How Dopamine Agonists Drugs Work

Medically reviewed by Aaron Dutil, LMHC, LPC
Updated October 23, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content Warning: Please be advised that 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 that you may have.

Dopamine is a prominent part of our brain chemistry that influences our moods, motivation, and movement. When the dopaminergic pathways in the brain aren’t working effectively, physical and mental health issues may arise, impacting the quality of daily life. For some people, dopamine agonist drugs may provide a solution. Keep reading to learn more about how dopamine agonists can manage a variety of disorders and symptoms, including symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Dopamine Agonist Drugs Effectively Treat Many Disorders

How Do Dopamine Agonist Drugs Work?

To understand how dopamine agonists can help manage different disorders, it can be beneficial to first learn about what dopamine is and how it works. Dopamine is a chemical called a neurotransmitter. It acts as a messenger to carry the messages of pleasure or motivation to other parts of the brain that can interpret the message and respond accordingly. The message is sent and received if the dopaminergic pathways are functioning properly. Afterward, the message channel is closed when the dopamine binds to a dopamine receptor. Dopamine agonist drugs are chemical agents that activate a specific receptor to initiate a reaction in nerve cells in the dopaminergic pathway. For example, some of the older dopamine agonists attach interact with dopamine D1 and D2 receptors, serotonin, and adrenergic receptors. Whereas newer dopamine agonists primarily attach to the dopamine D2 and D3 receptors. 

Unlike Levodopa, which converts into dopamine, dopamine agonists mimic dopamine and affects the receptors. Dopamine antagonist medications are drugs or natural substances that block dopamine receptors to prevent symptoms caused by too much dopamine in the system. These can include hallucinations, delusions, hyper-sexuality, and impulse-control disorders such as gambling addictions and binge eating disorders. Like Levodopa treatment and other medications, dopamine antagonist drugs are used as antipsychotics to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They can also be used to treat nausea and vomiting.

Potential Side Effects

Indirect dopamine receptor agonists include dopamine reuptake inhibitors and dopamine-releasing agents, while dopamine agonists drugs are used for several different dopamine deficiency conditions. They have been successful for the treatment of Parkinson's disease, restless legs syndrome, ADHD, and neuroleptic malignant syndrome. They may also be effective for some people experiencing depression.

While dopamine agonist medication can be extremely helpful for these conditions, they may also result in unwanted drug interactions or side effects such as:

  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Sudden sleep attacks
  • Lightheadedness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle twitching
  • Involuntary movements
  • Motor fluctuations 
  • Leg swelling
  • Addictions to gambling, shopping, pornography, etc.
  • Withdrawal syndrome after long-term use

Drawbacks To Taking Agonist Drugs 

Dopamine agonists work to increase your dopamine uptake and utilization, but there are a few drawbacks in addition to the listed side effects that may deter some individuals from using them. 

For instance, the cost may play a determining role, although how much you will need to spend will depend on the specific medication you take, your dose, your insurance, and your location. Also, the drugs’ effectiveness relies on a commitment to treatment, whether you’re on higher or lower doses, and some patients report adverse side effects from stopping the medication. 

For these reasons (among others), some patients choose psychotherapy instead of medications as the sole treatment for a dopamine imbalance. This choice also has its benefits; for instance, if you decide that therapy isn’t for you or you’d like to switch to dopamine agonist drugs altogether, weaning from therapy doesn’t have the kind of chemical side effects that ceasing to take your medication can. 

Natural Dopamine Agonists

Natural dopamine agonists occur naturally in a low dose in certain foods and often create the same effect as a dopamine receptor agonist drug. Foods and supplements that may increase your dopamine level include:

  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Watermelon
  • Wheat germ
  • Beans
  • Ripe bananas 
  • Raw almonds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Fruits and vegetables that contain antioxidants
  • Theanine supplements or teas
  • Tyrosine supplements

Dopamine Deficiency Causes And Symptoms

Parkinson's disease, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, depression, and ADHD are examples of conditions related to dopamine deficiency. However, there are several factors beyond genetics or natural causes that may contribute to dopamine deficiency as well. For instance, repeated drug use, poor diet, obesity, and stress have all been linked to dopamine deficiency.  Dopamine deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Muscle cramps, stiffness, twitching, and body aches
  • Balance problems
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Slowed speech
  • Lack of motivation
  • Sleeping too much
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Mood swings
  • Depressed feeling
  • Loss of pleasure in daily activities
  • Forgetfulness
  • Cravings for sweets, fats, and alcohol
  • Trouble losing weight
  • Low sex drive

Dopamine Agonist Drugs Effectively Treat Many Disorders

Dopamine Agonists Drugs And Psychotherapy 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of dopamine deficiency and you think that a dopamine agonist drug treatment may be the solution, speak to your doctor or psychiatrist for guidance. They may prescribe medication, but depending on your symptoms, they may also recommend changes in diet. 

Your doctor might also suggest that you attend adjunct therapy sessions in addition to, or instead of, taking Ropinirole or other dopamine agonist drugs. While more research is needed, studies suggest that psychotherapy can encourage similar changes in the brain as dopamine agonist drugs, providing relief for symptoms of dopamine deficiency.

Online Therapy With BetterHelp

Online counseling can be an effective tool for discussing sudden onset symptoms and concerns about your mental health. You may also be able to learn more about how to control the dopamine levels in your brain for optimal cognitive health. At BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed therapist entirely online with a smart device and an internet connection. Whether you talk over the phone, through a video chat, or by an in-app messaging feature, the choice is yours. 

Online therapy allows you to focus more on your mental health and less time driving long distances. You don’t have to cope with the potentially serious symptoms associated with dopamine imbalance on your own and may find the relief you’re looking for with the help of your doctor and an experienced psychotherapist.

The Efficacy Of Online Therapy

Online therapy has been found to be just as effective in the long term as in-person therapy for treating dopamine-related disorders such as depression and anxiety—

and more effective in the middle and short term. Among BetterHelp users, 70% of clients with depression have experienced significant improvement, while 94% of prefer online therapy to face-to-face therapy options. 

Continue reading below to find reviews of some of our licensed therapists from people working through dopamine-related issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Dianne has helped me deal with my depression, trauma, and anxiety in a natural way. She really listens and helps you see the other side you might not consider. She’s helped me bring back aspects of my confidence and make me realise my choices are down to me nonetheless. The therapy sessions have really given me strength that I’ve needed to cope and become better as a person.”

“Elizabeth has been extremely helpful for me! The resources, expertise and excellent listening she offers has been truly life changing in my pursuit in dealing with my depression and anxiety in a healthy way. She's fantastic at her job and I would highly recommend her!”


Therapy can be a powerful method for treating many of the symptoms associated with disorders caused by low dopamine levels in the brain. It may be helpful to speak to your doctor about your options. Whether that involves psychotherapy, taking a dopamine agonist, or a combination therapy that utilizes both, they can support you in creating a complete treatment plan to suit your needs effectively. An online therapist may be able to support you as you figure out which treatment options work for you. 

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