Dopamine fasting

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Proponents of dopamine fasting see a benefit from taking periodic breaks from technologies which are seen as addictive, such as smartphones.

Dopamine fasting is a form of digital detox, involving temporarily abstaining from addictive technologies such as social media, listening to music on technological platforms, and Internet gaming, and can be extended to temporary deprivation of social interaction and eating.[1][2][3] The concept was proposed by Dr. Cameron Sepah.[4]

The practice has been referred to as a "maladaptive fad" by one Harvard researcher.[5] Other critics say that it is based on a misunderstanding of how the neurotransmitter dopamine, which operates within the brain to reward behavior, actually works and can be altered by conscious behavior.[clarification needed][1][6] However, other scientists[who?] believe it is likely that both the practicers and critics misunderstand the proposed technique, and rather the practice should be regarded as a self intervention for behavioral addiction.[7] The idea behind it is to take a break from the repetitive patterns of excitement and stimulation that can be triggered by interaction with digital technology,[8] and that the practice of avoiding pleasurable activities can work to undo bad habits, allow time for self-reflection, and bolster personal happiness.[8]


The practice of dopamine fasting is not clearly defined in what it entails, on what technologies, with what frequency it should be done, or how it is supposed to work.[6][9] Some proponents limit the process to avoiding online technology; others extend it to abstaining from all work, exercise, physical contact and unnecessary conversation.[10]

According to Cameron Sepah, a proponent of the practice, the purpose is not to literally reduce dopamine in the body[11] but rather to reduce impulsive behaviors that are rewarded by it.[8] One account suggests that the practice is about avoiding cues, such as hearing the ring of a smartphone, that can trigger impulsive behaviors, such as remaining on the smartphone after the call to play a game.[12] In one sense, dopamine fasting is a reaction to technology firms which have engineered their services to keep people hooked.[11]

Dopamine fasting has been said[by whom?] to resemble the fasting tradition[which?] of many religions.[1] An extreme form of dopamine fasting would be complete sensory deprivation, where all external stimuli are removed in order to promote a sense of calm and wellbeing.[10]


Proponents of dopamine fasting argue that it is a way to exert greater self-control and self-discipline over one's life, and New York Times technology journalist Nellie Bowles found that dopamine fasting made her subject's everyday life "more exciting and fun".[1]

It has been described as a fad and a craze associated with Silicon Valley.[12][9] An account in Vice, saying "If the idea of abstaining from anything fun in order to increase your mental clarity is appealing, congratulations: You and the notorious biohackers in Silicon Valley are on the same wave."[13]

Scientific basis[edit]

Detractors say that the overall concept of dopamine fasting is unscientific since the chemical plays a vital role in everyday life; literally reducing it would not be good for a person,[12] and removing a particular stimulus like social media would not reduce the levels of dopamine in the body, only the stimulation of it.[12] Ciara McCabe, Associate Professor in Neuroscience at the University of Reading, considers the idea that the brain could be "reset" by avoiding dopamine triggers for a short time to be "nonsense".[11]

Cameron Sepah, who has promoted the practice of dopamine fasting, agrees that the name is misleading and says that its purpose is not to literally reduce dopamine in the body[11] but rather to reduce the impulsive behaviors that are rewarded by it.[8]

