“Nation of Withdrawal”

Emilie Tristano, Contributing Writer

Today’s society is in desperate need of a dopamine detox. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is in charge of initiating the pleasure response in the human brain. This chemical is involved in the reward pathway, which drives our motivation to complete certain behaviors or tasks. Dopamine is released in the brain when we experience enjoyable stimuli such as food, drugs or sex; therefore, one can consider dopamine to be a highly addictive substance.

Though dopamine is a tiny molecule, it is the driving force behind the culture of overconsumption seen in today’s society. One may say that dopamine is the reason we crave that second piece of cake, another sip of alcohol or another swipe on TikTok. If you have ever felt the need to play your favorite video game another time, or craved a substance such as nicotine or marijuana, you are not alone. Our brains are wired to seek intoxicating and pleasurable experiences, and are genetically geared toward a balance of indulgence and discomfort. In fact, the pleasure and pain responses are located in the same part of the brain, which is why we feel uncomfortable when a rewarding experience has ended, and desire the stimulus once more. Because our biology as humans directs us in a search for satisfaction, we often become dependent on different behaviors or substances to sate our biochemical needs. 

Despite the progress occasioned by industrialization and modern technology, the human brain has remained a remarkable constant since the times of our pre-sedentary ancestors. Yet while hunter-gatherers had to make use of the brain to live in a world of scarcity, humans in the 21st century must instead navigate a society of utter excess. Fast-food companies, social media and instant fashion are just a few factors that contribute to overabundance in 2021. While these forces can be incredibly convenient, and are highly efficient at providing humans with everything they could possibly want, they may be more destructive to our society than effective. 

As people, we are not meant to live with instant gratification, and the ability to have anything at our fingertips with the click of a button is a dangerous proposition. The skyrocketing rates of addiction in our society suggest that we are not equipped to handle the overwhelming excess that is found in our day to day lives as people. We are so used to having rapid access to everything, that we lose the beautiful ability to spend time and patience doing a task, and even enjoy the luxury of boredom. We have become so good at using our phones, drugs or other behaviors to satisfy our biological needs, that new problems stemming from addiction and overconsumption now plague our society. 

One of the largest problems that this society faces is the feeling of withdrawal, the immediate pain response that is associated with particular stimuli. Withdrawal is correlated with feelings of anxiety, irritability and unhappiness, and I believe that we are living among a withdrawn population of human beings. With repeated use of our favorite pleasures, we become dependent on them, even developing tolerance for them, in which our bodies require more of the substance to get the same effect. This can be explicitly observed in everything from drug addictions to gambling addictions, as we become physically dependent on the things that make us feel good. 

The products just mentioned hardly serve any true purpose, but purely encourage further consumption, leading to a devastating loss of creativity and productivity in society as a whole. While it can be useful to have resources readily available when solving problems like poverty or emergency relief, it is important to delay gratification when our bodies are not in a state of crisis. It is time that we take back our lives, and make conscientious efforts to cure the addiction that we all suffer from. It is certainly possible to halt the dopamine feedback loop we are all stuck in – especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, where new addictions were developed as a response to collective psychological and physical pain. If we reset our brains and our bodies to properly handle the world around us, we can instead use this tiny chemical known as dopamine to accomplish incredible things.

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