Dopamine Profile: Why Power/Money/Esteem Addicts Are More Dangerous Than Junkies

by Charles Lyell on January 19, 2013

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely!” - Lord Acton

Understanding why power, money, and esteem addicts are so dangerous starts with a crash course on how dopamine manipulates behavior.

Lesson One

Everything we do, we do to maintain dopamine flow.

Acknowledging that and how a powerful neurotransmitter manipulates behavior poses serious threats to dopamine flow. So much so even dopamine experts remain conveniently disinterested in considering the possibility they’re under the spell of the dopamine-induced addictions (to safety, acceptance, esteem, and money) behind every man-made problem.

If this sounds simplistic it’s because we inherited our addictive behaviors from aggressive simpletons who had more in common with chimpanzees (who also obsess over safety, acceptance, and esteem) than humans. Countless generations later, the same unconscious commitment to maintain dopamine flow, that kept Galileo’s adversaries oblivious to the obvious, prevents today’s would-be authorities from wanting to know how dopamine-induced ignorance is the reason they’re as clueless as their 16th century counterparts.

Lesson Two

Maintaining dopamine flow.

To protect dopamine flow:

  • Drug addicts stash.
  • Food addicts store.
  • Safety addicts blame.
  • Power addicts collude.
  • Acceptance addicts fawn.
  • Esteem addicts feign.
  • Religion addicts pray.
  • Money addicts save.

To trigger dopamine:

  • Drug addicts ingest, imbibe, inhale, inject.
  • Food addicts gorge.
  • Safety addicts flock.
  • Power addicts prey.
  • Acceptance addicts pledge.
  • Esteem addicts flaunt.
  • Religion addicts judge.
  • Money addicts work, cheat, connive, steal.

Lesson Three

Viewing behavior through a dopamine lens.

One way to gain valuable insights into how dopamine manipulates behavior and undermines free will is to start a dopamine diary. (See: Keeping a Dopamine Diary Can Make You Happier, Healthier, Wealthier, and Wiser).

Few are capable of comprehending or admitting why they’re unlikely or unwilling to invest minutes a day maintaining something as potentially beneficial as a dopamine diary. Viewed through a dopamine lens, avoiding a minor effort offering major rewards is an excellent example of how DIMwits protect dopamine flow (against esteem deflating honesty).

A dopamine lens edifies how seemingly disparate and unrelated behaviors are, upon inspection, strikingly similar. For example, esteem addicts are a lot like junkies — only less honest. Both are driven to score the same neurotransmitter in their primitive brains, but while junkies tend to limit their destruction to themselves and a small circle of family, friends, and strangers, esteem addicts destroy environments, economies, and untold lives.

Lesson Four

Introduction to compound addictions.

Acceptance junkies are especially susceptible to compound addictions because the dopamine-induced deficiency need for approval predisposes the weak to addictions of peers whose approval they crave. Hence the profusion of acceptance/nicotine, acceptance/alcohol, and acceptance/religion addicts.

The number of addictive combinations fosters the esteem and dopamine triggering deception that human behavior is too complex to understand. In fact, a basic grasp of how dopamine manipulates behavior is is all it takes to distill most actions down to either protecting or triggering dopamine flow for a handful of reasons. (In upcoming posts I’ll cover how childhood traumas negatively impact on self-esteem and how esteem issues influence, and often determine, predictable addictive combinations.)

Esteem addiction combos are the most interesting and destructive because esteem addicts are extremely self-deceptive and excel at sidestepping dopamine-repellent facts while fabricating dopamine-appealing rationalizations to justify despicable behaviors. History books are filled with examples of petty and powerful miscreants who regularly ascribed high-minded, esteem inflating, dopamine-triggering ideals to lowly, illogical, irrational, and inhumane (dopamine-triggering) conduct.

For the remainder of this post I’ll focus on esteem addiction combinations that fall into three groups — amusing, dangerous, and disastrous.

Amusing Combinations:

  • Alcohol/esteem addicts who pretend drinking pricey booze makes them connoisseurs.
  • Nicotine/esteem addicts who puff on expensive stogies that help smoke fiends convince one another they’re aficionados.
  • Food/esteem addicts who consider themselves gourmets.
  • Safety/esteem addicts whose swagger betrays insecurities.
  • Power/esteem addicts whose boasts mask fears.
  • Acceptance/esteem addicts whose status symbols reveal neediness.
  • Money/esteem addicts who loathe their high-paying, high-status jobs.
  • Religion/esteem addicts who believe picking the one true savior connotes superiority.

Dangerous Combinations:

  • Drug/esteem addicts who flaunt excesses.
  • Safety/esteem addicts who wave guns.
  • Power/esteem addicts who browbeat and bully.
  • Acceptance/esteem addicts who grovel for approval.
  • Money/esteem addicts who worship profits.
  • Religion/esteem addicts who hate religion/esteem addicts.
  • Safety/acceptance/esteem addicts who ignore inconvenient truths rather than risk a dose of dopamine withdrawal.

Lesson Five

The most disastrous combination.

