Book ReviewsDigital Brain

Dopamine Nation – Anna Lembke

In her book, Dopamine Nation, Dr Anna Lembke explores how our dopamine system works and how, in our search for happiness and the pursuit of pleasure and quick fixes, we can unwittingly head into a state of chronic dopamine deficiency that drives and exacerbates our reliance on our ‘happiness fix’ that leads to addictive behaviours and substances.

She tells stories of both her own and her clients addictive behaviours, showcasing how this hedonic pursuit for moments of happiness can be the very thing that undoes us.

She then provides a 3-step process of how to emerge from this state, and clearly explains why they are the solution to our dopamine-deprived behaviours. These solutions are summed up in one of her talks as: 

  1. Abstain
  2. Maintain
  3. Seek our Pain

Summing up the third principle is: “The reason that we are all so miserable is that we are working so hard to avoid being miserable”. 

Underlying this is “The Plenty Paradox: Overabundance is itself a stressor caused by the mismatch between our primitive wiring and our modern dopamine-rich ecosystem”. 

The best way to capture the essence of her book is her own introduction to it – one of the best descriptions I’ve come across to clarify the dopamine indulgence of our current generations:

“This book is about pleasure, It’s also about pain. Most importantly, it’s about the relationship between pleasure and pain and how understanding that relationship has become essential for a life well lived. Why? Because we’ve transformed the world from a place of scarcity to a place of overwhelming abundance: drugs, food, news, gambling, shopping, gaming, texting, sexting, facebooking, Instagramming, YouTubing, Tweeting. The increased numbers and potency of highly rewarding stimuli today is staggering. The smartphone is the modern-day hypodermic needle delivering digital dopamine 24/7to a wired generation. If you haven’t met your drug of choice yet, it’s coming soon to a website near you. “

In the above video, Dr Lembke explains the role of dopamine as a motivational agent and the role it plays in addiction.

In the below video, she talks about the relationship dopamine plays in smartphone addiction – including why teenagers engage in and are impacted by social media. She talks about technology as being a ‘spectrum disorder’ and what that looks like. 

A small selection of additional videos and interviews by Dr Lembke on this subject can be viewed below. More can be found by searching for her on YouTube.

Cambridge Core provides a great summation of Dopamine Nation written by Amer Raheemullah. You can read it here. 

About Anna Lembke:

Anna Lembke is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic.

You can read more about her at her website: