Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A bit on dopamine

In a my-kind-of-talk interview on Monday, Dr. Gabor Maté talked to Amy Goodman about stress diseases and how they stem from broken parent-child relationships, not from genetic abnormalities.

Humans are driven to be close to one another. In terms of the brain, when intimacy is shunned, dopamine levels go down. Dopamine is an essential life chemical that provides the brain with incentive and motivation. So, no love, no dopamine. No dopamine, no function.

If a child is showing signs of agitation or loss of concentration, doctors now dope up the kid on stimulant medications. The idea is that if dopamine levels are elevated, focus and attention are intensified. Yet, while these drugs can certainly be helpful, this knee-jerk prescription solution ignores the environmental causes of these symptoms, namely lack of connection and nurturing in the nuclear family or community.

As I understand it, dopamine is also associated with reward-linked behaviors like addiction. Do something, release dopamine, feel better. Do, get, do, get. Apparently the ding of an incoming Facebook alert or email releases dopamine. Hence social media as a stand-in for substantial emotional connection does the trick, scratches the itch. No needles.

It also seems that because dopamine increases goal-centered behavior and decreases inhibition, it releases the urge to be creative. Do we create as a means to be rewarded, or do we create because we have healthy connections?

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