The Dopamine Circuit and Stimulation Addiction

One of the primary themes of Dislocated is that as human organisms, we have a reward circuit in our brain which motivates us many of our actions. This reward circuit is fueled by dopamine and it is built for environments of scarcity, and part of the mechanism encourages us to take advantage during the rare times when resources are abundant. In other words, we are hard-wired to binge on resources because historically, most of the time, resources were scarce. Our reward circuit was not built for an environment of abundance.

Many of our modern problems, and all forms of addiction, are rooted in the dopamine reward circuit. Because we live in a society of abundance, we are literally like fish out of water. Our dopamine reward circuit continues to tell us to binge when resources are present. And so we binge on convenient, calorie-rich (but nutritionally empty) food. And relationships. And digital stimulation. And flattery.

With every click of the mouse, mindless snack, watching of a TV show, visit to Facebook, attempt at flirtation, trip to McDonalds and even every shopping experience we are engaging our dopamine circuit. We seek out stimulation and experience a positive feeling as a reward. We are addicted to stimulation, because we are built to seek out stimulation.

There’s only one problem: this mechanism for seeking out stimulation worked great in contexts of scarcity or moderation. But in a society of abundance, left unchecked and uregulated, it causes problems. Obesity. Drug addiction. Internet addiction. Relationship dysfunction. The list goes on and on.

It seems then that one of the keys to dealing with our modern problems is not in more conspicuous consumption. Not more options for distraction and stimulation. But more options for restraint. And control. What people need more than ever is to be empowered to overcome the binge mechanism. A mechanism that is forceful and powerful and often leaves us feeling powerless. A mechanism that was built for a different world.

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