ADHD and Dopamine
ADHD and Dopamine

That’s Dope! How Dopamine Affects ADHD Brains

Last Updated on

April 22nd, 2024 01:56 pm

Ever wondered why people say “that’s dope”? Well, it comes from dopamine, the chemical that makes you feel good. It’s also the neurotransmitter behind addictions, so if something feels really good, it might be addictive.

Dopamine affects people in different ways, so let’s take a closer look at the hot topic in neurodiversity right now and find out how dopamine affects ADHD brains!

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in controlling our moods and compulsive, risky behaviors. It helps us learn quickly, and drives us to seek out pleasurable activities that make us feel good. When there is too much or too little dopamine, our motivation plummets and we feel depressed.

A lack of dopamine is a risk factor that can cause negative symptoms such as brain fog and weight loss, or even tremors or shakes. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for many of our moods and behaviors. The good news is there are many ways to increase your dopamine levels naturally!

How Dopamine Affects Our Behavior

Dopamine is responsible for our feelings of pleasure and it’s released when we experience something good. In fact, dopamine is so important to our happiness that it’s sometimes called the “feel-good” neurotransmitter.

But dopamine doesn’t just make us feel good emotionally–it also encourages us to repeat actions that led to those positive experiences. This is one reason why comfort food tastes so good: our brains release dopamine in response to the sugar and fat in these foods, making us want to eat them again and again.

And it’s not just food that can cause a dopamine rush. Engaging in fun, high-dopamine activities, being around loved ones, or even winning money can all trigger its release. Dopamine is what makes us feel happy and motivated, which is why we naturally gravitate towards things that make us feel good.

However, too much dopamine can be a bad thing. When we become addicted to something–whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or gambling–we’re actually craving the dopamine rushes those activities produce. Our brains have been conditioned to associate these behaviors with pleasure, which leads us to keep repeating them regardless of the consequences.

What is the Dopamine Reward Pathway?

Neurotransmitters are a fancy term for chemical messengers. These chemical messengers go to different parts of the body for different processes. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates emotion as well as pleasure and reward. This means that dopamine helps us find activities interesting, pleasurable and inviting. It also helps us to keep our focus on these activities.

Studies have shown that people with ADHD have more of a dopamine deficiency than people who do not have the condition or people who have the condition and are on medication for it. This is because their systems have a lower level of dopamine protein transporters, thus lowering their Dopamine Transporter Density (DTD).

DTD, which is low, can affect a person’s behaviours and moods, focus and attention because their please and reward gratification is craving something it is not finding. Thus, the child goes on to seek a pleasurable activity, switching from one thing to the next, until that gratification is found.

This can be really frustrating for teachers, parents, and even peers disturbed by the child. The child, cannot help what is happening as the problem at the root is a biological and chemical problem. Medication and psychotherapy can help children with ADHD manage and treat the negative symptoms to live their fullest live.

Behavioral therapy is a strategy often used to support behavioral disorders and deal with the negative symptoms. It can also help with ADHD, as coping strategies can be taught to relax, calming down, and sustain attention for longer periods.

chemical equation for dopamine on notepad

Dopamine regulation is a big issue in ADHD brains!

Dopamine and Digestion

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released by the human brain in response to pleasure. It has many functions in the body, including regulating digestion.

The gut uses dopamine to send signals to the brain about how much food has been ingested and when it is time to stop eating. Dopamine also helps to calm inflammation in the gut and prevents autoimmune diseases from developing.

What happens if I have too much or too little dopamine?

If you’re experiencing low or high levels of dopamine, it’s important to consult your health care provider. Negative symptoms of a dopamine imbalance can include: muscle cramps, spasms or stiffness, digestive problems, pneumonia and trouble sleeping. Low dopamine can be caused by a variety of factors, including Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and depression.

Drug addiction can cause low dopamine over time as well. Too much dopamine may cause negtaive symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Too little dopamine can also lead to low libido, lack of energy, and issues with learning and memory.

Negative Symptoms of Low Dopamine

When dopamine levels are imbalanced, it can lead to a wide variety of negative symptoms. Some common negative symptoms of low dopamine include:

  • Aches and Pains
  • Difficulty Swallowing
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Depression

How to Naturally Increase Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in our moods and emotions. When we experience something that makes us happy, such as listening to our favorite song or spending time with loved ones, dopamine is released in the brain. This neurotransmitter is also responsible for helping us feel motivated and focused.

