Stimulants & Spiking Dopamine: Counterproductive for Work, Exercise & Attention


We are constantly seeking ways to improve our productivity and performance. One tactic that is often used is the use of stimulants, such as energy drinks, pre-workout supplements, and prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin.

While these may provide a temporary boost in motivation and focus, the long-term effects can be detrimental.

The use of stimulants increases the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.

While a little bit of dopamine can be a good thing, chronically using stimulants to boost dopamine levels can ultimately lead to a reduction in the satisfaction and enjoyment we get from activities.

This can lead to challenges with motivation and drive in the long run.

One exception to this is caffeine, which can actually up-regulate dopamine receptors and make the neurotransmitter more accessible in the brain and body.

However, other energy drinks and pre-workout supplements contain ingredients that can cause a substantial release of dopamine on their own, leading to depletion over time.

It’s important to remember that intermittent use of stimulants is a better approach than chronic use.

While it may be tempting to use these substances to enhance motivation and focus on a regular basis, it’s important to consider the long-term consequences and find more sustainable ways to stay motivated and focused.


“For this very same reason, I caution people against using stimulants every time they study or every time they work out or every time that they do anything that they would like to continue to enjoy and be motivated at. 

There’s one exception, which is caffeine, because I mentioned before, if you like caffeine, that actually could be a good thing for your dopamine system because it does up-regulate these D2, D3 receptors. So it actually makes whatever dopamine is released by that activity more accessible or more functional within the biochemistry and the pathways of your brain and body. 

However, a number of energy drinks and in particular pre-workouts contain things that are precursors to dopamine and on their own, even if you didn’t engage in the activity, would cause the release of dopamine to a substantial degree. They do cause the release of dopamine to a substantial degree and over time that will deplete your dopamine. So energy drinks, pre-workout drinks, drugs of various kinds that people take to study and pay attention. We talked about some of these for the ADHD episode, things like Adderall, Ritalin, armodafinil, modafinil, taken repeatedly over time will reduce the level of satisfaction and joy that you get from the activities you engage in while under the influence of those compounds. 

I’m not trying to demonize those compounds for their clinical use. What I’m saying is taking stimulants and then engaging in activities that you would like to continue to feel pleasurable is undercutting the process. And inevitably, it might not happen tomorrow, might not happen in a month, but inevitably, you will have challenges with motivation and drive related to those activities. 

Now, some people can keep it right in check. They can just do the one can of the energy drink or they only do their pre-workout before really hard days. For instance, more power to you. I actually do that sometimes, frankly, but people who are trying to get into that peak, super motivated, driven state, really focused every time they engage in an activity, you are absolutely undercutting the process and you are undermining your ability to stay motivated and focused.

So just as we talked about intermittent reward schedules a moment ago, intermittent spiking of dopamine, if you do it at all, is definitely the way to go. And chronically trying to spike your dopamine in order to enhance your motivation, focus, and drive will absolutely undermine your motivation, focus, and drive in the long run.”

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