The Addiction Many Pastors are Hooked on

Addiction. Usually the word connotes a physical compulsion to drink or eat too heavily, use illicit drugs, or satisfy our sexual passions in sinful ways. Although some may, most pastors don’t get sucked into such destructive behavior. We are called to serve God with our whole hearts and we mostly stay clear of these issues. But, there is one thing that I’d guess many pastors are addicted to, yet don’t realize it. We can blame our brain on it.

The addiction? Dopamine. Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters in our brain. It’s what we feel when we put the final touches on a sermon. It’s what we feel when we see an uptick in our blog followers on google analytics. It’s what we feel when we accomplish a goal or drink an energy drink.

Dopamine gives us a nice feel good kick. It’s involved in developing the more destructive addictions I mentioned above  causing us to want a greater and greater ‘hit’ to feel good. The chemical is involved in reward, motivation, and pleasure prompting us to seek out experiences that invoke it. We not only want it (the motivation) but we like it (the reward it brings).

All the above and more behaviors elicit dopamine which is released in the pleasure center of our brains called the nucleus accumbens. This structure lies just behind the front part of our brain called the pre-frontal cortex.

It simply feels good to get things done. And when we feel good, our brains want to repeat the process so in turn, dopamine helps us form habits, whether good or bad.

So how do I know if I’m addicted to dopamine?  Consider these possible indicators.

  1. I constantly check email. I might get a nice email from someone and when I do, it gives me a tiny shot of dopamine.
  2. I constantly need something new and novel to feel ‘right.’
  3. I constantly check Facebook to see if I got more ‘likes.’
  4. I feel jittery if I can’t look at email for a day or so.
  5. I have become compulsive about some things, like having to pick up every call that comes to my cell phone or home phone.
  6. I find that I’m more easily distracted than I once was.
  7. I can’t get through a day without caffeine or sugar (caffeine and sugar also gives us a nice dopamine fix).
  8. I’m often mentally exhausted even though I’ve not done mentally taxing tasks.

Fundamentally, when we get addicted to dopamine, we are seeking shots of it while often not doing anything truly productive (like constantly checking email).

So, what can we do if we think we are addicted to dopamine. Consider these ideas.

  1. Acknowledge that you have a problem.
  2. Turn off automatic email and social media notifications on your cell phone or computer.
  3. Take a day off each week when you don’t interact with email or social media.
  4. Make sure you spend time each day alone with God.
  5. Check out this entire website dedicate to dopamine addiction.
  6. Purposely don’t pick up a call when you hear the buzz on your cell phone. Do this for several days to convince yourself that you don’t have to.

What has helped you keep from being addicted to this subtle addiction?

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jose Mellado

    Thanks Charles! Great perspective and if we keep ourselves accountable others won’t have to do it for us! I know there are a few things that get me going and it’s obvious when I want more and more. Thanks again and God bless!

  • Mark

    Thanks Charles – appreciate the thoughts – being constantly “on” and “connected” can be both an addiction and an energy drain. Yet, I would suggest there are other factors that make this more than just about getting things done or ‘addiction’ – here’s just a couple for consideration:

    1. The pastor role is often a ‘thankless’ role. I am frequently encountering colleagues who put in the effort, give their time & energy, make sacrifices, etc. – and are rarely thanked by those they serve. From my perspective it is too easy/trite to chalk this up to ‘neediness’. It is increasingly about not feeling valued. And so, when an email comes in or a Facebook ‘like’ is registered, sadly it may be significant because it’s one of the few, positive feedback/acknowledgements a pastor will receive that week/month.

    2. Whether one is serving in a church, in a Christian not-for-profit, in Christian education – there is an expectation that you are available 24/7. We can talk about healthy boundaries, disconnecting, and talking a day off from email/social media – but that is often not well received and in many cases is not possible. When there’s someone suddenly ill, an unexpected death, a crisis with media, a staff shortage that could result in services not being delivered – not being available is not an option – and for most people the connection tool is smart phone (text, call, email). And, yes, we can look at delegating, etc. – but in many congregations/operations there are very few staff and delegation is problematic.

    According to Statistics provided by The Fuller Institute, George Barna, Lifeway, Schaeffer Institute of Leadership Development, and Pastoral Care Inc.:
    http://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/

    84% of pastors feel they are on call 24/7
    52% of pastors feel overworked and cannot meet their church’s unrealistic expectations
    84% of pastors feel they are on call 24/7
    70% of pastors report they have a lower self-image now than when they first started

    According to the New York Times (August 1, 2010) “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”

    At a time when many pastors are feeling overwhelmed, often inadequate for the task, facing more demands, more complexity, and more challenges – it’s sometimes tough to hear about another area where we’re not managing well.

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