Driven by Dopamine: The ADHD Brain

"Dopamine is one of the chief chemical mediators of pleasure. Anything that gives you a squirt of dopamine tends to make you feel good. Exercise can do this. So can making love. So can any kind of creative activity in which your imagination gets deeply involved."
-Edward M. Hallowell M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D. Delivered from Distraction (pg. 61)

While writing this blog I've learned an enormous amount about myself and how ADHD (and the brain chemistry that results in attention deficit) encourages behaviors that I believed to be uniquely my own. Just today I came across a passage in Delivered From Distraction that struck a nerve. It spoke of "literary people" and how such personalities are dopamine seekers:

"They submit to that unforgiving discipline to try to improve upon life by creating order, even beauty, out of chaos. That is an extraordinary effort to find ordinary pleasure. When it works, they get a squirt of dopamine, and some endorphins and other pleasure mediators as well. They can get a milder shot of pleasure in other 'word' ways, such as through a witty conversation or by reading a piece of writing that they love." (pg. 63)
One of the places where I seek pleasure: the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.

I often tell friends of the surge I get from a successful edit or a new idea for a story. Think of it like placing winning word in Scrabble game. (Yes, I get a dopamine surge from that too.) I never realized that this creative craving could be a symptom and effect of the ADHD mind.

Of course this "itch," as Dr. Hallowel and Dr. Ratey describe it, isn't limited to those of us with ADHD. So, put your coat down. No need to run off to a doctor to see if you're one of us.

This pleasure seeking behavior is also not limited to positive forms of self-expression, such as writing or boardgames. Many people with ADHD find themselves acting out more than others or stalking the high that comes from extreme sports, alcohol, or recreational drugs. Now, I'm not here as an anti-drug advocate. I'm here to chat about these experiences with ADHD and encourage you to use your dopamine seeking mind for good (not for evil).

I discuss several ADHD super powers and how to best utilize them in this previous post. But I would love to hear what your impulses are. What stimulates you? What was the last reckless thing that you did? And what were the consequences?

Curious about what chemicals fuel your unique brain? Why Him? Why Her? by Helen Fischer is an engaging exploration of personality type, the chemicals behind each one (dopamine, seratonin, testosterone, estrogen), and which personalities are best suited for each other. For a quicker read, here's an article on her studies and the four personality types (Explorer, Builder, Director, Negotiator): http://www.elle.com/Life-Love/Sex-Relationships/The-Laws-Of-Attraction