Addiction To Dopamine: How To Overcome It

By Jessica Saxena|Updated June 14, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Horn, LMFT

Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention topics that include prescription medication, abuse of medication, and addiction. The information found in the article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.

Is dopamine addiction a real thing?

Because of the powerful feelings associated with dopamine, addiction can happen quickly. This fact has been used as an argument that dopamine itself is what's addictive, rather than the drugs or behaviors that cause a surge in this important neurotransmitter.

To find the answer to whether addiction to dopamine is real, you need to understand both the role of dopamine in the brain and what addiction is. Online therapy can also help you get a deeper understanding of the role this hormone plays in your life and your emotional well being.

dopamine addiction

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Having too little or too much dopamine can have a major impact on your well-being.

When it comes to addiction to dopamine, it's still up for debate if an individual is actually addicted to dopamine itself or if they are addicted to the action or behavior that causes the dopamine release. Scientists tend to support the latter argument. Getting to the bottom of the debate requires understanding what addiction is and the role dopamine plays in the brain.

Addiction To Dopamine

Addiction is more than liking something. It's more than seeking it out. A review of studies on addiction set out to define what addiction is. It describes five components that define addiction:

  1. Engaging in the behavior to satisfy an appetite
  2. Being preoccupied with the behavior
  3. Being only temporarily sated after engaging in the behavior
  4. Losing control over the behavior
  5. Continuing the behavior despite negative consequences

The American Society of Addiction Medicine adds to this definition that addiction is a chronic brain disease involving the reward, memory, and motivation system, but that addiction involves other parts of the brain as well. It is a dysfunction within this system that causes addiction. The ASAM definition of addiction further makes it clear that addiction is a process that can happen with both substances and behaviors that are chronically misused or overused. The process happens because the dopamine system isn't functioning properly. The dysfunction of the dopamine system, then, is the cause of addiction and not the addiction itself.

What's So Great About It?

Dopamine does help us feel good. It does this by giving us the feeling of reward for behaviors we do. Those rewards give us the motivation to do that behavior more. They also prompt us to meet our survival needs like eating. Unless we're suffering from an addiction such as drug addiction, this reward/motivation system is a very positive thing. We're more likely to go after what we want and feel rewarded when we achieve it.

Dopamine is released in anticipation of the desired reward. When we receive the reward, the feeling of the reward goes away soon after. We want to get that feeling again. Does that mean it's the dopamine we want? In a way, it is, but more scientifically, what we seek is substances or behaviors that give it to us. It's these substances and behaviors we're addicted to, not the dopamine itself.

dopamine addiction

What Happens When You Have A Dopamine Deficiency?

You can't get by without any dopamine. Without it, you wouldn't be able to do anything. You wouldn't even be able to move. If you have some dopamine but not enough, you can have any of several conditions connected with low dopamine.

  • Depression
  • Social Phobia
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Alzheimer's Disease

What Happens When You Have Too Much?

Having an overabundance of dopamine has been linked to mental conditions such as schizophrenia. This is a complex condition that involves many parts of the brain, which are dysfunctional. However, this overabundance is the result of an overproduction of dopamine, not the fact that you're addicted to or craving dopamine.

Does Addiction To Dopamine Cause Physical and Mental Disorders?

Some mental and physical conditions are associated with problems in the dopamine system. Does this mean that these problems cause the conditions? That much isn't yet known. The subject of dopamine and addiction is complex, and it's likely different for different conditions. It could be that the conditions are caused by other factors and the dysfunction in the dopamine system is one effect of the condition. The following diseases and disorders fall into this category of being associated with problems in the dopamine system.

Addiction To Dopamine & Depression

There is a well-established connection between dopamine and depression. However, dopamine isn't likely the only neurotransmitter involved if you have depression. Dopamine can create a greater problem with depression in some individuals compared to others. The impact of dopamine in your depression is largely dependent on your unique biochemical makeup. Depression and dopamine changes that go with it are often implicated in addictions. That's why dopamine antidepressants such as bupropion can help with addiction as well as depression. The depression-dopamine connection, then, plays a part in the treatment of many different conditions, particularly addictions.

