What Is Dopamine Deficiency? Low Dopamine Symptoms to Watch For

What Is Dopamine Deficiency? Low Dopamine Symptoms to Watch For

Man sitting on log in autumn forest with thoughtful expression

September 26, 2019 • By Zawn Villines

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and hormone. As a neurotransmitter, it transmits nerve signals across a synapse. And like other hormones, dopamine helps send messages throughout the body. This means that it plays a key role in the brain’s ability to send certain nerve signals.

Dopamine plays an important role in numerous functions, including motivation, reward, learning, movement, memory, and more. Dopamine deficiency is linked to numerous ailments, including Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and addiction. However, dopamine deficiency itself is not a medical diagnosis. Furthermore, there is no evidence that supplements which promise to increase dopamine levels offer any measurable benefit.

Dopamine deficiency is linked to numerous ailments, including Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and addiction.


Dopamine, like other neurotransmitters, helps carry nerve signals across a synapse. It sends signals that can support feelings of pleasure and motivation. It also supports learning and working memory, enables coordinated movements, and may play a role in attention and concentration.

Dopamine is manufactured in the midbrain, in two separate regions called the tegmental area and substantia nigra. Damage to these brain regions may affect dopamine production. A person may also experience symptoms of low dopamine when their body does not properly respond to dopamine. Drugs that inhibit the reuptake of dopamine allow the brain to access more dopamine, potentially reversing some forms of dopamine deficiency.

Bupropion, a noradrenaline and dopamine reuptake inhibitor, increases dopamine levels in the brain. It is a popular smoking cessation treatment that doctors also prescribe to treat depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Dopamine is listed on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. It can treat several life-threatening conditions, including dangerously low blood pressure and cardiac arrest, especially in newborns.


Dopamine affects many brain functions and physical symptoms, so signs of low dopamine may vary greatly. Some of them include:

  • Depression
  • Problems with motivation or concentration
  • Working memory issues, such as difficulty remembering the first part of a sentence a person just spoke
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Shaking hands or other tremors
  • Changes in coordination
  • Low sex drive
  • Inability to feel pleasure from previously enjoyed activities
  • Symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD)
  • Symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hearing voices or believing things that cannot be true
  • Symptoms of dementia, such as problems with executive functioning, short-term memory, managing daily tasks, or solving simple cognitive problems

Depending on the brain systems affected, a person’s lifestyle, genetics, and myriad other factors, low dopamine may manifest much differently from person to person. For example, addiction, depression, and dementia are all linked to low dopamine.

Age, health status, brain injuries, and chronic medical conditions can change dopamine levels. So a person who has normal dopamine at one point in their life may still later be affected by dopamine-related health issues.

Low dopamine is not a medical diagnosis, and doctors rarely check dopamine levels. To treat low dopamine, doctors first look at symptoms, then assess a person to determine the right diagnosis. Treatment is based on the specific condition a person has. Even when a person has low dopamine, increasing dopamine levels is not always the right treatment. People with Parkinson’s disease may take a form of dopamine to help with movement disorders, while those with depression may use antidepressants that target serotonin.


Numerous mental and neurological health conditions are linked to dopamine issues. Drugs and alcohol temporarily flood the brain with dopamine. The pleasurable sensations this causes can encourage a person to continue seeking out addictive substances. Over time, however, the person needs more and more of the addictive substance to get the same dopamine rush. When they stop using, their brain may temporarily produce less dopamine, increasing the risk of a relapse.

Other mental health and neurological issues that may appear in people with low dopamine include:

  • Depression: Depression can be caused by one’s body or one’s circumstances. Sometimes it can be caused by a mixture of both. Most mental health experts agree brain chemistry plays a major role in depression. The brain has chemicals called dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals affect our ability to feel pleasure and well-being. If the brain does not make enough of these chemicals, or if it doesn’t process them right, depression can result.
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and executive dysfunction: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. People with ADHD may have difficulty focusing, or controlling impulsive behavior. Experts do not know exactly what causes ADHD, but some experts think that changes in dopamine activity may contribute.
  • Dementia: A generalized and chronic loss of brain functioning, is not a disease in itself. Rather, the condition can be described as a variety of symptoms that are linked to a decline in memory and other cognitive functions.
  • Parkinson’s disease: Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. It can cause tremors, muscle stiffness, and problems with balance and coordination. The main cause of Parkinson’s disease is the loss of dopamine-producing cells.

