What is a Dopamine Detox?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in reward-motivated behaviour, and it is one of the brain chemicals involved in making us feel pleasure. Dopamine “helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting.” 

A dopamine detox or dopamine fasting is a trend that Dr. Cameron Sepah has popularized through his dopamine fasting guide, which he published on Linkedin in 2019.  As Dr. Sepah puts it, “Dopamine Fasting 2.0 is an evidence-based technique to manage addictive behaviours by restricting them to specific periods and practising fasting from impulsively engaging in them to regain behavioural flexibility.”

There are many adaptations of Dr. Sepah’s guide. So, here is what dopamine detoxing is not vs. what it is:

  • Dopamine fasting is not actually “fasting from dopamine, but from impulsive behaviours reinforced by it.” 
  • It is also not reducing dopamine but reducing impulsive behaviour. 
  • It is not avoiding all stimulation but focusing on one thing that is the most problematic for you. 

The dopamine detox focuses on behaviours that could negatively impact a person. Not everything that gives a person dopamine is negative behaviour. For example, talking, exercising, and socializing stimulate dopamine production but are also healthy behaviours that you should not include in your detox. 

Dr. Sepah “recommends fasting for gradually longer periods periodically to extend the benefits” of the detox. There are many schedules and time frames that you can choose from for the dopamine fasting, but we will look at those later. 

How To Do a Dopamine Detox

1. Decide what problematic behaviours you will be detoxing from

Dr. Sepah outlines these six categories as problematic behaviours:

    • Emotional eating
    • Internet/gaming
    • Gambling/shopping
    • Porn/Masturbation
    • Thrill/novelty seeking
    • Recreational drugs

You do not need to abstain from everything on this list during a dopamine detox. You just need to stop doing the ones that are a problem for you. What may be problematic for one person may not be for another, so how do you decide what to include in your fast?  Dr. Sepah says that “to decide what to fast from, simply regard whether it’s highly pleasurable or problematic for you, and thus you may need a break from.”

Dopamine detox goes hand in hand with digital minimalism which prompts you to reduce your digital consumption. Many people who undergo digital minimalism naturally experience a dopamine detox.

2. Choose the type of schedule you would like to use

    • Fasting 
      • This schedule is perfect if you still do the behaviour during the day, but you would like to cut back so that it is not as impulsive. 
      • This schedule usually makes you take breaks during weekends, nights, or on vacation when you should be resting or relaxing.  
      • Example: Take a week off of social media while on vacation with your family. 
    • Feasting
      • This schedule reduces the time spent doing the behaviour but still allows you to occasionally do it.
      • Example: reducing your time spent watching tv from 5 hours a day to 1 hour a day.

  

3. Choose your detoxing schedule 

            Fasting:

    • 1-4 hours at the end of the day (depending on work & family demands).
      • For this option, you will refrain from doing your chosen behaviour or behaviours for 1-4 hours at the end of the day. 
      • This option is perfect for a long-term/ permanent detox from the behaviour at night.  
      • You can start with 1 hour at night and ramp-up to 4 hours or more as you progress. 
    • One weekend day (on a Saturday or Sunday)
      • For this option, you will refrain from doing your chosen behaviour or behaviours for the entire day every Saturday or Sunday.
      • This option is perfect for a long-term/ permanent cut back from the behaviour on weekends.
      • If one full day is too difficult to start, you can start with half of the day and ramp up to the entire day as you progress.
    • One weekend per quarter 
      • For this option, you will refrain from doing your chosen behaviour or behaviours for one weekend four times a year, and instead, you will do something else like going on a trip to someplace close. 
      • This one is not as frequent and may not need a progression. But if it does, you can always start with less time and work your way up.
    • One week per year (go on vacation!)
      • For this option, you will refrain from doing your chosen behaviour or behaviours for one week per year and may even go on vacation. 
      • This option gives you a long detox providing you with a break without reducing the behaviour from everyday use.
      • You can adjust the seven-day schedule to whatever seems the most doable for you!

 Sepah also notes that “ these are suggested guidelines, not strict rules.” These schedules can be adjusted as needed to fit your needs best. You can start at a lower time and gradually ramp up to the amount of time you are willing to keep doing forever. 

Feasting:

    • For this option, you set time limitations on how long you do this behaviour and a schedule for when you can do this behaviour.
    • Allow yourself to engage in the activity for 5-30 minutes 1-3 times a day.
      • An example would be allowing yourself on social media for 30 minutes at lunch and 30 minutes after work every day.
    • You can also start with allowing yourself more time with the behaviour (like 2 hours a day) and gradually reduce it (to maybe by 1 hour) to something that you can sustain long term. 

