What Does It Mean To Have A Dopamine Deficiency?

Updated December 7, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content Warning:Please be advised, the below article might mention topics that include prescription medication, substance use, and dependency. 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.

You may have heard about dopamine in reference to your brain in the past but not known exactly what it is or how it works. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a central role in our ability to function, ensuring the reward center in the brain operates normally and helping control the way we feel and behave. A lack of dopamine can lead to a variety of mental and physical health challenges, including high blood pressure, depression, substance use disorder, and Parkinson’s disease. Low dopamine levels can be successfully addressed, though, so that the negative effects of a deficiency are limited. In this article, we’ll cover dopamine, its effects, and the importance of addressing a potential deficiency in this vital brain chemical.

What Is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter—a messenger that helps deliver impulses to certain parts of the body—that is found in the brain. Often called the “happy hormone”, dopamine is connected to our feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. It is partially responsible for helping us recognize the reward of a certain action and motivating us to achieve that end. 

Dopamine is a monoamine neurotransmitter, one of four different types of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters allow impulses from nerve cells to arrive at their targets, which could be glands, muscle cells, or other nerve cells. As a neurotransmitter, dopamine helps facilitate a wide variety of mental and physical functions, including heart rate, sleep, lactation, heart rate, and kidney function. Dopamine helps us learn new things, focus on tasks, and move our bodies.

Living With A Dopamine Deficiency

Experiencing a dopamine deficiency can be challenging, potentially making it harder for you to set goals or motivate yourself. A lack of dopamine can lead to complex feelings and trouble controlling your emotions. Low dopamine levels are linked to several different mental, physical, and neurodegenerative health conditions, like depression, restless leg syndrome, and Parkinson’s disease. People who have lower dopamine levels may also be more susceptible to developing a substance use disorder. 

Symptoms Of Low Dopamine

Signs of a dopamine deficiency can vary depending on the cause. For example, those who have low levels of dopamine connected to Parkinson’s disease may experience different symptoms than those whose low dopamine is linked to a mental health disorder, like depression.

Symptoms of low dopamine can include:

  • Muscle cramps, aches, pains, and stiffness

  • Constipation

  • Lack of energy and motivation

  • Difficulty eating and swallowing

  • Chronic or recurring heartburn

  • Pneumonia

  • Mood swings

  • Anxiety

  • Lack of sex drive

  • Delusions

While a dopamine deficiency can have adverse effects, it is not a disorder itself, but instead is linked to mental health conditions like depression, ADHD, and schizophrenia. It's important to note that a lack of dopamine is not considered a unifying cause of these conditions, even though it may partially contribute to their development. 

Looking To Address A Dopamine Deficiency?

Causes Of Low Dopamine

The causes for low dopamine levels can be as broad as the symptoms. Often, a dopamine deficiency is connected to a physical or mental health condition. There is also evidence that stress, particularly chronic stress, can affect the brain’s ability to produce dopamine. Also, it’s possible that dopamine levels may be normal, but the receptors in the brain responsible for transporting dopamine have alterations that keep them from receiving it. 

The use of some drugs can alter the levels of dopamine in the brain, or change how effectively the brain uses dopamine. So, too, can a person’s diet. A diet high in sugar and saturated fat and low has been linked to altered dopamine levels in the brain. Obesity is also linked to lower levels of dopamine. Additionally, brain injuries can affect the structures that are responsible for the production of dopamine. 

Effects Of Excess Dopamine

While some people experience decreased dopamine levels, others may experience a surplus of dopamine, which can also be problematic at times. Excess dopamine can result from using a specific medication to treat a condition connected to lower dopamine levels, such as Parkinson's disease. It can also be caused by a lack of sleep. Additionally, it has been linked to addictive behavior such as compulsive gambling, drug and alcohol use (including tobacco), and addictions to food. Excess dopamine can lead to serious complications, like schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

Having balanced dopamine levels helps ensure we’re able to function physically, mentally, and emotionally. If we have too little dopamine, we may struggle to get things done and experience symptoms of conditions like depression or ADHD. If we have too much dopamine, we may become stressed, harbor excess energy, and develop other complications.  

Treating Low Dopamine Levels

Typically, to manage a dopamine deficiency, medical and mental health professionals focus on addressing the condition it is linked to. For example, if an individual is diagnosed with depression, a healthcare professional may create a treatment plan that includes therapy and medication meant to help manage dopamine levels. 

There are several different medications that can help treat a dopamine deficiency and its underlying health concern. For example, certain depression medications help moderate the reuptake of dopamine, creating elevated levels of the neurotransmitter in the brain. For other conditions (e.g., Parkinson’s disease, restless leg syndrome), healthcare professionals may prescribe ropinirole and pramipexole, which are dopamine agonists—drugs that mimic dopamine in the brain.

Psychotherapy can help the individual manage the emotional and mental effects of low dopamine levels. Often, a therapist can help motivate the individual, address a related mental health disorder, and provide tips for navigating a dopamine deficiency at home. Additionally, physical therapy can help someone with low dopamine levels alleviate muscle issues that may arise out of a deficiency.

Certain lifestyle changes have been shown to increase dopamine levels, such as exercising and meditating. These activities can boost dopamine naturally and improve the individual’s overall mood. Some supplements—including tyrosine, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D—may also help correct imbalances in dopamine. 

Looking To Address A Dopamine Deficiency?

How Online Therapy Can Help

Research shows that online therapy is a viable alternative to face-to-face therapy when coping with symptoms that are often attributed to dopamine imbalances. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective in helping manage symptoms of depression. The goal of CBT is to replace negative or unhelpful thought patterns that may be underlying maladaptive behaviors or emotions. The study mentions the increased accessibility of online therapy, which can open up more opportunities for those who want to pursue treatment. 

If you struggle with low levels of dopamine, or an associated condition, consider reaching out to a licensed BetterHelp therapist. With BetterHelp, you can participate in therapy remotely, which can be helpful if you’re struggling to leave the house or aren’t yet comfortable discussing mental health challenges in person. Your therapist can also connect you with engaging resources, such as at-home exercises, that can help you work through concerns related to a dopamine deficiency on your own time. A qualified mental health professional can provide useful insights and valuable support as you address a dopamine deficiency. Read below for reviews of BetterHelp therapists from those who have sought help for similar concerns. 

Therapist Reviews

"Tim has given me some amazing insights to contemplate. He has offered me different ways of viewing my problems and approaching them. He has given me concrete tools to use to manage my stress and improve my depression. He is incredibly responsive and helpful. I'm blown away by how much I like this platform and how helpful Tim has been."

"Stacy has been so accommodating and helpful throughout my sessions. She has really helped me with my depression and anxiety issues that I have been having lately. I was in such a dark place and Stacy is helping me cope with all the issues in such a professional, yet considerate manner."


Dopamine plays an essential role in our ability to function and enjoy life. If you feel like you’re living with a dopamine deficiency or a related mental health concern, consider talking to a qualified online therapist, who can give you tips for addressing it and support with the complicated emotions it might produce. With the guidance of a licensed mental health professional, you can work through a dopamine deficiency and live a full, happy life. 

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