There are many ways to increase dopamine levels naturally. One way is to engage in healthy lifestyle practices like exercise and meditation. These activities help to boost dopamine production as well as improve overall health.

Another way to increase dopamine levels is by listening to music that gives you an emotional response. Certain types of music can evoke happiness, sadness, anger, or love, which all trigger activity levels that increase and stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain

Foods rich in tyrosine–an amino acid that helps produce dopamine–can also be beneficial for increasing dopamine levels. Some good examples include almonds and eggs. Sunlight exposure is another factor that can play a role in increasing or reducing dopamine levels.

Reduced sunlight exposure can lead to lower levels of this neurotransmitter, while increased sunlight exposure has been shown to boost dopaminergic activity . Finally, addictive substances like drugs or alcohol can alter dopamine levels and make it harder for the brain to produce it naturally . For some people, a period of time is needed for “reset” so that the brain will return to its natural dopamine production.

What Is Reward Deficiency Syndrome?

Reward deficiency syndrome (RDS) is a condition characterized by a lack of reward sensitivity. People who suffer from RDS tend to find pleasure less rewarding than others do. They often struggle to enjoy things they once found pleasurable, and they don’t get excited about new experiences.

The term “reward” refers to any positive feeling associated with doing something enjoyable. In other words, rewards are what make life worth living!

The most obvious example of a reward is food. We eat because we want to feel satisfied and full. But there are many other reasons why we seek out certain foods. We might crave them because they taste delicious, or because they remind us of past meals, or because they have nutrients that we need.

But in those with reward deficiency syndrome, the reliance on gratification is increased to the levels at which many develop substance use disorders and similar addictive behaviors, even to prescribed stimulant drugs for ADHD such as Ritalin.

Technology and Social Media Addiction

It is no secret that technology has a profound impact on our lives, in particular the human brain. With the advent of social media, people are spending more and more time online, and this is causing some to become addicted. Dopamine release and motivation to repeat behaviors cause addiction, and social media addiction has been linked to social anxiety disorder and schizophrenia. Additionally, low levels of dopamine in the brain have shown to be associated with negative symptoms of social withdrawal, apathy, and anhedonia.

There is much debate in the medical community as to whether addiction is a choice or a disease – some believe that certain people are more genetically predisposed to addiction while others maintain that it is simply a learned behavior. However, what we do know for sure is that every individual responds differently to substances – some becoming intoxicated very easily while others can handle higher amounts of alcohol before getting drunk.

The risk of addiction is increased by genetics, in addition to other factors such as the environment you live in and unhealthy coping skills. Additionally, past trauma can prevent addiction from getting started or stopping it once it starts. However, knowing your family’s history could help you avoid the risk of addiction . Addiction is complex and not caused by one specific factor but it can be influenced by our DNA.

The environment you live in will influence whether or not addiction develops as well. Our genes determine our responses to trauma, which can make us less or more likely to abuse addictive substances. Although our genes are not our destiny, they play a significant role in determining whether or not we become addicted. There’s evidence to show that children with ADHD are at risk or later substance abuse into adulthood.

The cycle of addiction is one that addicts are always seeking the next feeling, causing them to relapse; however, unhealthy coping skills and past trauma can prevent addiction from getting started or stopping it once it starts.

teenager playing video games on messy desk

Video game addiction is one of the fastest growing addictions

Help for Addiction

There is hope for those struggling with addiction. Although addiction is not always a choice, there are treatments available that can help people overcome their addictions.

There is much debate over whether addiction is caused by low dopamine levels. However, scientists do know that the influence of genetic variants on individual responses to substances can be used to justify the “genetic predisposition” theory. This means that differences in response to substances are influenced by variations in genetic makeup.

Genetic factors influence our chances of addiction because they affect how we respond to addictive substances. Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for about 50% of our susceptibility to addiction. However, this number may change as more research is conducted into the role of genetics in addiction.

Although genes play a role in addiction, it’s important to remember that environment also plays a significant role. The gene-by-environment interaction theory posits that if you’re genetically predisposed to addiction, but live in a supportive environment, then you’ll never develop a substance use disorder.

