Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors: Benefits And Drawbacks

By William Drake|Updated October 4, 2022

Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention topics that include prescription medication, abuse of medication, and addiction relating to dopamine reuptake. 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.

Dopamine reuptake inhibitors (DRIs) can help with certain physical and mental disorders. This type of drug works with the dopamine system in your brain--that's the system responsible for motivation, reward, and feelings of pleasure. These drugs can have benefits, but they also have drawbacks. In this article, we'll talk more about DRIs, so you can understand if they might be right for you.

Dopamine-Based Medicines Help With Many Mental Health Problems. Learn More.

What Is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter. That means it sends messages from nerve cell to nerve cell in your brain. It is synthesized within the brain or introduced into your system through a variety of factors, including prescription or street drugs and the foods you eat.

When something happens, whether it's inside your body or in your surrounding environment, it can trigger a response in your brain. If it's a pleasurable or satisfying experience, your brain releases dopamine, and it's carried via a transporter to receptors in your brain. When this chemical message is received, you feel pleasure or satisfaction. Afterward, the reuptake transporters take up the extra hormones to end the transmission.

Drugs, food, or activities like gambling and compulsive eating can shift the system into high gear, causing a flood of happy hormones into the areas between the nerve cells. When this happens, the receptors have plenty of dopamine to pick up, which makes you feel very good, at least for a while.

Dopamine Reuptake: Excitatory Or Inhibitory?

Neurotransmitters may be excitatory to stimulate us or inhibitory to calm us. It is unique in that it can technically be either excitatory or inhibitory. Its main function is excitatory. When its released and received, we feel not only pleasant and fulfilled, but also stimulated.

However, dopamine is a little more complicated because it also inhibits prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone that aids in milk production for breastfeeding. It also impacts the reproductive system, the immune system, and even behavior. In its inhibitory role, dopamine restrains prolactin, regulating the amount of milk produced.

If you don't have enough dopamine, you can end up with too much prolactin. Symptoms include producing milk when you don't want to, irregular menstrual cycles, and deficiencies in estrogen or testosterone.

What Are Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors?

When dopamine reuptake functions the way it should, proteins pump the hormone in your brain out of the space between the neurons (the synaptic cleft) and into the neuron where the action started. However, if you don't have enough, or if your system isn't functioning properly, you might feel a little bit off. A DRI makes it stay in the synaptic cleft longer, so you feel better.

How does this work? When you take DRIs, more is available in your brain, so its message of pleasure is carried to more neurons. The feeling of excitement and pleasure spreads further in your brain, helping you to feel more alert, focused, and positive.

Benefits Of A DRI

If you have depression, narcolepsy, or ADHD, a DRI can improve your condition. They can also help you overcome addictions like smoking, overeating or binge eating, or heroin addiction. Although few dopamine reuptake inhibitors are in common use, many have been used effectively for these conditions.

For Depression

A commonly used DRI is bupropion, which is called Wellbutrin when used as an antidepressant. Bupropion doesn't affect the serotonin in the brain at all, so many common side effects of serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs can be avoided. (These side effects include sexual dysfunction and weight gain).

The dopamine theory of depression suggests that a decrease in dopamine signaling causes major depressive disorder. This decrease may occur when brain has fewer receptors, or there may be other problems in the system. Either way, the goal of treatment with a DRI is to make full use of the dopamine that's available for signaling in the brain.

For Smoking Cessation

Bupropion has also been shown to help smokers quit smoking by decreasing withdrawal symptoms, mimicking the effects of nicotine on dopamine and noradrenaline systems, and blocking the nicotine receptors.

Source: U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Brittany Perry, Released into the public domain/Wikimedia Commons via

Clinical trials showed that bupropion doubled the chances of remaining smoke-free in the short-term and the long-term when compared to nicotine patches.

For Cocaine Addiction Treatment

When you take cocaine, the inhibition of dopamine reuptake causes you to feel euphoric or "high." When treating cocaine addiction, a DRI can decrease the feeling of euphoria caused by cocaine use.

