Addicts, workaholics, creators, and liberals
Addiction occurs when the desire circuit is overstimulated and thrown into a pathological state. Alcohol, drugs, sex, and gambling trigger the release of dopamine in the desire circuit, and this is what makes these substances and behaviors addictive. A dopamine rush is euphoric, not because it’s pleasurable in a mellow, appreciating-the-present-moment kind of way, but because it feels energizing and exciting—it’s the thrill of getting something you want.
When the dopamine rush is over, the “low” is lower than it was before, making the addict crave more. And unfortunately, the desire circuit adapts over time; it releases less and less dopamine in response to continued use of a substance. This is why it takes increasingly larger doses for addicts to get high. Many addicts describe continuing to use their drug of choice not to get high, but simply to get relief from their low.
High levels of dopamine in the control circuit can be dangerous as well. People can get addicted to success, relentlessly working toward their goals while never stopping to enjoy what they’ve achieved. This is an imbalance between control dopamine and the neurotransmitters that allow us to appreciate the present moment. Dopamine release in the control circuit actually suppresses the release of those “present moment” happy chemicals. For people addicted to control circuit dopamine, chasing the dopamine rush can lead to perpetual dissatisfaction.
Creative people, like artists, inventors, philosophers, scientists, and entrepreneurs, tend to have high levels of dopamine. To create requires thinking abstractly, solving hypothetical problems, and imagining something other than your current reality. When some people go on dopaminergic medications, they experience enhanced creativity and suddenly take up a new artistic hobby.
A downside of creative genius is when people become so absorbed in their imaginary world that they lose sense of reality. Creative people are more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; in our brain function and genetics, being able to think outside the box can be on a spectrum with losing control of our emotions and experiencing delusions.
Even our political leanings can be determined by dopamine. Liberals tend to be progressive, imagining an ideal future world and inviting change. Conservatives typically prefer to maintain the best of what they already have, and can be skeptical of idealism and radical change. Which party do you think tends to have higher levels of dopamine? Scientists have even found a genetic link between higher dopamine levels and liberal ideology. And a political party map of the U.S. clearly shows how parts of the country (like California and the northeast) where highly dopaminergic people, like entrepreneurs, academics, and entertainers, congregate tend to vote blue.