Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor: Benefits And Drawbacks

By Sarah Fader

Updated September 04, 2019

Reviewer Aaron Horn

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A dopamine reuptake inhibitor can help with certain physical and mental disorders. This type of drug works with the dopamine system in your brain, a system responsible for motivation, reward, and feelings of pleasure. These drugs can have marvelous benefits, but they also have a few drawbacks.

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. Dopamine is synthesized within the brain or introduced into your system through prescription or street drugs or the foods you eat.

What Are The Effects of Dopamine In The Brain?

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, dopamine is released and carried via the dopamine transporter to dopamine receptors in your brain.

After the message is received, and you feel pleasure or satisfaction. Dopamine reuptake transporters absorb the extra dopamine to end the transmission.

Drugs, food, or activities like gambling and compulsive eating can set the dopamine system into high gear, causing a flood of dopamine into the areas between the nerve cells. The receptors have plenty of dopamine to pick up, which makes you feel pleasant, at least for a while.

Dopamine: Excitatory Or Inhibitory?

Neurotransmitters may be excitatory to stimulate us or inhibitory to calm us. Is dopamine excitatory or inhibitory?

Dopamine can technically be excitatory or inhibitory. Dopamine's main function is excitatory. When dopamine is released and received, we feel not only pleasant and fulfilled, but also stimulated.

However, the answer to dopamine inhibitory or excitatory doesn't stop there. Dopamine 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. Dopamine in its inhibitory role restrains prolactin. By doing so, it regulates 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 estrogen or testosterone deficiencies.

What Is A Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor?

When dopamine reuptake functions the way it usually does, proteins pump the dopamine from the space between the neurons (the synaptic cleft) into the neuron where the action started. However, if you don't have enough dopamine or something else isn't right with your dopamine system, the dopamine you have can stay in the synaptic cleft longer with a dopamine reuptake inhibitor.

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When you take a dopamine reuptake inhibitor drug, the dopamine is available longer, so the 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 Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors

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

For Depression

The most commonly-used dopamine reuptake inhibitor is bupropion, also 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 inhibitors can be avoided. These side effects include sexual dysfunction and weight gain. Bupropion has been shown to work as well as these other antidepressants for certain people.

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

For Smoking Cessation

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

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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

The inhibition of dopamine reuptake that happens when you take cocaine causes you to feel euphoric or "high." A goal for treating cocaine addiction, then, is to decrease this feeling of euphoria when cocaine is used. This can be accomplished with a dopamine inhibitor.

Dopamine reuptake blockers like bupropion, nomifensine, benztropine, and mazindol can inhibit dopamine reuptake without producing euphoria. Even better, these medications can help decrease cocaine addiction without being addictive themselves.

Another dopamine reuptake inhibitor drug, vanoxerine, 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 but not for other neurotransmitters. The exact mechanism of modafinil is still uncertain, but what is known is that the drug helps with narcolepsy by somehow acting on the dopamine transporters. New drugs may be developed to act in a similar but even more effective way.

For ADHD

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

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Drawbacks Of Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors

Dopamine reuptake inhibitors already have many beneficial uses, and more are being developed. However, the news isn't all good. These drugs come with some serious dangers and side effects. Before you decide to take a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, talk to your doctor about these possible drawbacks and whether the DRI you're going to be taking might cause them for you.

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, there seems to be little point in taking them except for legal advantages over street drugs.

Eating Disorders-Increased Risk Of Seizures

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

Increased Blood Pressure

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

Legal Restrictions

You usually need a prescription to get any of the DRI's. Most dopamine reuptake inhibitors are controlled substances. and require close monitoring for side effects. If you would like to explore the use of a DRI, you should consult a medical doctor. A medical doctor can give you a proper diagnosis and recommend a treatment strategy.

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After you know whether your doctor recommends the dopamine reuptake inhibitor medication, you can begin to answer the question of whether you're willing to take it or not. There are many things to consider, several of which may be unique to you in your situation. Only you can decide.

Can Therapy Help?

A therapist can offer support for you both in decision-making and manage your feelings. This is not only important as you seek treatment but can enhance every aspect of your life. By examining your thoughts and behaviors, you can learn to think and act in ways that help you get the rewards you seek in life, whether those are related to health, wealth, happiness, or all three.

You can talk to a licensed counselor to help overcome many of the problems that can be addressed through dopamine reuptake inhibitor medications. Depression, eating and sleeping disorders, ADHD, and addictions can often be helped dramatically through counseling.

Talking to someone about these problems may also be a good first step if you aren't ready to consider drug treatment yet. As you learn to manage your problems on your own, you might find that the medication is unnecessary for you. Even if you do eventually take the medication, the therapy you've gotten can provide a solid foundation for you.

Therapists at BetterHelp.com can talk to you on your schedule, wherever you choose to be. You can choose a therapist easily by filling out a simple questionnaire. You don't need to face problems with your physical and mental health alone. With a licensed therapist on your support team, you can build a better life for yourself and those who care most about you!


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