The Science of Wanting: How We Unhook from Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps motivate us to fulfill our basic needs, but in our modern age of plenty, it can also lead to overindulgence and addiction. So how can we find balance and contentment in an age of instant gratification?

Adobe Stock/ Hurca!

Anna Lembke’s gateway drug was Twilight, the young-adult vampire-romance novel. “I was at my kids’ elementary school and heard a bunch of moms talking about it, and one of them was saying she couldn’t
put it down,” Lembke recalls. “I thought, gosh, that sounds good! And it was true: It totally transported me. It was just the right drug at the right moment.”

The Stanford University psychiatrist was so enthralled by that first sweet hit that she went on to reread Twilight four more times, always trying, in vain, to replicate the high. In the meantime, she devoured every other vampire bodice-ripper she could find, soon moving on to erotic novels involving werewolves, fairies, witches, time travelers, soothsayers, and mind-readers.

Undeterred by tortured syntax, worn-out plot devices, stock characters, or typos, Lembke read instead of cooking, sleeping, socializing, or spending time with her husband and kids. It took a full year for her to hit bottom, catching herself awake at 2 a.m. on a weekday, reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

Of course Lembke should have known better. Her day job, as chief of Stanford’s Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, is all about helping other people cope with self-destructive cravings. Yet her journey down the…

Read More


Get practices, tips, and special offers delivered straight to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
About the author

Katherine Ellison

Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and author of three books on ADHD, most recently including ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know, written with Stephen Hinshaw, vice-chair for psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, and published in 2015 by Oxford University Press.