by Kristen A. Jenson, MA

Smarter than dopamineWhat has motivated millions of Americans to buy Powerball tickets this week? The chance of winning that record-smashing payout of $1.5 BILLION DOLLARS? Not really. It’s all about dopamine. And lottery fever is just one reason why you have to be smarter than your dopamine. (Get help explaining this to your kids below!)

Dopamine is a powerful brain chemical associated with reward, pleasure and…addiction. Often called the “molecule of motivation,” dopamine floods the brain during pleasurable experiences, urging humans to repeat the behavior.

Just thinking about all that money and what you could buy or do with it can get the dopamine flowing…and your feet moving to purchase tickets. It’s EXCITING to think about (even though the chances of winning are a depressing 1 in 292 million).

That’s why the DSM-V (the bible of psychiatrists and therapists) recently upgraded gambling from a disorder to an addiction. Gambling and other behaviors can become addictions that are as real as any drug addiction, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Dopamine and Pornography

But what’s the connection with pornography? One of the most powerful pleasures humans experience is related to sex. And the brain produces dopamine during sex so humans will want to engage in it again.

Dr. Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist with a degree from Columbia who wrote The Brain That Changes Itself, explains it this way:

“Pornography, by offering an endless harem of sexual objects, hyperactivates the appetitive [pleasure] system [in the brain]. Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated. Just as our muscles become impatient for exercise if we’ve been sitting all day, so too do our senses hunger to be stimulated.”

Doidge goes on to describe how “the men at their computers looking at porn were uncannily like the rats [in a study]…pressing the bar to get a shot of dopamine or its equivalent.”

Abusing Dopamine Leads to Addiction

As Dr. Donald L. Hilton explains,

“It’s the overuse of the dopamine reward system that causes addiction. When the pathways are used compulsively, a downgrading occurs that actually decreases the amount of dopamine in the pleasure areas available for use, and the dopamine cells themselves start to atrophy, or shrink.”

dopamine neuron receptorUnfortunately, as these cells shrink, cravings for dopamine skyrocket, leading the user to seek out more dopamine-pumping, pleasurable experiences. And the internet obliges! It just so happens that novelty also delivers dopamine; that’s why we get excited about new things. (And it’s important to be rewarded for trying new things, as long as you’re smarter than your dopamine!)

However, as porn viewers seek, click and are aroused by new material, their addiction deepens. High speed internet has added a powerful force multiplier to pornography.

As Mark Bell, a sex addiction therapist explains in a previous post,

“When a child sees porn, that child’s brain will begin to release large amounts of dopamine, creating a drive for more, even in a child who did not like seeing pornography in the first place.”

I just have to add one more tell-it-like-it-is quote from Doidge:

“Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and relief from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is an addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure. Paradoxically, the male patients I worked with often craved pornography but didn’t like it.”

Dopamine fuels the excitement of winning big Powerball payouts and motivates us to seek a thousand other pleasures, many of which are important for our survival. But when dopamine is overused and abused, as in the case of the “supernormal stimulus” of internet pornography, debilitating and destructive addictions can develop.

To sum up, dopamine is a powerful brain chemical that’s involved with the brain’s reward system. Drugs like cocaine and meth and alcohol cause our brains to release dopamine. (That’s why people began calling these drugs “dope.”)

So don’t be a dope! Get smarter than your dopamine and help your kids to do the same! (See our list of kid “talking points” below!)

Kid Talking Points: How to Talk to Your Kids about Dopamine and Addiction

  • Our brains make many chemicals or drugs to keep our bodies and minds functioning.
  • One of these drugs helps us want to do important things like go and eat or go and play a fun game or do something else we feel is exciting. This special brain drug is called dopamine.
  • People get excited about gambling or playing the lottery because they think of all the fun things they could do with the money they’d win. Looking forward to pleasure can release dopamine in our brain.
  • Dopamine is really important for our survival! It gets us to go and do things like eat something yummy or achieve a goal (yay, I finished my homework!).
  • However, flooding our brains over and over with too much dopamine can be harmful. That can happen when people get excited about pornography and then keep looking for more.
  • Addictions develop when our brains get used to a lot of dopamine and then crave even more.
  • You can take good care of your brain by protecting it from pornography. If you see it, close your eyes, turn away and come and tell me or ___________________ (fill in a name of a trusted adult).

A Recent 5-Star Amazon Review of Good Pictures Bad Pictures:

Amazon 5 star

Brilliant! Should Be in Every Classroom and in Every Home!

“The best thing about this book, is it teaches children to take ACTION when this happens to them. It acknowledges their feelings, but also HELPS THEM to avoid having this experience in the future. Brilliant! should be in every classroom and in every family home, worldwide.”

 

 Thank you K. Christensen!

Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.
1 Shares
Share
Tweet1
Pin