Dopamine is one of several neurotransmitters strongly linked with mood and sensations of pleasure. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry signals between neurons.
Role of Dopamine
Dopamine belongs to the catecholamine family of neurotransmitters and produces the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, both of which play a role in the fight or flight response. Dopamine is metabolized from tyrosine and phenylalaline. Neurons that use dopamine as their primary neurotransmitter exist mostly in the midbrain.
Dopamine is implicated in feelings of pleasure and plays a strong role in addiction. People with substance dependencies may grow dependent partially because of the activation of dopamine. Dopamine also plays a strong role in mood regulation, and insufficient dopamine can contribute to depression. Dopamine also plays several other roles; it slows the production of prolactin, which is involved in both lactation and sexual gratification; it also helps regulate sleep, attention, and memory. Dopamine can increase focused, goal-oriented behavior and decrease inhibition. Irregular dopamine levels can cause a variety of psychological problems. Parkinson’s Disease is caused partially by the death of dopamine-secreting neurons, and drugs that increase dopamine production may help people with Parkinson’s, particularly during the early stages of the disease.
Dopamine and Psychoactive Drugs
Because dopamine contributes to feelings of pleasure, a rush of dopamine can cause an immediate change in mood. Dopamine-producing drugs such as Adderall and Dexadrine are sometimes prescribed to people experiencing treatment-resistant depression. Medications that increase dopamine production can be highly addictive, and thus are not recommended for people with substance abuse problems. Some dopamine-producing drugs can also cause cardiovascular and renal problems, and people prescribed amphetamines and related drugs should be carefully monitored by a physician.
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- Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., & Neale, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Last Updated: 08-6-2015
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