Published on February 28, 2022
Reviewed by Marybeth Ginsberg
Addiction is so prevalent today because we live in a world of overabundance. Access to food, drugs, shopping, news, gambling, gaming, texting, and social media provides highly rewarding stimuli that has led to compulsive overconsumption for many people. Striking a balance between what we need and what we want is addressed in Dr. Anna Lembke’s newest book, Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence. The book explores how understanding the science behind desire and applying the helpful tools of recovery can help break the cycle of addictive behavior.
Dopamine is one type of neurotransmitter produced by the body. It is sometimes referred to as a chemical messenger because the nervous system uses dopamine to send messages between nerve cells. Dopamine is involved in reward-processing and it plays an important role in how we feel pleasure. In fact, dopamine plays an important part in our desire for a given reward, and the pleasure from this desire may even trump the pleasure from the reward itself. For example, gamblers derive most pleasure from not knowing or if they will win, rather than actually winning.
According to Lembke, in addition to understanding pleasure, it is necessary to understand pain. Simply put, it seems that pleasure and pain are processed in overlapping brain regions and work together in our bodies to achieve physiologic equilibrium. Because we have access to so much pleasure, Lembke states that we are essentially “drowning in dopamine.” Consequently, the price we pay “is that we now need more reward to feel pleasure, and less injury to feel pain.” The more pleasure we seek, the more intolerant we are to pain. This is why people addicted to opioids get less relief over time.
Takeaway Message: According to Lembke, full immersion in the life that we have been given is key to conquering addiction. Rather than trying to escape or leave the world behind, Lembke encourages those battling addiction to apply patience and perseverance to managing their own lives. According to Lembke, it is important to “stop running from what you’re trying to escape” and to know that “healthy practices happen day by day.” Lembke provides a list of ten lessons related to achieving balance and offers them as a guide to monitoring individual progress.
Dr. Lembke, an addiction specialist, lives and practices psychiatry in northern California. She writes about the way a dopamine can drive us to seek reward in excess and how people can use the lessons learned documented in her book to take control of their lives. She draws on the science of addiction and provides anecdotal information from her professional practice as a clinical psychiatrist and her personal background as a daughter and a parent. This book offers insight into dopamine's role in addiction and may be useful to those seeking help with addiction recovery. In addition to this newest book, Dr. Lembke is also the author of Drug Dealer, MD, How Doctors Were Duped, Patients Got Hooked, and Why It’s So Hard to Stop.
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