Dopamine — making us dopey?


“The more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you get.”

— Dr. Robert Lustig

I’ve kicked the habit. I have resisted doing puzzles online for nearly two weeks now and this time I think it’s going to stick. It was an embarrassing habit wrought sometimes of boredom, but most frequently of fear and procrastination.

It happened after attending a Kopriva Science Seminar at Montana State University a couple of weeks ago. The speaker was Dr. Robert Lustig, author of “The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains” and New York Times bestseller, “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.” 

Though Lustig’s talk focused on our eating habits and how they affect our brain function, he touched on the damage we experience as a result of computer use.

He posed this question: What’s the difference between pleasure and happiness? Have you ever considered this? It’s simple really: pleasure is short-lived, happiness is longterm.

So why is this important and how does this distinction affect brain function?

Imagine you’re eating your favorite food — mint chocolate chip ice cream, for example. Your brain gets happy because it’s being satisfied with sugar and fat and all the stuff that we’ve been trained to enjoy (yes, trained, but that’s another post about Lustig). That happiness you feel is short-term — once the ice cream is gone, the pleasure dissipates.

Let’s consider that same dopamine triggered by, say, cocaine. Lustig (and many others) say longterm dopamine surges damage, even destroy, the neuropathways that enable us to feel pleasure creating a tolerance to the triggers that make us feel good. Our solution? We use more, eat more, gamble more, do more puzzles. See where I’m going with this?


“The more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you get,” Lustig says.

Dopamine affects executive functioning or decision-making and perception, so we need a certain level of it. But too much dopamine and an addicted pleasure-seeking brain is unable to decide to “just stop using” because sensory information isn’t getting to other parts of the brain. When those neuropathways are damaged, it leads to deficits in memory, attention and problem-solving. Dopamine deficiency is also thought to cause Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, bipolar disorders, binge eating, addiction, gambling, schizophrenia and ADHD (right?), according to Psychology Today.

And there are studies indicating that online gaming, even simple computer use, produces that pleasure-producing neurotransmitter dopamine (and has other negative brain-altering consequences).

Yikes! Am I right?

I have enough trouble with my executive functioning … scared straight, I was.

7 thoughts on “Dopamine — making us dopey?

  1. Pingback: A silver bullet? How a notebook changed my life | The ADDled Brain

  2. My fave kinda posts. Psychology and a post that makes me think…although I don’t know if I’d consider happiness as long term…but maybe that’s taking it too literally.


    • Hi Ed. Thanks for staying in touch. I guess it’s a matter of semantics … I think Lustig is using happiness to mean contentedness. Perhaps it’s a cultural language thing too — we Americans speak don’t exactly speak the “Queen’s English.” 🙂


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