What Does It Mean To Have A Dopamine Deficiency?
By Sarah Fader
Updated July 29, 2019
Reviewer Jeffrey Craven , MA, LMHC, LPCC, LLC
When you have a dopamine deficiency, this means that you have a low dopamine level. Dopamine is important to a person's physical and mental health, so a lack of dopamine can potentially lead to a variety of problems.
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a chemical that is made by the human body and found in the brain. It is the chemical responsible for making us feel happy, as it is directly connected to our feelings of pleasure and being rewarded. Dopamine is what allows us to recognize a reward and motivates us to do whatever possible to attain that reward.
Per Psychology Today, low dopamine levels in people can result in certain health conditions, like depression or Parkinson's disease. People who suffer from lower dopamine levels also may be more susceptible to forming some addiction. One dopamine receptor, in particular, is linked to the "risk-taking" side of some people's personalities.
Symptoms Of Low Dopamine
According to Medical News Today, low dopamine symptoms can vary wildly because it depends on what is causing the dopamine depletion in the first place. For instance, those who develop low levels of dopamine due to Parkinson's disease may experience different symptoms than someone who has too little dopamine due to a mental health disorder, like schizophrenia or depression.
Signs of low dopamine can include:
- Muscle cramps, aches, pains, and stiffness
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
- Mood swings
- Lack of sex drive
- Suicidal thoughts
Dopamine deficiency symptoms are so broad that everyone can probably pick out a few and be led to believe that they too suffer from a dopamine deficiency. Of course, the only way to determine whether you are suffering from a dopamine imbalance is to be diagnosed and treated by a physician who specializes in the area.
However, no magic test can tell a doctor exactly what your dopamine level is. Instead, what the doctor will do is review your medical history and evaluate your symptoms and lifestyle to determine whether you may be suffering from a condition that is related to having a lower level of dopamine.
Low Dopamine Causes
The causes for low dopamine levels are as broad as the symptoms one can suffer from such a condition. Dopamine can be lowered due to a physical or mental condition. It is important to note that a low dopamine level does not cause conditions like depression or psychosis; it is simply linked to these conditions as a byproduct.
Some studies show that drug use can alter the levels of dopamine in the brain. So too can a person's diet. Studies have shown that a diet loaded with sugar and saturated fat and low in protein can significantly affect the levels of dopamine in the brain. On a related note, obese people tend to exhibit lower levels of dopamine. However, the result remains inconclusive insofar as how much of an effect a person's diet truly has on his or her levels of dopamine.
Treating Low Dopamine Levels
To treat a low dopamine level, it first must be determined what, if any, is the cause of the deficiency. For instance, if a patient is diagnosed with depression, his or her doctor will then prescribe a related medication which may contain elements that can boost a person's dopamine level. Those who are suffering from Parkinson's disease are often prescribed ropinirole and pramipexole, which have been shown to be effective at increasing dopamine levels in those to whom they are prescribed.
Other ways of treating a low dopamine level may include counseling, diet and lifestyle changes, and physical therapy, which can help with a patient's muscle issues and, by proxy, improve his or her dopamine levels by improving the underlying condition.
There are, of course, supplements that people can take to improve deficiencies in dopamine. These supplements are typically those that also boost levels of magnesium, omega-3, and vitamin D. However, the jury is still out on whether these supplements are truly effective, so more research must be done insofar as how to raise dopamine levels more effectively.
If you're not one for taking pills, there are natural dopamine boosters that you can try, such as exercising and meditating. These activities work to improve a person's overall mood, and can, therefore, be effective ways of how to boost dopamine naturally without the need for supplements or counseling.
Coping With Excess Dopamine
While some folks suffer from conditions that are linked to lower dopamine levels, some people have too much. As one might expect, excess dopamine can result from being treated with a drug to treat a condition that is linked to a lower dopamine level, such as Parkinson's disease.
Drug use can also cause excessive dopamine levels because certain drugs, like cocaine, cause dopamine to stockpile in the brain. This can lead to psychoses like schizophrenia.
Another cause for higher levels of dopamine is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. This makes sense because when someone has an excess level of dopamine, this makes them more impulsive and more likely to seek out instant satisfaction. Excess dopamine has been linked to addictive behavior such as that which is seen in folks with issues related to gambling, drug and alcohol use (including tobacco), and even in addictions to food.
Interestingly, some folks will develop higher dopamine levels after suffering a nervous breakdown. This is because the brain produces dopamine in response to what it perceives to be dangerous. The dopamine then helps the production of adrenaline, which aids us in our "flight or fight" response to a dangerous situation.
However, this too is a tricky balance because when we are overly stressed for too long, we experience what is known as "burn out." When we have "burned out," we are suffering from depletion of dopamine because, simply, we used all of ours up.
What's interesting is that both low and high levels of dopamine may cause the same symptoms, such as anxiety. However, the symptom will present itself differently based on whether the person has a higher or lower level of dopamine. In other words, while two people may both be feeling anxiety, the person with the lower level of dopamine will be feeling that anxiety differently than the person with the higher level of dopamine.
Side Effects Of Excess Dopamine
There are more severe side effects of having an overabundance of dopamine. These side effects can include:
- Delayed puberty
- Issues with the immune system
- Menstrual disorders
This means that someone who suffers from an excess level of dopamine may find it difficult or even impossible to have children.
Symptoms Of Excess Dopamine
While having a decrease of dopamine can lead to that "feel like doing nothing" feeling, an increase in dopamine has the opposite effect. Those who have excess dopamine are more likely to take risks and develop addictive behavior. Some of the symptoms of excess dopamine include aggressive or overly competitive behavior, euphoria, and a lack of empathy.
The symptoms of excessive dopamine levels vary because it all depends which behaviors are being influenced by each particular person. For instance, while it may cause some people to seek out their next skydiving adventure, it may cause others to stay up all night playing the slots. Some people develop compulsions and addictions, while others are thrill-seekers chasing the next high that comes from scaling a mountain or going extreme dirt-biking.
Some prescription drugs can also cause excess dopamine levels. For instance, antidepressants are aimed at increasing a person's dopamine levels in particular, but in some people, it may react with the person's body in such a way that it goes overboard and does its job too well.
The Delicate Balance Of Dopamine
Dopamine is the personification of "everything in moderation." We all need our dopamine levels to be perfectly balanced, or else everything goes to heck. Too little dopamine and we don't feel like doing anything at all. Too much dopamine and we want to take on the world to the point where we may be putting ourselves in danger.
Dopamine, when kept in check, can be a fantastic motivator, helping us to see our goals ahead of us and giving us the energy to go after them. A lower level of dopamine is what keeps us on the couch, getting down on ourselves because we simply can't go after we want and we don't understand why.
A higher level of dopamine has us seeing the goal, blowing past it, and knocking everyone down who stands in our way to the next one. Or, conversely, a higher level of dopamine can lead to addictive behavior that, let's face it, can be as bad as sitting on the couch doing nothing insofar as meeting our long-term goals.
If you struggle with a decreased level of dopamine and one of its associated conditions, or, conversely, if you suffer from an excessive level of dopamine and one of its related conditions, and you find that either situation is wreaking havoc on your life, consider reaching out to a licensed counselor for help. Our counselors can help you get the help you need by pointing you in the right direction and guiding you toward your next steps.