In last week’s article, I wrote about how we can become addicted to the biochemicals we release in flight, fight, freeze mode. In other words, the hormones we release when we trigger our stress response. Read it here.
However, we don’t just become addicted to the stress hormones; we can become addicted to other biochemicals released by other thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
Dopamine is often called the ‘happy hormone’ or the ‘reward chemical’ and is incredibly addictive. In fact, if you’re addicted to anything, it isn’t actually the ‘thing’ you’ve become dependent upon but rather the dopamine you release when you do it.
Dopamine is responsible for making us feel good, happy, content, uplifted, and satiated and can be positive and also extremely negative when it comes to addiction.
Negative sources of dopamine:
All deliver varying levels of dopamine. Some have in higher doses than others – one of the highest (if not THE most significant) being opioids.
Typically, the more you do your chosen negative ‘dopamine release activities’, the harder it is to get the same original ‘high’. Therefore, to achieve the same initial biochemical response, you have to do them in higher quantities and/or with more frequency, which is how they become addictive.
Over time (and it can be a relatively short period), your body begins to crave the dopamine ‘high’, and you feel compelled to repeat your behaviour or do the ‘thing’ to get more of it.
Positive sources of dopamine include achieving something that you’ve been working towards, ticking things off a list, feeling proud of a job well done, completing a task, exercising, catching up with friends and family, eating satisfying food, etc.
It’s important to point out that dopamine is a crucial biochemical. It motivates us; it makes us feel good when we achieve things – which prompts us to do more. However, if you’re not conscious of the activities you use to get a positive ‘hit’, it can quickly become addictive and often destructive.
Endorphins are often referred to as the ‘feel-good hormone’ or the ‘painkiller’. Similar to dopamine, they give us a feeling of euphoria following physical exercise and are also responsible for helping our bodies heal.
We’ve all heard of the ‘runners high’ – it describes the elation we experience after physical exercise. This hormone feels so good that it can also become addictive; think of people who regularly undertake extreme and endurance sports, marathons, triathlons, Iron Man, etc.
I’ve coached several semi-professional and professional sportspeople over the years. They tell me that training and races themselves hurt like hell and aren’t particularly enjoyable. However, the feeling afterwards (the huge hit of endorphins and dopamine) is indescribable and is what keeps them coming back for more.
Endorphins and dopamine (as well as oxytocin, the bonding and love hormone) are present when we experience positive emotions such as happiness, joy, pride, empathy, love, and hope.
Oxytocin is often described as the ‘love hormone’. It is released when we are in close proximity to both humans and animals. It is crucial to our well-being as it is responsible for making us feel safe; being around others or taking care of our pets calms our nervous system.
We get oxytocin from being near to others, either individuals and pets or from being in group environments, e.g. theatre, watching and participating in team sports, concerts, restaurants, etc. This hormone is released in large quantities:
However, as with other biochemicals, it, too, can become addictive. For example, people who jump from relationship to relationship or have numerous affairs will be flooded with oxytocin. It also plays a significant role in coercive control and narcissistic abuse within both personal and professional relationships.
In the last article, I did say that I would cover how to manage strong emotions and bring down levels of stress and anxiety, but this post turned out to be longer than anticipated! Therefore, I’ll cover that topic next week.
If there are any topics that you’d like me to cover in upcoming articles, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me a firstname.lastname@example.org. If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet, do it now to receive a FREE copy of my mini-course, ‘How to Hack Your Happy Hormones’!