Dopamine reuptake blockers like bupropion, nomifensine, benztropine, and mazindol can inhibit dopamine reuptake without producing euphoria. These medications can help decrease cocaine addiction without being addictive themselves. In addition, other dopamine reuptake inhibitors include vanoxerine, which is being investigated as possible replacement therapy for cocaine.

For Narcolepsy

Modafinil, a prescription drug often used to treat narcolepsy and excessive daytime sleepiness, has been shown to affect the uptake of dopamine without affecting other neurotransmitters. The exact mechanism of modafinil is still uncertain, but it is known that the drug helps with narcolepsy by acting on the dopamine transporters. New drugs may also be developed to act in a similar and even more effective way.


Drugs for the treatment of ADHD are in development, but at this point, there is no one perfect treatment. Altropane is currently being considered for ADHD treatment, as it's both powerful and has long-lasting effects on the dopaminergic system.

Drawbacks Of DRIs

DRIs already have many beneficial uses, and more are being developed. However, no drug is perfect. These drugs come with some serious dangers and side effects. Before you decide to take dopamine reuptake inhibitors, talk to your doctor about these possibilities and how they might affect you.

Dopamine-Based Medicines Help With Many Mental Health Problems. Learn More.

Increased Risk Of Addictions

The risk of addiction for dopamine reuptake inhibitors depends on the formulation of the drug. Some can be as addictive as the drug they're replacing. If so, they may be legal compared to street drugs, but there are few other advantages to taking them.

Increased Risk Of Seizures

A DRI isn't commonly used for eating disorders. Bupropion may be effective for overeating, but so far, there is little confirmation for this. However, it isn't used for binging disorders because it tends to cause seizures in people who have that disorder.

Increased Blood Pressure

DRI's can cause an increase in blood pressure. Therefore, people who have high blood pressure need to have it checked often if they're on one of these prescription drugs. Your doctor or psychiatrist can monitor your blood pressure both when you start the drug and periodically, as long as you are taking it.

Legal Restrictions

You usually need a prescription to access any of the DRI's because some DRIs are controlled substances. Furthermore, some of the dopamine reuptake inhibitors are recreational and may be illegal in certain areas. These include benocyclidine and difluoropine.

Do I Need A DRI?

If you think you this medication might help you, you need to talk to a doctor about taking dopamine reuptake inhibitors. Without a proper diagnosis and recommendation from a medical professional, there's no way to know if it's right for you.

Once you know whether your doctor recommends that you take dopamine reuptake inhibitors, you can think about whether you're willing to take it or not. There are many things to consider, as every situation is unique, so only you can decide.

Therapy Can Help

If you want to learn more about this medication, a doctor can explain dopamine reuptake inhibitors as they pertain to you and your situation. You should discuss all potential medication options with your doctor or psychiatrist beforehand, to avoid any negative side effects. You may also want to consider therapy as part of your treatment plan.

There is a growing body of research showing that online therapy can help people experiencing a wide a range of mental health disorders. In a broad-based studypublished in World Psychiatry, researchers found that online therapy, and online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular, is a useful tool for helping individuals cope with symptoms of depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a range of other mental health issues. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps individuals understand the negative thought processes that are often underlying unwanted behaviors and emotions. Online platforms help counselors administer CBT by providing participants remote counseling sessions, along with guided exercises and educational resources.

If you are uncomfortable discussing certain issues face to face, online therapy is often a more discreet form of counseling. With BetterHelp, you can participate in therapy from the comfort of your home. And you’ll have the option of reaching out to your licensed counselor whenever you want—just send a message and they’ll get back to you as soon as possible. When you need support to deal with anything from depression to quitting smoking, the qualified therapists atBetterHelp are here for you. Below you'll find counselor reviews written by people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

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Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors Conclusion

Dopamine reuptake inhibitors are complex, so a doctor can help you understand if this medication might be right for you and your situation. While there may be side effects to consider, this medication has also helped millions of people. There are always ways to enjoy a more fulfilling life, no matter what you're experiencing—all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.

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