Dopamine and Bipolar

The dopamine theory of bipolar, although still relatively new, suggests that dopamine plays a major role in both depressed and manic phases of bipolar disorder. During the manic phase, dopamine transmissions are high. In depression, your dopamine is low. It's also interesting to note that as you go through mania, your dopamine receptors become less sensitive, leading you into eventual depression. As the transmissions decrease during the depressive phase, the receptors become more sensitive again, leading you back to mania.

ADHD And Dopamine

Stimulants are a common treatment for children with ADHD. A common concern for parents is that your child's treatment for ADHD and dopamine effects related to it might cause your child to be an addict later in life. The truth is, however, that when children get this treatment for ADHD, they have a decreased risk of substance use disorders and cigarette smoking. The dopamine ADHD dysfunction studies being conducted aim to provide safe and effective treatments, with emphasis on treatment for pediatric patients.

Dopamine And Parkinson's

Dopamine dysfunction causes a variety of problems in Parkinson's disease, given that it's related to problems with mood, movement, and memories. In Parkinson's disease, the degeneration of the dopamine system is responsible for this dysfunction, resulting in fewer dopamine receptors. This means the dopamine transmissions are fewer and milder, leading to memory problems. The neurons in the brain that synthesize dopamine are lost over time so that less and less dopamine is present. Parkinson's disease and dopamine is the subject of intense research as scientists work to find treatments for Parkinson's dopamine dysfunction. This research aims to identify possible treatment options to manage the dopamine problems that Parkinson's creates.

Dopamine And Schizophrenia

The dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia states that schizophrenia comes from a state of having too much dopamine in the brain. This debate was born amongst scientists as they began exploring the relationship between schizophrenia and dopamine. This led to the establishment of this hypothesis, which has grown out of the fact that neuroleptic drugs, which decrease dopamine, were effective treatments for schizophrenia while drugs that increased dopamine made the condition worse. However, the connection between schizophrenia and dopamine is still debated given that normal patients don't develop schizophrenia symptoms when given large doses of dopamine and that neuroleptic drugs don't help all people with schizophrenia.

Behaviors That Trigger Dopamine Production

While there are both physical and mental conditions caused by dopamine dysfunctions, as discussed, the actual addiction to dopamine is debated. Many scientists argue that it is actually an addiction to behaviors that trigger dopamine production that creates what many refer to as addiction to dopamine. To better understand this argument, you must first understand some of the most common behaviors that trigger dopamine production.

Porn And Dopamine

Pornography consumption, especially when it's frequent, activates the dopamine system. You may feel a reward when you know you're about to see porn. You also feel pleasure while you're viewing it, but that reward isn't as great as that of anticipation.

Dopamine transporter levels go down as pornography use increases. This decreases the dopamine transmissions over time. As they decrease, pornography use usually increases, creating an ongoing cycle of addiction that becomes more and more serious as time goes by unless you get treatment.

Dopamine And Sex

The connection between dopamine and sex is well established. Scientists believe the evolution of the dopamine system happened because it ensured survival. A part of survival is procreation, and sex was necessary to achieve that. This means the dopamine system is directly involved when engaging in sex. It becomes problematic, and an addiction, when you begin seeking sex so intensely that you suffer negative consequences. With treatment, you can learn to control those impulses. When you do, you're more likely to live a stable and healthy life.

Cocaine And Dopamine

Cocaine and dopamine are hand-in-glove with each other. You take cocaine, you feel good (at least for a while); thanks to the release of dopamine. In fact, the feeling is so intense you want to do it again as soon as possible. Over time, your dopamine system begins to change and your dopamine receptors become less available for cocaine rewards, other satisfactions, as well other dopamine transmissions. In other words, with more cocaine use, your brain no longer releases as much dopamine as it once did. You start having intense cravings when you aren't using and the pleasure you get from the drug decreases. This means cocaine dopamine dysfunction changes your brain chemistry in the long term. If you get to this point, treatment is crucial to deal with the addiction and return your dopamine system to its equilibrium.

