Romans 13:14

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

In other words, yes, put up boundaries to prevent yourself from going down destructive paths. However, in addition, put on Christ; meaning that in your search for pleasure and satisfaction, become so saturated with your relationship with Him, that you don’t need to get drunk or look at porn or try a substance to fill that essential need for dopamine.

The amazing thing is when you shift your focus for pleasure to things of God, your brain, over time, will rewire itself.

The process of change is a combination of spiritual, mental, and physical.  There is an online article tht outlines such stages for change in overcoming addictions: The Stages Of Change Model of Overcoming Addiction.

One of these stages is called relapse. People should know that any behavioral change requires 2 steps forward, and one step back. Relapse is part of the process and ongoing efforts towards maintenance are required. It shouldn’t feel easy, however, victories can be had and effective change realized. 

I’ve personally seen young men who struggled with porn addictions from as early as 8 years old well into their young adult years find victory over the strongholds. How? 

By consistently feeding on God and His Word. 

By shifting the way they pursue pleasure and satisfaction. 

By aligning their identity with how God sees them.

By viewing their sexuality the way God created it.

By having a mentor who is willing to walk the journey with you.

By professional counseling – no man can conquer addiction on his own.

One other thing I’d like to add to this issue of dopamine. When I am unsettled in my soul, I make rash choices that get me into trouble. As Ted Roberts aptly says, we “do stupid”. 

When my heart is settled in Christ, the pressure to pursue porn and the like dissipates. 

If you struggle with porn or some other addiction to achieve a chemical high, bring your need to Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to shift your desires. Seek out a mentor who has walked the journey you are on with success and learn from him.  

Never try to win this battle solo.

Perhaps instead of a dopamine detox, you need a healthy dopamine fix.  Those fixes ultimately come through Jesus.

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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