Title: Dopamine: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence
Author: Anna Lembke, M.D.
Date Read: November 25, 2022
Snapshot of the book
One of my favourtite podcasts is Armchair Expert. Dax Shepard, and his co-host Monica Padman, interviewed Stanford professor and psychologist Anna Lembke, and Dax made reference to Lembke’s book in many, many, subsequent interviews; so many that I was compelled to check it out. The premise is pretty straightforward: we live in a society full of intense stimuli– drugs, food, gambling, shopping, texting, Instagramming…many of which are also conveniently administered via the hypodermic needle of our own smartphones– a portable device full of digital dopamine— and we are out of balance.
Dopamine ia a neurotransmitter in the human brain involved in reward processing. High dopamine subsatnces trigger the release of dopamine in our brain’s reward pathway. Our brain processes pleasure and pain both in the same place: like opposite sides of a teeter-totter than needs to stay in balance. When you experience a craving (more chocolate, a cigarette, to double-down)– that moment of wanting is your brain’s pleasure balance tipped to the side of pain. Too much pleasure leads to pain.
Lembke uses the stories of several of her own patients to illustrate how she worked with them through their addictions to find a healthy balance. She even cops to her own addiction to soft porn novels. It was a good read, but not a great read. I feel like Dax led me astray, and he doesn’t do that often.
Snapshot of the book in my classroom
I could see using Chapter Two: “Running From Pain” alongside Neal and Jarod Schusterman’s fiction novel, Roxy. This chapter covers the ways in which the paradigm that some amount of pain is healthy (boosting immune and cardiovascular response and expiditing healing) has shifted to a massive prescribing of feel-good pills. In addition to widespread use of antidepressants, perscriptions for stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin) have doubled, including in children younger than five years old. Prescriptions for sedatives (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium) are also on the rise, perhaps to compensate for all the stimulants taken. In 2012, enough Opiods were prescribed for every American to have their own bottle of pills. Beyond our running from pain- we can’t stand even minor discomfort and so we are constantly seeking to distract ourselves from the present, constantly needing to be entertained (hello, Smartphone). This non-fiction reading would give students relevant background to make sense of the drugs presented as characters in Roxy.
Snapshot of the book in my life
Water, exercise, and fresh air– is my go to prescription for much of what ails me. Lembke backs me up: “…the evidence is is indisputable: Exercise has a more profound and sustained positive effect on mood, anxiety, cogniton, energy, and sleep than any pill I can prescribe.” (p.152). Take your dog for walk. Leave your stress on a yoga mat. And drink lots of water.