Power/money/esteem addicts are incredibly destructive because they will do anything to maintain dopamine flow. Protecting addictive interests keep avowed enemies joining forces, colluding, lying, cheating, stealing, bribing, corrupting, demeaning, persecuting, attacking, destroying, and/or crushing real and imagined threats to their authority, finances, status. To make matters worse, power and money addictions provide the resources that make it possible to ignore, obfuscate, and eliminate. It doesn’t help that insatiable dopamine cravings are the reason power/money/esteem addicts scramble for the degrees, power, and positions that allow them to define legalities, moralities, and addictions.

In a nutshell

Power/money/esteem addictions are responsible our species’ irrational flirtation with self-annihilation.

Meanwhile, safety/acceptance/esteem addictions ensure that few want to know.


7 Responses to “Dopamine Profile: Why Power/Money/Esteem Addicts Are More Dangerous Than Junkies”

  1. I always knew this was there, just needed it in a few paragraphs. I don’t think I am going to be the same after this. Then again, I was never really “the same” since I was born. I knew I did not crave emotional things like most people. I have absolutely no desire for acceptance since I was about 12, and for a while, I thought I was strange. I knew there was something very powerful controlling people. Over the years I learned to study psychology in my free time and am familiar with the neurotransmitters but never read it in one place like this; direct and to the point. This is true! Everyone is hooked on the dope. I don’t believe anyone knows it either; at least anyone without 6 or more years of higher education. We live in a world of zombies- they are just more healthy than the movies present to us.

    Posted by Shaun frederick | May 18, 2013, 12:48 am
  2. I see the point you’re getting at, but addicts could do good for society just as much as bad. In nearly all professions recognition and acceptance from peers is a strong motivator. Musicians, sports starts, and political activists can all be place under power/acceptance/esteem addicts.
    I guess you’re trolling, so thanks for a chance to clarify my own views.

    Posted by Puy Athartha | June 9, 2013, 11:35 pm
  3. This site is a great life guide, if you can comprehend it, you can conquer your addictions, have no regrets, and live a happy life being comfortable within your own skin. Just because the rest of society lives destructive lives, doesn’t mean it’s “normal”. Dopamine abuse is an epidemic. I’ve been guilty of it my entire life because of crappy learned behaviors.

    Thank you so much for this site, although I’m not well educated (GED), this site has been the missing key to my puzzle. It’s especially good for people like myself who grew up in dysfunctional families and were never taught much of anything in regards to behaviors (right from wrong) or taught much anything else for that matter, lol.

    Posted by Ryan M | June 29, 2013, 6:16 am
  4. Very insightful, thank you.
    I would like to add that esteem/approval/money addicts don’t only get dopamine released by being with friends, seeking approval or cheating to get rich but it seems that they also have it released by thoughts.
    I have been, and still partly am, an approval addict and i would fantasize a lot thinking about a situation in which I could impress others.
    I sort of understood my addiction to these things so i would always very consciously put myself in conditions where I couldn’t unconditionally affirm my small egoistic self.
    The problem is that, while I could change my environment, there was very little I could do about thoughts as they are below the threshold of consciousness. I would only become aware of them after finishing my thoughts (or getting the high).
    In this regard, meditation helped me a lot. I have been meditating 30 min a day for the past year and I am sort of more aware and i do think less. Also, I can feel now a rush in the back of my brain when dopamine is released (believe it or not).
    I stumbled upon this website in order to confirm my beliefs and this is how it works. You can’t really change anyone’s mind and as it is said here, we are just healthy zombies.


    Posted by Junaid | November 8, 2013, 6:10 am
  5. Very educating post, saved your site for hopes to read more !!

    Posted by Hypnosis for Depression | November 16, 2013, 8:08 am
  6. Wow. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have summed up correctly what I have been trying to communicate to people I know for the last decade. You have correctly isolated the core of our human demise. I don’t know how long this page has been up and working, but I see by the few comments, that we are still far from having this knowledge be absorbed by the general public. Power addiction, as response to feelings of powerlessness (often traumatic in nature), most likely experienced in infancy or childhood, is the basis for most ills plaguing us today. If we don’t face our traumatized psyches, we will render ourselves eligible for extinction sooner than our dopamine flushed minds will realize. Thanks for sharing these brilliant and needed insights.

    Posted by nicolaus gaier | January 8, 2014, 12:04 pm
  7. Thank you for this article. I was just talking about this tonight with my husband. I know some people who seem to be power addicts. They overpower other people and seem to really get pleasure out of it. I started to wonder if this was an addiction because the same people seem to do it again and again. Or stop for a little while and then start again later down the road. And these few people that do this are very financially successful and they treat their friends alright so they have friends but there is a real repetitive cruelty that these 2 people that I know seem to be attracted to.
    I would like to see a lot more articles about this.
    Thank you.
    And I really wonder if there are any consequences to this kind of addiction.
    And you did mention smartly that the power addicts gain material, social, and financial, and other seemingly good things from this behavior so looking at it from the outside, it really looks like there is no negative consequences to this addiction.
    I asked my husband what he thought and he said that if you don’t care about the people you hurt, then there are no consequences.
    But even that answer just does not seem very wise or intuitive.

    I would like to put my finger on what the negative consequences might be for someone who is a power addict and overpowers other people.

    I could tell you more about these people via email and maybe we can talk but either way, keep these insightful articles coming.


    Posted by Carol | April 13, 2014, 10:47 pm

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