book i've read

Dopamine Nation

Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence


Anna Lembke, MD


Clinical Psychology

Year of issue




What's it about?

Paints a sobering picture of the potentially permanent changes happening to our brains in our tech saturated, “brave new world.” Articulates what the tech companies (who’s share prices increase with the severity of our addictions) knew when they designed the app you can’t stop using. Gives plenty of examples and strategies of reclaiming your brain.

who should read it?

If you’re interested in understanding the science behind why it’s so difficult to quit our modern pleasures and strategies for doing so, whether you’re looking to stop mindlessly scrolling, curb your consumption of pornography or even some of the more addictive substances you might be overindulging in.

how the book changed me

I already had a pretty good idea about what our modern technology was doing to our ability to shoulder difficult tasks, and how we’re being primed by technology compaines to favor impulsivity over control in the interest of growing their share prices.


What I didn’t understand was the pleasure / pain balace that comes with taxing our dopamine receptors; mainly, that pleasure and pain are processed in the same region of the brain. This book affirmed to me the benefits of habits I was already doing, like excercise and cold exposure, and was an integral element in stopping my consumption of pornography. It was a shock to discover that the changes that have been made to my brain from years of porn exposure are likely permanent, but it was also reassuring to know that there are avenues for routing around those damaged neuronal pathways and creating new, healthy ones.


The paradox is that hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake, leads to anhedonia, which is the inability to enjoy pleasure of any kind.

The neuroscientist George Koob calls this phenomenon "dysphoria driven relapse," where in a return to using is driven not by the search for pleasure but by the desire to alleviate physical and psychological suffering of protracted withdrawal. Here's the good news: if we wait long enoughs, our brains (usually) readapt to the absence of the drug and we reestablish our baseline homeostasis: a level balance. Once our balace is level, we are again able to take pleasure in everyday, simple rewards.

For a rat in a box, chocolate increases the basal output of dopamine in the brain by 55%, sex by 100%, nicotine by 150% and cocaine by 225%. Amphetamine, the active ingridient in the street drugs "speed," "ice," and "shabu" as well as medications like Adderall that are used to treat attention deficit disorder, increases the release of dopamine by 1,000%. By this accounting, 1 hit off a meth pipe is equal to 10 orgasms.