Dopamining – Chasing the High

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is one of the brain’s “feel good” neurotransmitters. It induces feelings of excitement, motivation, aliveness and gratification. When we engage in certain behaviours, dopamine is released from where it is produced in the brain and enters our bloodstream to give us a feeling of satisfaction and reward.

Why Do We Need It?

From an evolutionary perspective, a release of dopamine is what incentivises us to do the things that are good for our survival, like eating, drinking and reproducing. Human beings are hard-wired to be reward-seeking and a healthy level of dopamine makes us feel happy, focused, alert and motivated.


It may be a word right out of an urban dictionary, but the concept of “dopamining” is being increasingly used to describe the thrill of doing things that lead to a release of dopamine.

So Is Dopamine Addictive?

Dopamine itself is not addictive, but the feeling we get when we experience a flood of dopamine lights up the reward centres of the brain and compels us to want it more. The strong memory of the pleasure we felt as a result of a dopamine release is what we are focusing on and what we continue to seek.

Excessive repeated releases of dopamine can also over-stimulate our brain. In small doses this isn’t unhealthy, but arguably, some of the reward-seeking behaviours are what can be define as unhealthy and this is where things get complex.

Our iPhones for example, are like mini dopamine factories – pumping out little highs with each pick up. Modern phones have been designed with reward-seeking behaviour in mind and you just have to watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix to understand the magnitude of the problem. While it is not the phone itself that is addictive, the plethora of social media sites and apps is what has given us a positively endless supply of social stimuli in the thumbs up, likes, happy faces or messages that we receive. And, it’s not just the positive reactions we seek, it may be the negative reactions too. It can rapidly become a case of posting anything, even posting those things we know are just ideal to set us up for an online roasting because all we’re after is a response. Neuroscientists have shown that these positive and negative social stimuli activate the same neural reward pathways in the brain as a hit of cocaine would give us.

Being ‘addicted to your phone’ is just one example of how this can work. Other activities such as playing video games, drinking alcohol or infidelity can all behaviours that are based on this same reward system.

Where It Can Go Wrong

Regularly chasing a dopamine high off the back of an unhealthy behaviour can have serious implications for many areas of our life. Studies have shown there is a link between dopamine and compulsive behaviours and at an extreme level, continued and excessive dopamine hits can result in damage to the brain. Brain pathways are altered and the brain gets used to a new level of dopamine tolerance meaning that we are less sensitive to its impact. As we no longer get the same high, we may be compelled to seek increasingly unhealthy behaviours to achieve the same feeling. In the instance of alcohol use, this may look like drinking more and more. Even low dose alcohol is known to increase the release of dopamine.

In the case of infidelity, the brain’s self-control centre short-circuits and you may someone escalate from emotionally cheating to repeated infidelities or even engaging in risky sexual deviances. The thrill of the chase can be so intense it can sometimes look like a sex addiction (but that’s another blog post altogether). It’s not the sex that someone is addicted to though, it’s the dopamine release they are seeking and the sexual activity, or the chase at least, is just a way to obtain the dopamine rush.

Ultimately, the downfall is when it leads to poor impulse control and someone finds it impossible to resist certain behaviours. Instances of “It was just one more drink….” or relationships plagued by an incessant wave of infidelities rationalised as “just sexual banter” can lead to chronic problems in maintaining self-control that ends up costing someone dearly. Not only is there an impact to oneself in increases in stress, anxiety and depression and poor sleep quality, there is also collateral damage experienced in disruptions to personal relationships or in strained or dysfunctional family dynamics.

When To Get Help

If poor impulse control is something you recognise in yourself or in someone close, get help. There is work that can be done around identifying triggers and changing patterns in thinking, feeling and behaviour. Find a therapist you can talk to and one you feel you can work well with. Therapy can help improve levels of self-control and support someone in developing healthier coping strategies.


Photo (social media) by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Photo (heart) by Marah Bashir on Unsplash

Is Sex Addiction Really a Thing?

Sex is a normal human experience and is generally embraced and encouraged by society. These days is an area fully encouraged by the media and society to the point that sex is seemingly used to sell just about anything. So if it is so normalised and has an established place in modern society, how does it become a problem for someone and when is it ‘too much’? As with anything, when something crosses boundaries from being something within manageable control and into the realms of something that is disruptive and potentially destructive to us and those around us, it may be considered an addiction.

So Does Sex Addiction Exist?

Sex addiction is actually nothing new. The terminology may be new but the concept of being controlled by sexual urges and desires isn’t new at all. The digital age may have contributed to it being more prolific though in that numerous dating apps, online dating sites, hookup sites and free porn mean that generally sex is just a few clicks away. Cyber-sex can also be said to have increased as a result and “sexting” is now a thing too. In our technological age, we are now more connected than ever to each other and we are more exposed to a variety of quicker and easier ways of fulfilling sexual desires.

The term sex addiction is still quite controversial though and the debate continues about whether sex obsession can be classed as an addiction. The debate can often be complicated by differing morals, values or religious and cultural biases and what constitutes a sex addiction is hard to quantify or classify. However it is named though, if it is disruptive and has begin to interfere in daily activities, it is an issue. If you are looking for psychotherapy for sex addiction, you will be able to work with your individual therapist to understand what is going on for you and why.

It doesn’t just exist in the male population either. While it may be mostly men reporting sex addictions, it is not something limited to the males of the species. There may be many reasons as to why this is including the perception that it is more “acceptable” for a man to have a sex addiction. Mistakenly, a man with a sex addiction may be rewarded with a certain ‘kudos’. He may be revered or envied about how much sex he may get whereas a woman may be more inclined to hide her sex addiction as something to be ashamed of.

The Difference Between a High Sex Drive and Sex Addiction

It’s important to note the differences between having a high sex drive and a sex addiction. Your therapist won’t have a moral stance on your situation but will seek to understand how it is affecting you. You may find that you’ve got stuck in a cycle of destructive ways of relating to others and in therapy you’ll be able to work on where things may have gone awry.

How Can Psychotherapy Help With Sex Addiction?

The World Health Organisation considers compulsive sexual behaviour as a mental health condition. Psychotherapy for sex addiction is not about abstention or learning to live without, as may be the case with other addictions, but more concerned with establishing achievable and realistic goals for you. As a talking therapy, psychotherapy can support you in improving your mental health. If you feel you are more of a slave to your sexual urges than in control of them, psychotherapy can support you in regaining a sex life that is enjoyable, healthy and fits with your values.

If you feel your sex life isn’t how you want it to be get in touch to find out more about how therapy can help.