Lifestyle, Mental Health

Understanding Your Addictions (Part 2)


As described in my last blog, addictions have an underlying cause. It can be low Dopamine production as well. Drinking or substance abuse just for fun is basically a cover up for emptiness, low self worth, attention seeking, loneliness or to fill up a void. It’s important to accept it and work with it than to let it destroy you completely.What is Dopamine?
It is a neurotransmitter/ chemical messenger which our brain produces naturally. We lose it over time due to poor lifestyle or heavy medications. Whenever you think about motivation/demotivation/Pleasure/focus/intention/feel good factor or when you feel others are happy and you don’t have the happiness – you should think about Dopamine.

It is also called feel good hormone or motivation molecule. Over stimulation of Dopamine production causes problem. Social media surfing – moving from page to page, picture to picture, your mind is constantly looking forward to a new picture or post, you look forward to likes/comments – check every 15-30 minutes, producing more and more of dopamine which then causes decrease in production. Then we need something else to excite us/ thrill us hence we start looking for vices/ things what brings in an addiction.

Addiction is created in people with low dopamine. Eg – today you took 2 glasses of wine to feel good. When you keep having it without any mindfulness or control, soon you will need a 3rdand 4thand then a whole bottle to actually feel, what you felt originally with the initial two glasses. Same happens with drugs. If you are feeling depressed/ low, you find a whole load of pleasure when you take the drug. In order to feel the continuous pleasure you take more and more leading to higher dosages – that’s how addiction basically starts off with. You need to identify the root cause for your addictions and once you do, you need to start working on it. Meanwhile sharing a few tips below to manage your addictions:

  • Decide if you want to give up the habit completely in one go or want to wean off slowly. Don’t just do what your friend did, listen to your body and then decide. When we take decisions on our own, adherence percentage is high because if any slip happens, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
  • Once you decide how you want to leave the addiction, next step is to declare it. Declare it among your friends, family or colleagues; because once you declare it out loud, you become more responsible towards following the decision.
  • Join a support group. We understand doing it all alone is difficult. You need people who have been through this to guide you and to motivate you. If you don’t know of any existing support group, create one on your own. Your partner, your family and your TRUE friends will be more than happy to be there for you whenever you need. Although they can’t share their experience but them standing next to you will give you all the power in the world to fight off the craving.
  • Find alternatives to divert the mind. If you were smoking or drinking to calm down the mind, practicing your hobby will give you better effects instead. Do the things that make you happy – swimming, painting, singing, playing foot ball, watching movies or cartoon shows. But be careful, it should not happen that while leaving one addiction you switch to another.
  • Reprogram your subconscious. Always remember, the way you think, your body behaves. And this is the key mantra to achieve any target you set for yourself. Positive affirmations and Visualization are the simple inexpensive tools to help you change the way you think and feel about yourself. And once you do, you will not have to indulge in any of the addictions.

While you are managing with completely getting off the addiction, here are few practical tips to manage the side effects. But these tips doesn’t mean you still continue with your habit, these are just for support. Lifestyle change will be complete when you do not use them at all.

Tips to manage Social media addiction

  • Regulate the time you spend on social media.
  • Follow social media fasting
  • Do not associate your self worth or self esteem with the number of likes or comments. Improve for your own good. If someone has issues with what you do it’s their problem, you should keep doing your best.
  • Regulate and supervise the social media time / Video game time for your children. Spend time with them, go out for playing games or walks – they need your love and attention more than the likes they get on Facebook or Instagram thus helping natural dopamine production in their brains

Tips to manage and reduce smoking

  • Indulge in pranayama – Anulom vilom, Bhastrika, Kapalbhati
  • Whenever you feel the urge, divert your mind by indulging in walking or stretching, this will help brain produce anti craving chemicals
  • Change your drink – Alcohol, Tea, Coffee, Cola, Frizzy drinks etc makes cigarettes taste better so choose other options like lemon water, mint infused water, coconut water
  • Chewing on a spoonful of ajwain & cumin seeds if you feel the urge, helps too
  • Instead of carrying a pack, keep only 1 cigarette with yourself at a time or do not keep any cigarettes with yourself, when you feel the urge, go & buy 1 cigarette which will help with the time lag & hence reducing the urge.
  • Make a list of reasons to quit and read them up whenever you feel the craving
  • Try the following whenever you have a craving –
  • Hold a cinnamon stick in the same fashion that you hold cigarettes when the urge to smoke strikes. Put the cinnamon stick in your mouth and inhale, just as you did when you were smoking. Though you won’t be getting any nicotine, you will be mimicking the physical actions of smoking without the negative effects of cigarettes.
  • Exhale deeply after inhaling with the cinnamon stick. Continue to use the cinnamon stick as you would a cigarette until the craving passes.

