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The Pursuit of Feeling Good: What Causes Us to Over-Indulge?

Over-indulging is an important topic when it comes to recovery. Learning more about this topic can help individuals in various ways.

The Neurotransmitters Behind Over-Indulgence

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter most responsible for rewarding behaviors and creating habits. It reinforces the desire to repeat an action. In addition to dopamine, endorphins cause positive feelings like joy and euphoria. Oxytocin and serotonin also create positive emotions. These four chemicals make up the “feel good” neurotransmitters. They help reward certain activities. These rewards, in turn, build habits.

A study titled “Dopaminergic reward system: a short integrative review” in the International Archives of Medicine states, “Once a habit has been established, it remains largely autonomous until the conditioned significance of incentive motivational stimuli has been extinguished or devalued through experience.”

As an individual indulges in something they enjoy, they receive hits of feel-good chemicals. It conditions the brain to label the activity as positive. There is immediate gratification, but it does not last very long. Thus, an individual must continue engaging in the behavior to get chemical rewards. This becomes an issue when individuals over-indulge in behaviors that cost them more than they have to give. The activity can cost money, energy, calories, time, or other valuable resources.

Replacing Over-Indulgence With Healthier Behaviors

If a person wants to move away from over-indulgence, delayed gratification and moderation can help retrain the brain.

Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification involves a different area of the brain than immediate gratification. While the limbic system controls immediate gratification, delayed gratification involves impulse control in the prefrontal cortex. Focusing on impulse control and delayed gratification can help decrease over-indulgence. It lets individuals engage in rewarding activities while encouraging “waiting.” This can look like a person having a small amount of their favorite chocolate after dinner instead of before or watching tv after they have finished their chores. Patience pays off over time.


Moderation can feel difficult, but it allows individuals to enjoy their activities without over-indulging. One way individuals can practice moderation is to plan when they indulge and how much. Another way is engaging in mindfulness while indulging. Individuals must not let their brains and the reward take over. Indulge slowly. They must keep themselves grounded and mentally present.

Lastly, individuals can engage in radical acceptance. If a person judges themself for engaging in an indulgence once in a while, their emotional reaction may lead to over-indulgence. Instead, individuals should try to accept that the activity gives them pleasure, focusing instead on controlling how often they engage in it.

It’s important to address an over-indulgence sooner rather than later. When an indulgence occurs frequently enough and for long enough, it can become a process addiction. Your brain may rely on it for chemical releases. You might feel unable to stop. If you’ve crossed over into process addiction territory, The Guest House can offer you treatment. You aren’t beholden to your neurochemicals. With the help of your neuroplasticity and our qualified mental health professionals, you can free yourself from addiction. Contact us today at (855) 483-7800.