What Is the Function of Dopamine in the Brain?

Dopamine plays a role in mood and decision-making.
Cocaine may cause excessive dopamine production in the brain, leading to exaggerated feelings of joy and pleasure.
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  • Written By: Nicole Long
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 16 December 2014
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Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain. The various functions and responsibilities of the brain that dopamine helps control include behavior, mental health, and voluntary movement. Other functions of dopamine in the brain include roles involved with reward-seeking behavior, memory, and the ability to learn.

Behavior can be influenced by the chemical messenger dopamine. For instance, those suffering from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are believed to have an inadequate amount of dopamine neurotransmission. This deficiency can lead to erratic behavior and difficulty concentrating. Treatment with medications can help treat ADHD and other similar disorders.

Dopamine can also affect other aspects of mental health. Low levels of dopamine are common in those with social anxiety. Those suffering from bipolar disorder are also susceptible to any increases or decreases related to dopamine levels in the brain. For instance, low levels are typical during depressive states of the disease, while high levels are common during the manic phase. Antipsychotics can help control the level of dopamine in the brain and reduce the drastic mood swings that occur with the disease.

Voluntary movements are another function of dopamine in the brain. This includes helping a person conduct movement in a smooth and controlled manner. A deficiency of dopamine can lead to diseases commonly associated with uncontrollable movements, such as Parkinson’s disease.

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Reward-seeking behavior is a motivation to do something potentially harmful that may bring about a pleasant experience. This is best seen when studying drug addiction. Some drugs, such as cocaine and nicotine, can lead to an increase in dopamine and exaggerated or prolonged feelings of enjoyment and pleasure. Drugs that affect dopamine production can also affect emotional health through the over stimulation or under stimulation of the portion of the brain that controls emotion and behavior.

The production of dopamine in the brain plays an important role in memory and the ability to solve problems. Particularly in the frontal lobes, dopamine controls many cognitive functions associated with learning. Memory, the ability to concentrate, and the ability to solve complex problems can all be reduced if dopamine levels in the frontal lobes are reduced below adequate levels.

Various other functions of the human body are related to dopamine activity in the brain. This includes the ability to process pain signals and help process various reactions to perceived danger. Dopamine has also been linked to an increase in creativity and controlling nausea and vomiting.

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burcidi
Post 7

@burcinc-- That's actually a great question. I think we are still learning about dopamine and its functions in the brain.

Dopamine is also produced outside of the brain though. For example, it's produced in the kidneys and some medical professions have various theories about the functions of kidney's dopamine. They believe that it is directly correlated with our blood pressure, how long we live and any kidney diseases that might develop as we age.

So it's true that dopamine has more functions than we know of right now. Doctors are looking at how dopamine works in the brain and elsewhere separately. But who knows what we will learn in a few years.

burcinc
Post 6

Dopamine seems to have such wide-ranging functions. Things like memory, learning, movement and mental health are some of the most important roles of our brain.

Not just these, our brain gives orders to our organs and even individual cells. This was one of the first things we learned in biology classes in school.

Do you think that dopamine might have more functions in the brain and body than we realize?

If it can impact how we move or think, it seems like it could impact just about anything. Do we really know enough about dopamine and the brain?

discographer
Post 5

@Perdido-- I read an article about dopamine the other day. Apparently, some scientists did a study about the relationship between dopamine levels and social standing and found that people with higher social standing and more success have higher levels of dopamine in their brain.

If that's true, developing your social contacts, meeting and mingling with more people and achieving things will increase dopamine levels in the brain.

I know that serotonin, which is also very influential on feelings of enjoyment, satisfaction and happiness can be increased by exercising, spending time in nature and just doing things you enjoy. I'm not sure if the same goes for dopamine, but I don't think it could hurt either.

seag47
Post 4

@lighth0se33 - There is no cure for Parkinson's, but there are ways to manage the symptoms. The drugs used for this all have some sort of effect on dopamine.

Some of them control the way your body metabolizes it, and others mimic its effects. The drugs can help lessen the shaking, but they won't stop it completely.

My grandmother has been dealing with Parkinson's for years now. The medicine keeps her from convulsing, though she still shakes a bit.

Doctors also sometimes choose to implant electrodes into a patient's brain that will help them manage their movements. I know a man who had this surgery, and something went wrong with an electrode in his brain one day, and he went insane. I would much rather that my grandmother take the dopamine-like drugs.

lighth0se33
Post 3

I always knew that Parkinson's was some sort of brain problem, but I didn't know that it was caused by a dopamine deficiency. That is a terrible disease, and as far as I know, there is no cure for it.

A lady in my church has Parkinson's. She used to play piano for the church, but as her disease progressed, this became impossible. Her hands are so shaky that she can't hold them in place anymore.

She is probably in her nineties by now. She cannot sit still during the service. Her head shakes constantly.

I know that has to be a miserable way to live. I guess that once Parkinson's sets in, it's too late to inject a person with extra dopamine.

Oceana
Post 2

@Perdido - There are some companies that market dopamine supplements, but I don't totally trust those. If I put anything in my body, I want it to be all natural.

I have heard that ginkgo biloba can increase dopamine levels. Also, drinking green tea can help.

I recently read that several foods can stimulate dopamine action in your body. I have started eating some of these, and I really do feel better.

Some foods on the list are bananas, avocados, almonds, and sesame and pumpkin seeds. Dairy products are supposed to help, too, but I haven't tried these because I am lactose intolerant. My friend eats lima beans every night, because her doctor told her they might increase her dopamine levels, and she is convinced that it is helping.

Perdido
Post 1

Does anyone know if there is a way to increase dopamine levels in the brain? I suffer from mild depression and lack of motivation, and I would love to stimulate my brain to make me feel better.

I don't want to take medication for depression because of the potential side effects. I don't think that I fit the description of someone with bipolar disorder. I am just really tired all the time, and I don't feel much joy from anything anymore.

I'm glad to hear that this is likely a lack of dopamine, instead of just an outlook on life that I can't correct. I hope there is a way to raise my dopamine levels.

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