Too much dopamine may also damage the brain. Mental health researchers have long theorized that too much dopamine in the brain may lead to schizophrenia. The research on this point is mixed, and no single cause has been conclusively shown to trigger the condition. Because both too much and too little dopamine can be harmful, however, it is important not to self-medicate or self-diagnose a dopamine-related issue.


Diagnosing dopamine deficiency is difficult. Although a blood test can measure dopamine levels in the blood, it cannot assess how the brain responds to dopamine. Some diseases can cause a person’s body not to manufacture dopamine transporters. So most doctors do not test dopamine levels, and instead diagnose a person based on symptoms.

A person who thinks they may be deficient in dopamine should see a doctor, since the diseases dopamine deficiency causes are treatable. If a person does not have a diagnosable illness, they may wish to try natural dopamine-increasing remedies. There is no conclusive evidence that a supplement, food, or other home remedy can increase dopamine. Some small studies have found a link between vitamin D, omega-3 supplements, or magnesium and dopamine, but more research is necessary to prove this theory.

A number of healthy lifestyle strategies may help safely increase dopamine. They include:

  • Exercise
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Activities that a person enjoys, such as gardening, reading, or playing with a pet

Supplements that increase dopamine levels include:

  • Tyrosine. Tyrosine is a natural amino acid and a precursor to dopamine. (Dopamine is made from tyrosine.)
  • L-theanine. L-theanine is another precursor to dopamine.
  • Vitamin D, B5 and B6. These vitamins are needed to make dopamine.
  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids.
  • Magnesium.

Therapy may help a person manage the symptoms of low dopamine. In therapy, a person can learn to better manage symptoms of an illness such as Parkinson’s, advocate for their needs, and manage challenges such as low motivation and depression. Find a therapist to begin the process of healing.


  1. Brisch, R., Saniotis, A., Wolf, R., Bielau, H., Bernstein, H., Steiner, J., Bogerts, B., Braun, K., et al. (2014, May 19). The role of dopamine in schizophrenia from a neurobiological and evolutionary perspective: Old fashioned, but still in vogue. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 5, 47. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00047
  2. Cadman, B. (2018, January 17). Dopamine deficiency: What you need to know. Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320637.php
  3. Dopamine. (n.d.). U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Dopamine
  4. Dopamine reuptake inhibitors. (n.d.). Science Direct. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/dopamine-reuptake-inhibitors
  5. Dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome. (2019, September 10). U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/dopamine-transporter-deficiency-syndrome
  6. How addiction hijacks the brain. (2011). Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain
  7. Martorana, A., & Koch, G. (2014, September 25). Is dopamine involved in Alzheimer’s disease? Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 6, 252. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00252
  8. Symptoms of dopamine deficiency. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.anftherapy.com/brain/symptoms-of-dopamine-deficiency
  9. WHO model list of essential medicines. (2017). World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/medicines/publications/essentialmedicines/20th_EML2017.pdf?ua=1

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© Copyright 2019 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Daniel

    September 14th, 2020 at 12:28 PM

    Where can somebody buy dopamine supplements , can this be sold off the shelve? Thanks.

  • John A

    September 19th, 2020 at 10:41 AM

    The following supplements could help you: Mucuna Pruriens, Ginkgo Biloba, Magnesium
    a suggest you read some testimonial in Amazon

  • Gretta

    November 14th, 2021 at 7:36 AM

    Taking a dopamine supplement may do nothing to help you if your body isn’t producing the right amount of dopamine transporters or receptors. That’s why the article said doctors don’t usually bother testing dopamine levels.

  • Cathy sheehan

    January 17th, 2022 at 1:53 PM

    Pls email a copy of this info for myself and to share with a family member!!!

  • Susan

    January 30th, 2022 at 2:42 AM

    What type of doctor does this testing? When I am calling around trying to find someone that will actually understand enough to do the correct tests and actually understand the test results, whay kind of doctor am I looking for? When I need a heart doctor I go to a cardiologist. Who do I go to for this? Thank you

  • guy

    April 21st, 2022 at 4:40 PM

    my endocrinologist tests my dopimine level if that helps you.

  • Duh

    January 31st, 2023 at 4:55 AM

    If your brain is not producing dopamine during normal pleasurable experiences. You may have parkinsons. Apparently you can take a pill and have the fruits of laziness of your life can be cured with a caradopa/levadopa pill. You will still be an emotionally lazy person but you can physically do more and be in denial that your body can and will mess with everyone else’s life.

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