- Loren Bahor, MSW, LCSWA
Dopamine, You Sexy Thing (and ADHD- also sexy- but differently so....)
Dopamine...ahh dopamine – one of the sexiest celebs of the brain chemical world.
Just hearing the word dopamine makes my heart beat aflutter.
Over the years, dopamine has secured its place in popular culture as the “pleasure chemical” or the “feel-good hormone.” It’s been traditionally associated with love, bliss, gratification and to use the parlance of our times… “good vibes” (Good catch on the Big Lebowski reference.)
It’s long been believed that dopamine is the brain chemical that regulated pleasure.
You know – we do the thing (the rewarding/pleasurable activity) – we get a hit of dopamine, and BOOM we feel amazing.
But folks, what the latest scientific evidence is telling us is that dopamine actually does its thing before we do our thing (the rewarding/pleasurable activity) –it is what motivates us to take action.
In other words, it’s dopamine that motivates us to take on challenges, engage in rewarding activities and pursue our dreams and goals.
So – yes, in a sense dopamine might motivate us to achieve and keep working toward what we want – perhaps the things that will play important roles in our ultimate happiness – but, it could also go both ways.
Dopamine might provide you with the drive to work towards that promotion at work or train for that 5K, but it could also motivate you to engage in unhealthy habits like substance abuse or spending lots of money. It is essentially a feedback signal for predicting rewards, which from an evolutionary perspective promoted survival and was not intended to make you feel all ooey gooey inside (bummer, I know).
SO – how does this all tie into ADHD? Well – those of us with ADHD don’t have enough dopamine, which limits our brains ability to both recognize and seek out rewards. The result of which is a lack of motivation.
Without the right amount of dopamine to help us recognize potential rewards, we have no incentive to take action (to do the thing). That is why ADHD brains have hard time starting and completing tasks, especially when they are tedious or boring (a total snooze fest).
That is why we tend to struggle with things like paying bills on time, cleaning the house and writing therapy notes (ahem!)
That is not to say that us ADHDers can’t get anything done – we are actually really good at doing the things we are really interested in doing. So good in fact that we can become so completely focused on what we are doing that we lose track of everything else that is going on around us.
That’s what we call hyperfocus. When we feel motivated to do something that we love, the brain starts releasing larger amounts of dopamine – and we want that dopamine because we don’t naturally have enough of it. The more we are engrossed in doing things we find interesting, the greater the loading and reloading of dopamine is and the easier it becomes to stay task.
Unfortunately, this perceived selective choice of what we want and don’t want to do can appear to others as simply being an issue of lacking willpower (don’t love that word).
If you can focus for this activity, why can’t you do the same for that activity?
Argg…because that’s not the way it works. ADHD is not a matter of willpower - it is a problem with the dynamics of the chemistry of the brain.
ADHD is a really complex condition – it’s symptoms can be confusing, inconsistent, and even paradoxical for those of us that experience it and also for those that care about us.
*And* it is also entirely possible to learn how to work with the brain you have to get the life you want- you just might need to go about it in a different way from some of the other people in your life. But, no worries! I’ve got you!
To get scheduled with Loren, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org