On the other hand, if you have an environment where drugs and alcohol are readily available , then your risk of developing an addiction increases significantly .

Despite our genetics , we can break the cycle of addiction through healing and coping skills. Addiction is a complex disease, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, with the right support, we can all overcome addiction and start living healthy, productive lives.

Addiction is a disease that affects the brain and nervous system

Drug addiction is a complex disease that affects the brain and nervous system. The structure of the brain changes when someone becomes addicted to drugs, and there are significant differences in the brains of recreational users and those addicted to drugs like heroin or cocaine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is produced in several areas of the brain, including the substantia nigra, ventral tegmental area, and hypothalamus.

Brain function can be impaired by dopamine dysfunction. This may be due to oxidative stress, which is thought to play a role in drug addiction. Antioxidant compounds are a potential target for treating dopamine dysfunction as an effect of oxidative stress.

hypothalamus diagram

The hypothalamus plays a core role in dopamine regulation

Addiction is a treatable disease

Addiction is a disease, not an illness. The opioid epidemic has hit the suburbs and it affects all socioeconomic classes of society. Biochemistry describes how heroin works within the body. Medical uses for opiates include pain management, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and aging brain disorders.

The term “addiction” can refer to a broad range of behaviors, from overeating to shopping. Nausea is a symptom of addiction that comes in many forms. Addiction is treatable with different methods depending on the person’s individual needs; there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment.

Addiction can lead to physical and psychological dependence

Addiction can lead to physical and psychological dependence. When someone becomes addicted, they may feel like they need the drug or behavior to function normally. The person may also feel like they cannot control how much of the drug or behavior they use. Addiction can also lead to a variety of negative consequences, including:

  • Financial problems
  • Job loss
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Legal problems

Addiction can be caused by genetic predisposition

There is much debate as to whether addiction is a choice or a disease. While there are many contributing factors, scientists believe that addiction can be caused by genetic predisposition.

Genetic variants can account for about 50% of someone’s vulnerability to addiction. This means that if you have the gene, you are more likely to become addicted, but it doesn’t mean that you will definitely become addicted.

Most people don’t have a history of addiction in their families, and there are 80 million Americans currently struggling with alcoholism-so genetics cannot be the only cause of addiction. However, genes do play a role in increasing someone’s susceptibility to addiction.

The risk is 8 times higher for children of addicts, as compared to other children. This may be due to the fact that they are more likely to see drug use and alcohol consumption at an early age.

Scientists estimate that genetic factors can account for about 50% of our vulnerability to addiction. This means that environment also plays a role in developing an addiction

Addiction can be caused by psychological factors

Addiction can be caused by psychological factors, such as disruptions in dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep cycles, and lactation. It is also implicated in both mania and depression.

Too much dopamine can lead to mania, while too little dopamine can lead to depression. Additionally, disruptions in dopamine have been linked to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia, as well as other psychological issues. Parkinson’s disease is caused by the death of dopamine-secreting neurons, so drugs that increase dopamine production may help people with Parkinson’s Disease.

parkinsons disease wordcloud

Parkinson’s, like ADHD, exhibits traits of poor memory and issues with executive function

Dopamine and ADHD

If you’ve got ADHD, chances are you thought that title sounded like a news article for the next Harry Potter book. We wish!

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that affects more of the population than you’d first think. As far as neurodevelopmental disorders go, it’s one of the more debiliating. But many don’t see it that way because, in most cases, they see someone full of energy and personality. But have you ever wondered why?

Let’s find out as we uncover the relationship between ADHD and the Dopamine Reward Pathway.

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects more of the population than you’d first think. As far as neurodvelopmental disorders go, it’s one of the more debiliating. But many don’t see it that way because, in most cases, they see someone full of energy and personality. But have you ever wondered why?

Let’s find out as we uncover the relationship between ADHD and the Dopamine Reward Pathway.

function, focus, and processing information. At school, children struggle with focusing all day. When you think about it this way, it’s no surprise that many neurodivergent children drop out of school.