Tips to manage and reduce side effects of Alcohol

  • Never drink on an empty stomach
  • Avoid the deep fried and highly salted snacks which come with alcohol, instead go for carrot cucumber sticks, homemade popcorns, plain roasted chana or plain roasted peanuts
  • Drink a glass of lemon water after every drink to keep the body alkaline and avoid dehydration.

Tips to control the craving for Tobacco or the substances

  • While you are looking at the tobacco, make a list of the pro’s and con’s of eating it. Compare them and then decide what is beneficial for you. Every time you have the craving, open the list and read up again
  • Go for healthy alternatives to keep in your mouth like ajwain, coriander seeds dal (aka Dhana dal), dates and grated coconut mixture wrapped in a betel leaf.

Going out with friends once in a while to relax is ok but it should not become a habit. You should always keep the side effects of your action in mind. Ask yourself what benefit is this thing going to give me? If your answer is nothing or it will negatively impact my health, you avoid the indulgence and that is when you are on the right track to achieve good health.

Tips to boost Dopamine production naturally

  • Exercise – more exercise means more dopamine production. People with an exercise regime have high dopamine levels which makes them feel good automatically
  • Meditation is very important. Science has proven its benefit for depression/anxiety/low motivation.
  • Sleep – When you sleep the right way, you automatically enable the brain to produce and manage the right amount of dopamine. If you are Sleep deprived, you cannot produce dopamine hence you are snappy/irritable/frustrated/small problem gets magnified and you get more irritated and stressed.
  • Massage – You feel good after a really good massage because it stimulates natural dopamine production.
  • Music – listening to your favourite music whether its 1 song or 10 songs, boosts dopamine production naturally
  • Food – body produces dopamine from an amino acid called tyrosine. It is found in almonds/ banana/ avocado/ eggs/ beans/ Organic chicken and fish/ ethically sourced dairy – milk/yogurt/cheese/ chocolate (darker the chocolate more dopamine)/ nuts and seeds. A Simple balanced diet is what you require and not a fad diet which deprives you of nutrients leading to imbalances. Omega 3 present in  flaxseeds/walnut/fatty fishes/good quality supplement is essential too.
  • Protein – when you go for low protein diets, you do not have amino acid tyrosine and hence no dopamine. All the amount of counselling, thinking you have more psychological and mental issues will never get solved because you didn’t have right amount of amino acid to produce dopamine in brain.
  • Vitamin B12 and D levels – Always keep them in normal range.
  • Adventure/travel/making memories/excitement – boosts dopamine. Curiosity/ learning something new/ knowledge/wisdom/spirituality – keep us in anticipation of something better which produces dopamine automatically. If you have a rigid lifestyle, you do same thing everyday, do not try any thing new, you have lower dopamine levels.
  • Pleasure – dopamine is attached to sex drive as well. Low dopamine means low libido leading to less sex and you get more depressed and frustrated thinking something is wrong with you. Whereas the root cause is you do not have the neurotransmitter to feel the pleasure. Do not start blaming menopause/age/too much of work; look at dopamine levels, fix it and you fix all of these things.

You need to put an effort – use self discipline, do these little things to produce right dopamine levels. You do not need any supplement or pill to get up energy levels or drink more caffeine or eat more energy foods. You just need simple foods: fruits, nuts and seeds, vegetables/ whole grains in moderation; Activity, good sleep and living a life full of wonder and curiosity.

When you keep dopamine levels in check, you will enjoy life better. If you are feeling demotivated/low/depressed and empty, the missing magic molecule is motivation molecule – dopamine. Create challenges which means there will be rewards meaning there is anticipation and anticipation means more dopamine.

Read: Understanding your Addictions – Part 1


Luke Coutinho

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