Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors: Benefits And Drawbacks

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

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

Are you experiencing mental illness?

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter, sending messages from nerve cell to nerve cell in your brain. It is synthesized within the brain or introduced into your system through various factors, including the foods you eat, certain activities, and other substances.

If what is happening in your environment is a pleasurable or satisfying experience, your brain may release dopamine, which will be carried via a transporter to receptors in your brain. When this chemical message is received, you feel pleasure or satisfaction. Afterward, uptake transporters take up the extra hormones to end the transmission.

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

Additionally, neurotransmitters may be excitatory to stimulate us or inhibitory to calm us. Dopamine is unique in that it can technically be either excitatory or inhibitory. Its primary function is excitatory; we generally feel pleasant, fulfilled, and stimulated when it's released and received. However, dopamine also inhibits prolactin, 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, controlling the amount of milk produced.


If you don't have enough dopamine, you can end up with too much prolactin. Symptoms of this 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 (also called the synaptic cleft) and into the neuron itself, where the action started. However, if these reuptake systems don’t move dopamine at the right times or you don’t produce enough dopamine on a regular basis, you might feel slightly off.

Here's how these medications work: when you take DRIs, they block the chemicals responsible for moving the dopamine from doing their work. This means that dopamine stays in the synaptic cleft longer, so more of it is available in your brain and its message of pleasure is carried to more neurons. As a result, the excitement and pleasure spread further in your brain, which can help you feel more alert, focused, and positive.

Benefits of a DRI

If you experience depression, narcolepsy, or ADHD, a DRI can improve your condition. DRIs can also help you overcome addictions to things like smoking, overeating, binge eating, or substances. 

For depression

A commonly used DRI is bupropion, which is associated with the name Wellbutrin when used as an antidepressant. Bupropion doesn't affect the serotonin in the brain, so many common side effects of serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs, including sexual dysfunction and weight gain, can be avoided.

The dopamine theory of depression suggests that a decrease in dopamine signaling causes major depressive disorder. This decrease may occur when the 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. Clinical trials showed that bupropion doubled the chances of remaining smoke-free in the short-term and the long-term compared to nicotine patches.

If you are trying to quit smoking, note that online therapy is also a proven, useful technique in the fight to quit smoking cigarettes. In fact, many DRIs are used in conjunction with therapy from a certified counselor for the best results.

For cocaine addiction treatment

When you take cocaine, the inhibition of dopamine reuptake can cause 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 a person’s physical dependance on cocaine 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 dopamine uptake 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 transporter. New drugs may also be developed to act similarly and even more effectively.


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 powerful and has long-lasting effects on the dopaminergic system.

Clinical studies have shown that online therapy is more effective than waiting on the wait list for in-person therapy in treating ADHD. Online therapy could be beneficial for many people, especially those who have trouble finding adequate care in person.

Drawbacks of DRIs

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

Some risks associated with DRIs include:

  • Increased risk of addiction
  • Increased risk of seizures
  • Increased blood pressure

Furthermore, some 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 this medication might help you, you must bring it up with a doctor before trying anything. Without a proper diagnosis and recommendation from a medical professional, there's no way to know if drugs such as Dopamine reuptake inhibitors and Dopamine agonist drugs are healthy 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 them or not. Again, there are many things to consider, as every situation is unique, so only you and a trained professional 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 to avoid adverse side effects. You may also want to consider therapy as part of your treatment plan.

Are you experiencing mental illness?

A growing body of research shows that online therapy can help people experiencing a wide range of mental health disorders. For example, in a broad-based study published in World Psychiatry, researchers found that online therapy, and online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular, is a valuable 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 can help individuals understand the negative thought processes often underlying unwanted behaviors and emotions. Online platforms can help counselors administer CBT by providing participants with remote counseling sessions, guided exercises, and educational resources.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

If you are uncomfortable discussing specific 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 at BetterHelp are here for you. Below you'll find counselor reviews written by people experiencing similar issues.

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Dopamine reuptake inhibitors are complex, so a doctor can help you understand if this medication might be proper 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.
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