We look down our noses at drug addicts for their weakness to turn away from dangerous chemicals but when it gets down to it, in some sense we are all drug addicts. Dopamine is such a strong chemical that few of us can say no to its lure. What is worse, we don't even know that we are addicted to it. No needle needs to be injected. No pill swallowed. No bottle to drink. Nothing needs to be snorted, or inhaled. It's always available. It's always in store and ready to be consumed. All that is needed is the proper stimulus to activate it and the list of activators is almost endless:
- Mountain climbing
- Tricks on skateboards
- Racing cars
- Riding motorcycles
- Getting good grades at school
- Getting promotions at work
- Doing charity work
- Social media
- submitting pictures to Instagram
- posting on Facebook
- tweeting on Twitter
- blogging on YouTube
- Cleaning the house
- etc. etc. etc.
Dopamine rules the world. It's what drives us to build bigger, faster, stronger, cheaper, better. It drives businessmen to expand their businesses. It drives the wealthy to become wealthier. It drives the Philanthropist to give away even more. It drives the worker to work even harder. It drives the athlete to play harder and practice more. It drives the actor to take on more challenging roles. It drives the musician to go on the road and perform on stage in front of thousands.
Another problem I think social-media has also had on our world is that it allows people to escape from the problems in their life. Remember the list of things I said dopamine drives us to do? Build bigger, faster ... work harder? What if I am already getting all the dopamine I need through social-media? What if my life is full enough by getting re-tweeted or "liked"? Do I need to work hard at work? Do I need to get promoted? Do I need to hear praise from my boss or co-worker? Maybe not. Some people have labelled Millennials as "lazy". I really don't think that is the case at all. I think that, for many, they are getting their dopamine from social-media and so their brain's need for more dopamine is all tapped out. At the same time, social-media can serve as surrogate supplier in bad times as well. For example, in previous generations if you didn't get a great review from your boss you would work hard to fix it the next year to get a better review (a gold star). But today, many can retreat their their other world of social media to pump them up and restore their lost dopamine supply. The problem with this alternate source of dopamine, however, is that it's not a longer term supplier of what we need as a society. Tweets or Posts, for the most of us, are not going to pay for a house, raise a family or provide a retirement income. Escapism, whether with drugs, alcohol or social media, never works out in the end.
As with any drug, it's the misuse of the drug that leads to problems rather than the what the drug is trying to do. Pain killers, for example, are meant to dampen the pain receptors. In the right context they allow the body to relax and the area that is causing the pain (maybe post surgery stitches) to heal. The problem becomes when the person only feels normal when they are taking the pain medicine and do other terrible things to fill that addition such as: lying to doctors, embezzlement, robbery and even murder. Likewise, dopamine addiction too causes the user to do things that are harmful to them or others. The skydiver must take riskier jumps. The sugar addict becomes obese. The work addict ignores their family needs. The social-media addict spends much of their time re-checking their account to check for responses and thinking of better ways to increase their positive feedback. The texting addict drives with their knees on the steering wheel or with one hand firmly on the phone and their vision down and away from the on coming traffic unaware they have slowly drifted into the opposite lane. In all of these cases dopamine addiction was the root cause for their destruction.
So next time you post another Facebook comment or tweet another snarky comment on Twitter, or sending another funny text message to a friend, maybe you should first ask yourself this:
Am I a dopamine addict?