Marijuana And Dopamine

Marijuana is one of the most used drugs in the U.S. So what is the connection between weed and dopamine? Long-term marijuana use affects the dopamine reward system in a way that decreases motivation. All drugs of abuse affect dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain activated during the dopamine system's anticipatory reward response. For weed, this effect can change the dopamine system in such a way that it can lead to continued use and addiction to other drugs.

Alcohol And Dopamine

As seen with other behaviors and substances, with alcohol and dopamine, responses in the dopamine pathway for non-drug rewards diminish as the addiction progresses. This happens in the mesolimbic system. A second dopamine pathway, the one called the inhibitory control pathway, is also disrupted, causing a lack of behavioral control. As the dopamine system changes over time, the levels of dopamine released will decrease, requiring more and more alcohol to get the "feel good" feeling you once got.

dopamine addiction

If You Have Questions About Dopamine Addiction, Reach Out To Us

The Battle Against Addiction Can Be Won

Although the exact mechanisms of dopamine, addiction, and other conditions aren't all known yet, what we do know is that healthy people have a stable and well-functioning dopamine system. Regardless of whether you are addicted to dopamine or the behavior that produces dopamine, you can win your battle against addiction like many before you. In fact, more than 23 million Americans (or 10% of the US population) have overcome addiction.

How to Overcome An Addiction To Dopamine

There is no one size fits all solution for overcoming addiction to dopamine. However, there are several things you can do to help set yourself up for success. Here are a few different ways that you can work toward overcoming your addiction.

Identify Triggers

Triggers, both emotional and environmental, are those things that can cause you to relapse in your battle against addiction. Understanding what your specific triggers are can help you avoid or minimize any relapse you may have from them.

Have a Support System

Support systems play a crucial role in overcoming addiction as they give you a means of surrounding yourself with healthy individuals, give you healthy peer pressure, and give you the support you need when you find yourself struggling with triggers.


Exercise has many benefits when you are trying to overcome addiction. It can serve as a distraction, give you another means of feeling pleasure, and has been proven to be an effective tool at preventing relapse.

Manage Stress

Stress is one of the most common triggers for relapse so finding ways to manage your stress should be one of your first steps when working toward overcoming addiction. Common ways to manage stress include yoga, mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, and getting proper rest.

Medications And Balance

An excess or deficiency of dopamine can have a major impact on the body's system. If there is a dopamine imbalance, medication can be an effective form of treatment. If you have a serious medical or psychiatric condition, it's best to consult with a doctor or psychiatrist to find the right regimen for medications and lifestyle changes.

Seek Professional Help

Another option that can help you overcome addiction to dopamine is therapy. Psychotherapy changes the brain structure and can be effective in restoring balance in the dopamine system. This has been proven by scientists who have found physiological changes in the dopamine system by looking at neuroimaging results after a year of psychotherapy. Even if you have no symptoms or are unsure if you have a dopamine problem, talking to a counselor may help you gain and maintain a steadier state in your dopamine availability and transmissions. Working one-on-one with a therapist can help you assess your mental health and possibly prevent problems before they happen. Doing so can help you open the path to better mental health and a happier, more fulfilling life.

This is where BetterHelp comes in. You can get the help and support of a therapist without the hassle that comes with traditional therapy. The licensed counselors at BetterHelp will help you explore dopamine-related subjects like mood, memory, motivation, pleasure, and reward. The best part is that all of your communication with your therapist is done from the comfort of your own space, no more commutes to the over-air-conditioned therapist's office. With BetterHelp, you can work with your therapist via messages, live chat, over the phone, or via video conferencing. This means you can get support when and where you need it. Below you can read some reviews of BetterHelp's licensed and credentialed therapists that have helped others work through their addiction struggles.

Counselor Reviews

"Julissa is my lifeline to sobriety. I always know that she is there to assist me. She's honest and to the point. She helps me to see other aspects of my behavior that I either could not see or refuse to see. Thank you, Julissa!"

"Tihesha really listens and cares, without judgment, offering understanding and explanation. She also knows you, and she knows when the hard times are hitting the hardest. I stayed sober during the hardest moment - and that's something you need support for."