Not only that, but more than 30% of children with ADHD go on to experience the condition during adulthood. ADHD shows under three categories. These are Inattentive, Hyperactive, or Combined. Signs and negative Symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Short Attention Span
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Losing things
  • Being forgetful
  • Changing activity or task.
  • Appearing unable to listen to and carry out instructions
  • Being unable to sit still in calm surroundings
  • Being unable to wait their turn
  • Excessive talking
  • Excessive physical activity
  • impulsive behavior
  • Compulsive Behaviors
  • Presence of Behavioral Disorders
  • Interrupting conversations

Medical professionals cannot pinpoint what causes ADHD and the negative symptoms that come with the condition. Still, a link between Dopamine and ADHD has been found.

Medications Help Motivation Deficits and Improve Mental Health

As we discussed above, there is indeed a link between low dopamine levels and ADHD.

Therefore, medications that interact with dopamine receptors and other important neurotransmitters involved could be of benefit for patients. One such class of medications is called central nervous system stimulants. These dopamine agonists increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. These aid in a child’s focus and concentration sustenance by decreasing activity in the basal ganglia.

There are also non-stimulant medications that increase norepinephrine levels only. These also aid in improving attention and focus. Examples of central nervous system stimulants are Ritalin, Daytrana, Dexedrine, and Focalin. Examples of non-stimulant medications are Strattera and Pamelor.

It should be noted, though, that medications such as dopamine agonists come with many side effects, which may affect patients in various ways. For example, some medications are known to worsen compulsive behaviors or motor tics. This caution, therefore, means that medication may not be for every child and every circumstance.

Alternative Treatments for Improving Executive Functions in the Brain

Other effective alternatives should also be explored before resorting to medication. Below we list a few:

Adult and Child Behaviour Therapy

Behavior therapy works by teaching the child strategies for controlling and managing behaviour. Applied Behavior Analysis, a form of behaviour therapy, is based on scientific and evidence-based principles for changing socially significant behaviour.

Many behaviours that children with ADHD exhibit are socially significant such as distracting and interrupting class, off task behaviour, tantrums, aggression, disobeying rules and authority figures. Token economy systems, reinforcers, prompts, behaviour contracts and shaping behaviour are all techniques that should be explored and considered. Chances are, with consistent application, change will be seen.


Children with any mental health issues or compulsive behaviors also struggle with many psychological issues. These include low self-esteem, isolation from peers, bullying, guilt, humiliation, emotional disturbances, and depression. Individual therapy between the child and the therapist and family or group therapy could also be a valuable asset in treating ADHD and resulting issues.

Also remember, that ADHD can and often co-occurs with other disorders and challenges. For this reason, it is important to get your child fully assessed by a specialist and enrolled with a counsellor once issues begin to emerge. Sometimes your child’s teacher and/or shadow join in therapy sessions for the sake of transferring issues from the classroom to the therapy office for them to be worked out and resolved. Cognitive behavioural therapy is often very popular among psychologists in teaching children new behaviours and skills.

Social Skills Training

Social Skills Training, often used in conjunction with behaviour therapy, helps the child learn new, healthy and functional social skills. It may be hard for a child with ADHD to make friends, manage teasing and bullying, and wait in lines for their turn.

This, in turn, puts a strain on child-child relationships and leaves a need for appropriate social skills to be taught and implemented. A trained behaviourist or psychologist teaches the child skills such as sharing toys, waiting patiently for their turn and lowering their voice tone. They can also teach alternative behaviours for aggression, appropriate ways to make friends, and manage depression and social anxiety, which is a result of bullying and so much more.

ADHD and the Dopamine Transporter Gene are the Ultimate Measure of Motivation

Parents should take instructions and advice from trained, certified professionals on these various treatments for ADHD listed above. Each and every child is different, and so each treatment plan would also be different. Also, the knowledge of understanding that ADHD may result from a chemical imbalance may be a bridge for parents to understand why medication would be the best option in many situations.

We encourage parents and caregivers to join support groups, do their research, and continue to encourage a safe space. Following these steps makes a huge difference not just to the child but also to their own well-being.

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Rob Butler
30-Something Millennial with ADHD and suspected Autistic and Dyspraxic. Thought leader behind this website. Big visions of a better future for everyone, but forgets where he is half the time.Loves Rugby, his kids, and anything silly. Hates U2 and Marmite.

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