Thoughts on dopamine

I recently read a post about some science behind introverts and extroverts. The way the article is written is all over the place when it comes to the ‘science’ and relies on tertiary sources. I have not checked the tertiary sources for their secondary and primary source reliability.

With that caveat, the things briefly and confusedly mentioned in the article got my attention. The article mentions dopamine as a mechanism in the brain to which introverts and extroverts react differently, thus explaining their behaviour.

Dopamine is described by the NIH in the US as “a neurotransmitter associated with movement, attention, learning, and the brain’s pleasure and reward system” and I have found it interesting ever since someone told me about the proposal that nicotine is actually the ‘gateway drug’ to other drugs because it is a dopamine antagonist and re-uptake inhibiter which is not only pleasing in and of itself but also serves to enhance other drugs when taken in combination eg: alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, natural dopamine released from social interaction, sexual activity etc. All of these ‘drugs’ are enhanced by also having a cigarette, and form a large part of the habit- or social-based addiction to cigarettes. Nicotine can be seen as the ‘gateway drug’ because it enhances all other drugs beyond their actual effects.

And now the article above from ‘Introvert, Dear’ links dopamine responses to introverted and extroverted behaviour. I think the point made in the article is that everyone has similar levels of dopamine, but while extroverts are keen to keeping getting more and more hits of dopamine, so therefore love parties, introverts are easily overwhelmed by levels of dopamine rising higher, and for them a party might raise the levels too high, and they will retreat to a quieter environment.

(The author describes this by saying “extroverts have a more active dopamine reward system”, which I think is actually not a good way to describe it. It depends upon which part of the mechanism one is describing. In my view, one can easily say that extroverts are somehow not absorbing/feeling the effects of dopamine enough, therefore seeking out more “hits”, meaning their system is underperforming on the experiencing end. On the flip side it is introverts whose system is more “active”, indeed maybe overactive, because it experiences dopamine effects to a strong degree, to the point of needing to hide from too many sources of stimulation. I personally don’t think you’d choose to describe a long term heroin addict as having “a more active opiate system”.)

The article mentions extroverts thriving when using the “fight, fright or flight” response, or sympathetic nervous system to fuel their social engine, giving them high blood sugar but reduced decision making/critical thinking while introverts use the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body at rest, digesting food, lowering blood sugar and with thinking systems more on full.

The article also talks about some other things:

Even moving the limbs of the body takes more conscious thought for introverts. Introverts also have a tendency toward low blood sugar, low blood pressure, shallow breathing, sleep difficulties, tension headaches, and occasionally feeling drained and discombobulated.

In the article this is not explicitly linked with dopamine but given the description of it up there from the NIH, it seems to me that rather than being “made for hibernation” it could be that being too sensitive to dopamine means a deficiency in other ways, such as lack of ability to move limbs, low blood pressure etc.

How this relates to me: I would describe myself as an introvert. I get energy from being alone, I have low blood pressure, a slow heartbeat and I like thinking. I have consciously stopped smoking (regulated and non-regulated things) due to mental health problems. The effects of smoking are: raised heart rate, uncomfortable digestive sensations, dizziness and panic attacks. Coupled with the effects of smoking two substances at once I also get: sugar cravings, desire to sleep, more introspective thoughts. It now seems more obvious why all these things happen. Some are a function of nicotine & dopamine and some are a function of that other thing. The effects could “cancel each other out” or they could create a confusing array of bodily sensations which is probably why panic is so easily triggered.

I recently smoked again for the first time in a while and had the chance to observe other effects of doing so. I suddenly became more keen to talk at the party I was attending, more excited by interactions with other people and stayed awake longer than I would have. My heart beat much faster than usual, especially while talking with people. Later on that night I felt more active and dominant when having sex.

It seems very helpful to reflect that, rather than being scared of my fight or flight response, I could actively use it to be an extrovert for a day and that it is not a sign of something harmful, it’s just something that nicotine does, and extroverts. Indeed being an extrovert for a while could lead to other benefits like raised blood pressure and easier limb movement. Also that I should definitely replenish my blood sugars since they are either being actively used up or are a little bit too low during baseline because I’m more prone to introversion. It might be a good idea to smoke in more high energy situations, such as parties, rather than alone when sitting still.

I will be watching dopamine effects and research with great interest from now on.



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