Dopamine deficiency is implicated in depression, addiction, Parkinson’s, ADHD, and other conditions. Understand the connection and learn what you can do.
If you wake up every morning and feel like “the thrill is gone,” you may have a dopamine deficiency.
Dopamine is the main brain chemical responsible for making us feel motivated.
More than just feeling fatigued and moody though, a low dopamine level plays a role in many mental disorders.
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is considered one of the feel-good neurotransmitters, along with serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.
It has several distinct major functions.
It’s been called the “motivation molecule” for providing the drive and focus you need to be productive.
It’s also been called the “reward chemical” since it’s in charge of your brain’s pleasure-reward system.
Dopamine plays a role in numerous brain functions involving mood, sleep, learning, the ability to focus and concentrate, motor control, and working memory.
What Does Dopamine Do?
Understanding dopamine’s functions is a work in progress.
Over 110,000 research papers have been written about it, yet scientists are still trying to determine exactly what it does.
Here are some of the known functions of dopamine.
Dopamine is crucial to the feeling of motivation you need to work towards both long-term and short-term goals.
It delivers a feeling of satisfaction when you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.
Dopamine is released when your needs are about to be met.
It helped our prehistoric ancestors survive by giving them an energy boost when they were presented with a great opportunity, such as locating a new source of food.
You wouldn’t think we’d need to be motivated to find food, yet alarmingly, lab mice with dopamine deficiency are so unmotivated that they starve to death even when food is readily available.
Our modern lifestyle doesn’t provide the fundamental opportunities for dopamine enhancement that our ancestors experienced.
But we still seek out dopamine boosts because of the way it makes us feel — alive and excited.
There are both healthy and unhealthy ways to get a dopamine lift.
You can raise your dopamine level by watching or playing sports, learning something new, finishing a project, or landing a new account at work.
Any form of accomplishment that gives you that “Yes, I did it!” feeling will increase dopamine.
The unhealthy way to stimulate dopamine production is with any kind of addictive substance.
What “Dopamine Deficiency” Means
There is no reliable way to measure dopamine levels in the brain.
What is known is that certain clusters of symptoms are linked to abnormal dopamine activity.
So whenever you see the phrases “low dopamine” or “dopamine deficiency,” understand that these are terms that mean one or more of the following is taking place:
- Too little dopamine is being made.
- There are too few dopamine receptors or the receptors aren’t working as well as they should.
- Dopamine is being broken down too soon or not being appropriately recirculated.
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