Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, transmits signals from neurons to neurons, though few neurons make dopamine. It is when these dopamine neurons are activated that they release the dopamine. There are two parts of the brain that are involved, the substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area, or VTA. The VTA dopamine neurons are connected with unexpected rewards. Some findings have also suggested that dopamine is released when there is relief from an aversive event, which in itself would be a reward. According to the "Psychology Today" website, dopamine is associated with initiating muscle movement, euphoria, sleeplessness, loss of appetite and motivation. It is also noted to take part in attention and the ability to concentrate.
Illegal and medicinal drugs have the ability to raise dopamine. This is most commonly seen with Parkinson’s disease and the drug treatment of Levodopa. Parkinson’s targets dopamine receptors, depleting the chemical, while Levodopa works to replace lost dopamine. Ritalin, another dopamine-enhancing drug, for the treatment of attention deficit disorder, works to add more dopamine to help with fidgety, unfocused behaviors. Stimulants, such as alcohol and cocaine, are drugs that release dopamine in the brain.
A study done at Vanderbilt University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine has connected risk taking and thrill seeking behavior directly to dopamine, as stated by the Treatment Solutions Network website. The results of 34 individuals showed that the risk takers had less dopamine receptors than the non-risk takers. Their brains are unable to limit the amount of dopamine released, therefore making the risk a big high and subsequently leaving them wanting more.
According to the Science Daily website, insomnia can increase dopamine levels in the brain. A study conducted with healthy sleep participants showed that sleep deprivation increased dopamine in the striatum, connected with motivation and reward, and the thalamus, connected with alertness. It would seem that sleep deprivation promotes wakefulness compensating for the loss of sleep. This is also shown with stimulants designed to prevent sleep, such as amphetamines, by increasing dopamine.
Falling in Love
Dopamine has a role in the limbic system, which controls emotions. According to the "Psychology Today" website, Dr. Helen Fisher theorizes that falling in love, the feeling of infatuation, has to do with brain chemistry and is directly related to dopamine. Dopamine has already been connected with euphoria and feelings of elatedness. Increased levels of dopamine create loss of sleep and appetite, excess energy, as well as a “natural high.” These closely resemble what it feels like to fall in love.
According to Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist, "In animal studies conducted elsewhere, exercise has been found to increase dopamine release and to raise the number of dopamine receptors.” Along with exercise, certain foods and supplements also raise the level of dopamine in the brain. Supplements such as vitamin C and E will increase dopamine. Foods either containing tyrosine or antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or dairy products will raise dopamine levels.
- Science Daily: Science News: One Sleepless Night Increases Dopamine in the Human Brain
- "Psychology Today": From Mouse to Man: What is Dopamine?
- "Psychology Today": The Plunge of Pleasure
- Treatment Solutions Network: Dopamine Plays a Role in Risk-Taking and Drug Addiction
- Brookhaven National Laboratory: Scientists Find Link Between Dopamine and Obesity