Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law


Jan 30, 2020

If you participated in Dry January, you were alcohol fasting. That may have reset your dopamine system.

The dopamine system was meant to drive eating and procreation to ensure survival. When we overindulge in alcohol, comfort food, technology, or other substances or activities of abuse, our brains experience large doses of dopamine. These dopamine levels are much higher than our ancestors processed due to our capacity to concentrate substances or create intense experiences. Dopamine, once believed to be the neurotransmitter of pleasure, is more accurately in charge of inspiring us to obtain the substances or adventures we crave. It is the transmitter of repeat behavior. When we eat too many sweets or spend too much time on social media or gambling, we train our brain to expect these larger hits of dopamine. That is one reason bad habits are so hard to break.

Fasting is a part of many religious traditions, and is currently fashionable in some communities. Research indicates that fasting can improve physical and psychological well-being. Temporarily abstaining from something may make it more pleasurable after a fast. While scientists disagree about the brain benefits of fasting, some think it can inhibit addictive behaviors.

Takeaway: If you are struggling to change a habit, consider fasting and you may reset your dopamine system.


  1. Debra S. Austin, Drink Like a Lawyer: The Neuroscience of Substance Use and its Impact on Cognitive Wellness, 15 NEV. L.J. 826, 833-839 (2015).
  2. Neuroscience News, Silicone Valley’s Latest Fad is Dopamine Fasting – and That may not be as Crazy as it Sounds, Jan. 25, 2020, online at
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