Get Your Life Back

You control your life - not your addiction. Take back your control and get a new lease on life by talking to a counselor and working to overcome your addictive habits using the tips we've outlined. Take the first step today.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you become addicted to dopamine?

One of the frequently asked questions about behavioral health is if it is possible to become addicted to dopamine. Yes, you can become addicted to dopamine. Dopamine comes with powerful feelings, so you can become addicted to it. The truth is that, as opposed to what many people think, you can become addicted to dopamine itself. It is not the drugs or behaviors that you exhibit that you are addicted to. It is dopamine.

To understand addiction to dopamine, you have to understand what dopamine does to the brain and you. After a series of arguments on substance use disorder, scientists have come to support that most people are addicted to specific actions and feelings of pleasure. It is such behaviors that are, in turn, responsible for the release of dopamine.

Dopamine helps you feel good. It provides young adults and even children in the United States and beyond, with a feeling of reward for particular actions and behaviors. The brain’s reward you get from the release of dopamine gets you seeking for more. So you’re on a lookout for substances and actions that give you that brain’s reward. We can say that you have a drug addiction and an underlying addiction, addiction to dopamine.

 What role does dopamine play in addiction? 

Addiction may include substance abuse, drug abuse, or particular consistent behavior in young adults. Addiction involves a continued habit despite the high levels of damage it does to a person’s mental health. A few persons have argued whether dopamine plays a role in addiction. 

Annual reports on the mental health of the residents of the United States reveals that a lot of people suffer from substance use disorders. Despite the number of available treatment programs to ensure a significant behavioral health, many people are not yet drug free. It is mostly because of the release of dopamine which plays a role in making people feel good generally. 

When Dopamine is released, the brain’s reward is that you are motivated to stick to drug abuse or any other substance abuse. The behavior or drug abuse helps you to survive certain hustles and bustles. For instance, dopamine stimulates joy and survival in someone who’s about to watch pornography. Thus, dopamine keeps you going back to an action or substance, because of the triggers and releases that come with it. 

It doesn’t matter how much health treatment you have tried on your own. You may have to enroll in an effective treatment program. BetterHelp offers treatment programs that improve your behavioral health and mental health. 

 Why do I crave dopamine? 

We all seek pleasure, and so find ourselves returning to something that gives us pleasure. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, dopamine plays a role in addiction. It provides a feeling in the brain that makes a person long for more of an action or consumption. Hence, the person clings deeper into drug abuse or substance abuse. This medication assisted pleasure that is derived from e.g., substance use often leads to substance abuse, which eventually affects the mental health of a person. And then, their behavioral health is affected too. 

Many young adults crave mental health treatment. Still, they don’t know how they can obtain treatment and recovery from their substance use disorders. They remain confused as to why they behave the way they do. They don’t know that dopamine plays an important role in the behavioral health and disposition of a person. 

You tend to crave dopamine because you want to have the feeling that comes with its release. For instance, if you derive pleasure, confidence, or ease when you are about to engage in drug misuse or substance abuse, you would want to remain high. Hence, you crave some more dopamine. You keep longing for the drugs or substance, and most likely won’t become drug free

 What happens when you have too much dopamine? 

Too much dopamine is not suitable for your mental health. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reveals that mental health issues and physical conditions occur when a person secretes too much dopamine. Too much dopamine indicates that many parts of an individual’s brain are dysfunctional. So, they would need some health treatment to maintain their mental health, and to ensure that intense psychiatric conditions do not occur. 

There is too much dopamine when dopamine is overproduced as a result of drug addiction or other substance use disorders. This may lead to mental health issues such as depression, Bipolar disease, ADHD, and Schizophrenia. Someone with too much dopamine needs health treatment so that it does not lead to more substance use disorders that are not good for their behavioral health

Meanwhile, excess dopamine in a person can be treated when they embrace health care, and undergo treatment programs to balance the dopamine. You would need to get to professionals who create reward centers for you. That way, you are gradually removed from substance abuse and drug misuse, without any drastic effect on your behavioral health. 