4. Adjust the schedule as needed

  • The goal is to follow your new schedule long-term to help reduce the impulsiveness of the negative behaviour. So, start with a schedule that you can manage, then work your way to your ideal schedule that you feel like you can continue to follow forever. 
  • You can keep adjusting your schedule as much as you want. The goal is to have a detox schedule that works for you. So, change it as much as you need or want to make sure that you can always follow your detoxing schedule. 

Sepah’s Six Categories of Impulsive Behaviours Explained

Emotional eating:

  • Emotional eating is eating to make yourself feel better about stress or unhappiness in your life rather than eating to satisfy hunger. Since this type of eating is used to comfort yourself, people tend to eat junk or comfort food rather than healthy food.
  • Dr. Sepah outlines these foods as the most prone to be used for emotional eating:
    • “Sweet (like sugar-sweetened beverages).”
    • “Salty (like pretzels).”
    • “Savory/Spicy (like flaming hot Cheetos/Doritos).”
    • “Combination of carbs + fat (like buttered popcorn or mac & cheese).”
  • When detoxing from emotional eating, avoid any food that falls into these categories. But, pay special attention to food which you find the most problematic with your emotional eating. 
  • You can still eat healthy food during your detox.

Internet/ gaming:

  • The internet is an essential tool now for work and school. It can be hard to avoid. But, many aspects of the internet are also designed to be addicting to the user, so you must learn how to take breaks and manage your internet and gaming usage. 
  • Since the Internet is such a broad category now, here are some things that Sepah outlined as especially addicting:
    • “anything designed by a company (movies/television)”
    • “anything that involves frequent input (social media scrolling/clicking, forums, articles, forums, games, music)”
  • For detoxing, “the goal is to compartmentalize internet use to 12 hours or less, so your brain can take a break for the remaining 4 hours of the day and pursue valued activities instead.”
  • Again, not everything listed above is problematic for everyone. If you find both pleasure and problems with the activity, it may be time to try detoxing from it. 

Gambling/ shopping:

  • Shopping: Whether online or in-store, shopping can give your a rush of pleasure, happiness and satisfaction. Some people use shopping to comfort themselves when they are sad or stressed.
  • Gambling: When you gamble, your brain releases dopamine to make you feel happy and excited. Your brain releases dopamine whether you win or lose. This is why even people who always lose can become addicted to gambling. 
  • Sebah claims that these two behaviours are more similar than one might think, and in any case, you should avoid both during dopamine fasting if you find that these behaviours are problematic for you. 

Porn/ masturbation:

  • There is nothing wrong with either of these behaviours by themselves. However, “ these behaviours can become problematic and compulsive.”
  • If you find that these sexual activities are compulsive and problematic, you should refrain from them during your detox. 

Thrill/novelty-seeking:

  • Terms associated with this category are ‘adrenaline rush,’ ‘thrill-seekers,’ and ‘adrenaline junkies.’
  • Thrill/novelty-seeking involves seeking thrill, danger or excitement even if the activities put you at risk.
  • Usually, these activities create high energy emotions in the person.
  • If you like to chase high excitement for the rush of dopamine and adrenaline, it may be a good idea to detox from this behaviour. 

Recreational drugs:

  • Recreational drugs include:
    • Recreation drugs like cocaine, cannabis, heroin, etc.
    • Nicotine
    • Caffeine
    • Alcohol
  • Since all of these substances have psychologically addictive qualities, it is best to refrain from using them during a detox. 
  • Detoxing from these substances also “has the added health benefit of significantly improving your sleep quality if you avoid them 4 hours before your bedtime.”



Benefits of Dopamine Detoxing

  • Dopamine fasting allows you to manage addictive behaviours by restricting these behaviours to a specific time. Managing these behaviours permits you to regain control over the addiction and reduce your impulses to indulge in these negative behaviours.
  • Also, “a specific study showed that dopamine fasting from Facebook for a week helped students regain 13.3 hours of their time, and significantly reduced depressive symptoms by 17%, which allowed them to engage in more healthy behaviours instead.”
  • Also, by reducing the time spent on negative behaviour, more time is freed up to do positive activities. 



How BeTimeful Can Help

Social media has become a part of many people’s daily lives. Unfortunately, social media is also highly addictive, so a lot of these dopamine detoxing trends involve detoxing from social media. However, with the need to use social media’s messaging feature to stay connected with bosses, co-workers, classmates, family, and friends, it can be difficult to create any kind of detoxing schedule that you can follow.

Luckily, BeTimeful is here to help. Unlike most website blockers, BeTimeful blocks your social media feed but not your messages. At BeTimeful, we understand that while social media feed can be addicting, the messaging feature of these apps is a helpful tool. So, BeTimeful takes away the negative behaviour of scrolling through your social media feed while keeping the positive behaviour of socializing with others through messaging. BeTimeful is especially helpful if you have phone addiction or scrolling paralysis

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So download BeTimeful today to help make your dopamine detox as successful as possible.

Here are some of the other helpful resources from BeTimeful:

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