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Neurobunk through the ages: chemicals over witchcraft 

Phones are a source of dopamine for many, and a common option of things to remove for a dopamine detox. A dopamine detox is the newest trend going around, where you take a break from certain things that are unhealthy for you, such as social media. Photo Courtesy of Canva

“A dopamine detox is a complete removal of all your favorite things. During a dopamine detox people avoid media, phones, games, food and even social interactions. Anything that stimulates some sort of pleasure is off the table,” claims a video titled “Dopamine Detox: How To Reset Your Brain” by the YouTube channel, TopThink. 

Maritza Altora, who runs a wellness and self-care account on TikTok, said in a video that a dopamine detox is a set amount of time where you avoid certain activities that induce a high dopamine response. 

“The reason you wanna do this, especially if you’re someone like me, who is addicted to their phones and social media…this is a practice that allows your brain to take a break from the constant stimulation, so you get a chance to sort of reset into what is more desirable,” Altora said. “It makes it easier to get things done, basically.” 

So, what’s the problem? You finally have a solution to your TikTok addiction – the dopamine detox. Just get rid of dopamine and the problem is solved. Well, science says not exactly. 

The phrase dopamine detox or dopamine fasting implies that dopamine is something that you need to get rid of, something bad or a “toxin,” which it isn’t. So, what exactly is dopamine? 

“Dopamine is a monoamine which is a class of chemicals that we functionally call neuromodulators that, unlike neurotransmitters that produce fast synaptic effects, have long-term, slower effects,” said Dr. Christopher Kliethermes, Associate Professor of Psychology at Drake University. “It was recognized for a long time as the reward hormone, reward center, pleasure center. This is where it gets sort of messy because, of course, dopamine is involved with those things but to say that dopamine is reward or pleasure is clearly wrong.” 

So, what does dopamine really do? According to Kliethermes, dopamine is used to learn pretty much anything and helps you to signal you when something unexpected happens. 

To put it simply, the experience of something good or unexpected results in a dopamine release in the brain. Therefore, pain, anxiety, stress and anticipation of fearful events can also result in an increased dopamine release. 

There are a lot of times when the dopamine detox trend can get littered with misinformation. 

“To say that dopamine is making you addicted to social media or a certain app is wrong because the reward is not addiction and addiction is not dopamine, nor is reward dopamine. The idea that you could detox from something that is rewarding is true, sure,” Kliethermes said. “You’re constantly stimulated by staring at a screen or social media. That is a problem, certainly, but to say that dopamine is causing you to stare at the screen is where I’d have a big problem with that one because it’s fundamentally not true. The idea that you could detox from dopamine is a shorthand way of saying that you need to learn other behaviors.”

The dopamine detox trend is the newest entry into a long archive of neuroscientific and psychological misreporting. We’ve certainly come a long way from women being accused of witchcraft, but many have started misinterpreting what certain words mean, such as oxytocin being the “love hormone,” serotonin being the “happy hormone,” and dopamine being the “pleasure or addiction hormone.” 

If something goes wrong in someone’s life, they just blame it on a chemical imbalance without taking personal responsibility, which often leads to misinformation. Knowing that we aren’t responsible for being depressed all the time can be a welcome feeling.

“For some people, definitely – I think that a lot of people take the easy way out and blame it on something that is more convenient,” said junior Emma Tomalin, a Drake student studying Public Relations. 

Unfortunately, sometimes having more “scientific” terms in an article or video can cause people to trust it more. 

Marcus Thurm, a first-year at Drake, added that he would definitely look up to see if there is any reliable information, that way, he can confirm the information is correct. 

This is perhaps the best we can do in the age where social media has the capacity to dole out mass misinformation – check. So, the next time you hear someone on TikTok promise that they will help “reset your brain,” use your superpower and google it.

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