 Why does the brain stop producing dopamine naturally? 

We all need dopamine in our system. If you have a deficiency of dopamine, you need to go for some health treatment at the health care. That’s because, without dopamine, you would not even be able to move. Yet, it is possible to experience the degeneration of the dopamine system. 

In this case, there is a dysfunction in the brain, which results in fewer dopamine receptors. And that might lead to depression and other mental health issues. Someone with a deficiency of dopamine needs to obtain some health treatment. And it is not something that should involve a slow decision making process. You have to receive health care immediately so that your behavioral health is not adversely affected. 

Usually, habits affect the production of dopamine. For instance, continuous cocaine substance abuse changes the dopamine system. Also, substance abuse of marijuana affects the dopamine reward center. The part of the brain that ought to be activated no longer gets activated. The system changes and the dopamine receptors reduce as cocaine is used. 

Substance abuse changes the brain chemistry. It is, therefore, important at this point to seek health treatment to avoid more substance use disorders and behavioral health problems. 

It is when you undergo the mental health treatment that your dopamine system comes to equilibrium. 

 What naturally increases dopamine? 

A healthy person should have a well-functioning dopamine system. If yours is low, or too high, it is mostly because of substance abuse, or any other addiction you might have. If your dopamine system isn’t balanced, you have to go for medication assisted treatment, or visit a behavioral health center for a drug free health treatment. That’s because you need to have a reasonable range for the sake of your behavioral health. 

The dopamine reward center needs to be balanced. And the behaviors that trigger or increase its production in the body include pornography, sex, and other substance abuse. One of the frequently asked questions as it relates to behavioral health and substance use disorders is whether dopamine can increase naturally. The truth is that a person’s activities are what increase dopamine level. 

For instance, when young adults frequently consume pornography, the dopamine system is activated. As they seek the heightened feeling of craving pornography or other substance abuse, dopamine production increases. The increase is what forms their actions, and guides their behavioral health, as well as brings about more substance use that results in substance use disorders. 

Meanwhile, excess dopamine in the system is not good, so you should seek health treatment so you do not fall within the annual reports of young adults with behavioral health issues. 

How do you reset your dopamine levels? 

Since neither a deficiency nor excess dopamine is suitable for your behavioral health, there needs to be a decision making on balancing your dopamine level. One of the major ways of ensuring that your brain's reward center is well managed is by embracing medicated assisted therapy. The medication assisted therapy involves visiting the hospital for health treatment on how to overcome addiction treatment. This would help you to prevent substance use disorders

Young adults can become drug free by also adopting psychotherapy. The mental health treatment is appropriate for restoring balance in the dopamine reward center. The drug free approach improves your behavioral health through counselling. Working with a therapist gives you access to one-on-one sessions where frequently asked questions are answered. You also receive adequate mental health treatment, and your behavioral health is better after a few sessions. 

Seeking professional help would help you reset your dopamine levels. For instance, at BetterHelp, you can assess your behavioral health from the very beginning. That helps the therapist, and you know the required processes for effective addiction treatment as well as a mental health treatment. More so, at the comfort of your own home, you get to receive health treatment, and your brain's reward center is better off.

 How long until dopamine levels return to normal? 

Various mental health treatment and addiction treatment are available to help your dopamine levels return to normal, and become drug free or have stable behaviors. The methods which include psychotherapy, medication assisted programs would help you prevent substance use disorders that may be lurking around.

For instance, as you engage in psychotherapy, your brain structure gradually changes. This induces the activities of your dopamine or reward center. And within a year of psychotherapy, neuroimaging results show that your health treatment was effective. There are actual physiological changes and an improvement in your behavioral health.

You can also get your life back by consulting professionals at e.g., BetterHelp. Without stressful sessions, but live chats, video conferencing and other means you choose at your own time, you receive answers to frequently asked questions. You also obtain accurate addiction treatment that keeps you drug free, and helps you imbibe healthy habits. Hence, your dopamine level returns to normal, and you are kept safe from substance use disorders, within only a short time.

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