Besides the impulsive behavior control – regulated by the prefrontal cortex,[14] it has never been conclusively proven that technology use hardens the brain to dopamine’s effects. Technology use induces a dopamine response on par with any normal, enjoyable experience — roughly a 50% to 100% increase. By contrast, cocaine and methamphetamine — two highly addictive drugs — cause a dopamine spike of 350% and 1200% respectively[citation needed]. In addition, dopamine receptors themselves — the cells in the brain activated in different ways by dopamine’s release — respond differently to tech use than they do to substance abuse, with no evidence that they become less sensitive to dopamine with frequent tech use, in the way they do with substance abuse. In the final analysis, it is wrong to assume that avoiding "dopamine spikes" may upregulate dopamine receptors, causing an "increase in motivation or pleasure".[15] Conversely, freeing oneself from bad habits may free up time for healthier habits, like physical activity, leading to actual increases in gray matter volume on multiple brain parts related to the reward system.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d A. Trevor Sutton of The Conversation (2020-01-24). "Is dopamine fasting the path to enlightenment, or just another celebrity thing?". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2020-01-24. ...Silicon Valley's newest fad is dopamine fasting, or temporarily abstaining from "addictive" activities such as social media, music, internet gaming – even food. ...Dubbed "dopamine fasting" by San Francisco psychologist Cameron Sepah, the trend is getting increasing international attention as a potential "cure" for technology addiction....
  2. ^ Stokel-Walker, Chris (2019-11-16). "Is 'dopamine fasting' Silicon Valley's new productivity fad?". BBC Worklife. Retrieved 2022-08-22.
  3. ^ "Is dopamine fasting good for you?". BBC Reel. 2022-08-17. Archived from the original on 2022-08-22. Retrieved 2022-08-22.
  4. ^ Fei, Yi Yang; Johnson, Peter Anto; Omran, Noor A.L.; Mardon, Austin; Johnson, John Christy (January 2022). "Maladaptive or misunderstood? Dopamine fasting as a potential intervention for behavioral addiction". Lifestyle Medicine. 3 (1). doi:10.1002/lim2.54. ISSN 2688-3740.
  5. ^ "Dopamine fasting: Misunderstanding science spawns a maladaptive fad". 2020-02-26.
  6. ^ a b Grohol, John (2019-11-13). "Dopamine Fasting Probably Doesn't Work, Try This Instead". Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  7. ^ "Maladaptive or misunderstood? Dopamine fasting as a potential intervention for behavioral addiction". 2021-12-11.
  8. ^ a b c d Julie Fraga (2019-12-30). "Dopamine fasting: Would a hiatus from pleasure make us better at life?". Mic magazine. Retrieved 2020-01-24. ... "dopamine fasting" works something like this: Avoid exciting stimulation, and by doing so, become a better version of yourself....the idea that forgoing pleasurable activities can help curb bad habits, bolster happiness, and enhance self-reflection....
  9. ^ a b Kim Krieger (January 20, 2020). "Q&A: John Salamone On The 'Dopamine Fasting' Trend". University of Connecticut. Retrieved January 24, 2020. ... people deprive themselves of pleasurable activities for a day or a week at a time. Supposedly, it helps reduce anxiety and quit bad habits. But the practice is nebulously defined ....
  10. ^ a b Bowles, Nellie (7 November 2019). "How to Feel Nothing Now, in Order to Feel More Later (Published 2019)". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d Maria Coole (January 10, 2020). "Dopamine fasting is apparently now a thing – so we looked into it". Marie Claire magazine. Retrieved January 24, 2020. ...The idea of dopamine fasting originated in – where else – Silicon Valley. Yes, the place that has spent years carefully engineering and designing their products and apps to exploit the dopamine system and get us hooked ... Experts are widely skeptical too. ... dopamine plays an important role in lots of everyday functions and it's not a good idea to try and reduce it ... that we can somehow 'reset' our brains by avoiding dopamine triggers for a short while is 'nonsense'.
  12. ^ a b c d Ciara McCabe (3 January 2020). "The next big thing: Dopamine fasting: COMMENTARY -- An expert reviews the latest craze in Silicon Valley". Street Roots magazine. Retrieved January 24, 2020. ...the key ... is to reduce our exposure to the triggers associated with the rewards that initiate the wanting for the rewards in the first place. After all, it is these cues that initiate the craving and the desires....
  13. ^ Way, Katie. "'Dopamine Fasting' Is the Newest 'Sounds Fake, but OK' Wellness Trend". Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  14. ^ Nestler, Eric J. (2009). Molecular neuropharmacology : a foundation for clinical neuroscience. Steven E. Hyman, Robert C. Malenka (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-164119-7. OCLC 273018757.
  15. ^ Ferguson, Christopher J. "Debunking the 6 biggest myths about 'technology addiction'". The Conversation. Retrieved 2022-01-10.