What is A Dopamine Detox and How Could It Benefit You This Holiday Season?

The holiday season often brings increased stress and overstimulation. Taking steps, such as a dopamine detox, can provide an opportunity to reset and focus on more fulfilling and less addictive activities. It can help you enjoy the season more mindfully and with greater presence, away from the constant pull of technology and overindulgence, while you enjoy time with your loved ones, or go back into pursuing your passions and hobbies.


What Is a Dopamine Detox?


Dopamine detox, often called dopamine fasting, is an approach based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It aims to help people control unhealthy behaviors by avoiding activities that trigger dopamine production temporarily.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward. Dr. Cameron Sepah, who developed the concept of dopamine fasting, was quoted in the New York Times saying, “Dopamine is just a mechanism that explains how addictions can become reinforced, and makes for a catchy title. The title’s not to be taken literally”​​.

This statement highlights that the term ‘dopamine fasting’ is more about managing addictive behaviors rather than literally reducing dopamine levels in the brain.


Why is Dopamine Detox Gaining Attention?


The dopamine detox trend has garnered attention as a way to address modern life’s overstimulation. “At this point in our society, dopamine detoxes are probably the greatest thing you could do for your mental health,” Matt Raekelboom, founder of online ADHD support group Journey2ADHD, shared with his TikTok followers. The idea is that by reducing exposure to overstimulating activities, you reset your brain’s response to dopamine, potentially enhancing focus and productivity.

A dopamine detox involves consciously avoiding activities that trigger dopamine release. It’s based on classical conditioning theory, where you learn to break the automatic association between a stimulus (like using a smartphone) and an addictive behavior. “Dopamine fasting, as originally intended by Sepah, is designed to break the link between the stimulus and the behavior,” explains Sepah.


What Does Research Say About Dopamine Fasting?


Research on dopamine detox is limited. However, studies on CBT and restrictive fasting periods show promise in treating behavioral addictions. “You don’t actually deplete dopamine in any way or fashion,” says John Christy Johnson, a medical student at the University of Alberta. The practice is more about breaking habitual behavior patterns than altering brain chemistry.

While a dopamine detox won’t directly improve your mood or motivation, it can lead to healthier habits and better self-control. By limiting exposure to overstimulating activities, you might experience improved focus and productivity. “Practicing delayed gratification in the form of a dopamine fast could strengthen the parts of the brain associated with self-control,” suggests Peter Grinspoon, MD, from Harvard Medical School.


Who Should Try a Dopamine Detox?

Dopamine detox is suggested for those struggling with addictive or compulsive behaviors like emotional eating, excessive internet usage, or gaming. It’s not about avoiding pleasure but targeting specific behaviors that have become problematic. However, for serious addiction issues, professional help is recommended.

During a dopamine detox, it’s recommended to avoid activities that provide instant gratification or are habit-forming, such as social media, binge-watching, or excessive gaming. The aim is to replace these with healthier alternatives like reading, exercising, or spending time in nature.


How Long Does a Dopamine Detox Typically Last?


The duration of a dopamine detox varies. Some may experience benefits from short detoxes lasting a few hours to a day, while others might engage in longer periods, up to 90 days, depending on individual needs and behaviors.

During a detox, engaging in activities like exercising, meditating, spending time outdoors, or pursuing hobbies can be beneficial. These activities promote dopamine release in a balanced manner and can help replace unhealthy habits.