We’re facing the problem of compulsive overconsumption in the modern world. I’m speaking with the internationally recognized leader in addiction medicine treatment and education, Anna Lembke, MD.
The way she explains it is that almost everything is drug-ified in some way or another in the modern world. The topic we get into on this podcast is key to our well-being and success in a digital age.
In a world that seems to never stop there is part of us that wants to. It’s increasingly hard to find balance when everything feels dopamine overloaded. We need to learn how to live with more serenity in life. It’s not that we need to, we actually want to, and we’re up against a lot these days.
Anna Lembke, MD is an internationally recognized leader in addiction medicine treatment and education. She’s helping us to open our eyes when it comes to the imbalances created during our constant pursuit of pleasure and its true potential for pain.
Anna Lembke, MD is professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine. She is the chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic. Anna is a clinician scholar and author of more than a hundred peer-reviewed publications. Her 2016 book “Drug Dealer, MD – How Doctors Were Duped, Patients Got Hooked and Why It’s So Hard to Stop” was highlighted in the New York Times as one of the top 5 books to read to understand the opioid epidemic. She’s been featured in the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma”. Her latest book that we’ll talk about in this podcast, is called “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence”.
We can develop a new level of vigilance and a new way of living in a pleasure-driven world, and this is what we’re going to be discussing in this episode of The Chase Jarvis Live Show.
The Plenty Paradox
A good place to start is at what Anna describes as the plenty paradox. Anna explains the paradox is that the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake leads to the inability to enjoy pleasure of any kind.
By understanding more about the world we live in, the risks and rewards of the digital era, and our ability to learn and practice healthy tech habits, we can live with more sustained balance.
Addiction isn’t a new thing. Since the beginning of human history, there are records of people not being able to use intoxicants in moderation. The majority of people can use things like cocaine, alcohol, opioids, and cannabinoid products and not be addicted. Yet, through the ages, we know there’s a subset of people who cannot.
Over time, as with all mental illnesses, the subset of individuals becomes classified. In the case of addiction, the subset of individuals unable to use in moderation, and whose use becomes out of control and compulsive in a way that they are harming themselves or others, these people have an addiction. Addiction is now medically considered to be a disease/mental health disorder.
“There’s no brain scan or blood test that can diagnose addiction”. Anna says, “Just like all mental illnesses we base the diagnosis on what’s called phenomenology. This is our observation of patterns of behavior that are similar across cultural groups, demographics, and times in history, that are so strikingly characteristic of a certain phenomenon that we have to consider it (this particular behavior) to be a disease.”
Diagnosing addiction in a clinical setting relies on The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which has 11 criteria. Significantly, medical professionals are looking at the three C’s when it comes to addiction, control, compulsions, and consequences.
In regards to addictive behavior, a common one to think of is gambling. Gambling has a preliminary inclusion in the DSM-5. Now, the conversation around behaviors increasingly encompasses online behaviors such as online pornography, gambling, shopping, monetary trading, social media, and more.
The Dark Side of Technology
The top three online addictive behaviors that professionals are seeing are gaming, pornography, and gambling. Increasingly they’re seeing digital media and content such as social media, texting, sexting, and so on.
These are considered addictions because they are lighting up the same parts of the brain’s reward pathway as drugs and alcohol do. The phenomenology of the disease is the same with drugs and alcohol and behaviors. People start out by using it either for fun or to solve a problem. When it works the person will return to the drug or behavior. Over time the person needs more or more frequently to get the same effect.
We don’t have to look far to see the behaviors that ignite the dopamine dials in our own lives. They don’t have to be blatantly obvious habits like the ones mentioned above. They can be more subtle.
Cultivating Healthy Relationships with Devices
We are all subject to the risk of addiction. We can’t unknow what we’re discovering here. So, what can we do about the reality of the negative effects of our digital devices?
Anna and I discuss the important question we can ask ourselves, “What constant thing am I ingesting on a regular basis that gives me the dopamine jolt, so much so that my brain compensates by down-regulating my feel-good regulators?”
Our devices aren’t going away completely, so we need to figure out how to live in harmony with the access at our fingertips. There are hopeful solutions for navigating addiction.
“We can be more contented in the world by resetting neural pathways.”- Anna Lembke
Anna speaks about creating self-binding strategies, creating literal and metacognitive barriers to our devices so we can push a pause button on consumption and so much more. The fact that we’re having the conversation is important. Let’s all take a moment and pay attention to where we’re at so we have hope when we look forward to the future.