Addiction and Dopamine

Addiction in the digital world

“Every age has its signature afflictions”

Byung-Chul Han

Like many, I have direct experience of being addicted to various behaviours and substances and know many others afflicted by this common condition.

It is impossible to begin to understand addiction without acknowledging the influences upon the individual or group from society and the wider environment to which they belong. Any dialogue about addiction must draw from fields including psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and anthropology.

The past years (the beginning of the twenty-twenties) have led many to feel trapped and overwhelmed. To varying degrees people have been separated from loved ones and disconnected from the world. Patterns and cycles of news have permeated our lives and how we think about the world. I have found myself losing a degree of meta-awareness around tech use, i.e., my ability to step back and look at patterns of how I use technology have eroded. A quick refresh of news apps, social media and snippets of podcasts and YouTube videos have wriggled their way into those numerous snatches of unoccupied time: between meetings at work, going to the bathroom, taking a tea break.

On some level the prevailing situation is to blame for fuelling anxiety, fear and stress. Perhaps then technology is merely a salve: a way to treat the unpleasant consequences of facing reality head on? What horrors would we have to face in the absence of distraction?

As mentioned previously, withdrawal and cravings can be understood as the pain associated with the compensatory dip in dopamine and our actions in the direction of the addictive substances to relieve this pain.

In fact, addiction is often seen as the seeking out of pleasure to escape pain or suffering.


Like the mercenary, Shantaram, scared to death and on the run, travelling to dangerous zones to give himself the momentary thill to achieve respite from his underlying anxiety, how many of us, instead of confronting our anxieties, are travelling into a digital market square to be emotionally outraged (a place of humour, shame and horror), a digital wonderland for unlimited distraction, or digital harem for pure unadulterated pleasure on tap.

How many of us have self-medicated ourselves with shocks, thrills, pleasure, outrage or even numbness, all at an instant tap of a thumb?

Are you ready to do something about it?

Let’s escape the dopaminferno!