If you've ever wondered why you usually feel better after drinking a cup of coffee, the answer might surprise you. Caffeine increases your brain's production of one of the "feel-good" neurotransmitters known as dopamine. Among its other functions, dopamine is well-known for its pleasure-enhancing properties.
Pleasure isn't dopamine's only function. Dopamine plays a critical role in emotional and mental health. According to a a 2005 article in "Monitor on Psychology," a publication of the American Psychological Association, dopamine is associated with motor control, motivation and desire. Dopamine is also important for emotion, cognition, food intake, endocrine regulation and several other vital bodily functions. A review published in the January 1998 journal, "Physiological Reviews," states that problems with dopamine regulation may be linked to disorders such as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and others. Abusing certain drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, causes an abnormally large production of dopamine in your brain.
How Caffeine Influences Dopamine
Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed substances, present in many beverages such as cola, tea and coffee as well as food products such as chocolate. As with cocaine and methamphetamine, caffeine causes an increase in your brain's production of dopamine, leading to increased feelings of well-being and a positive mood. According to authors Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer in their book, "The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug," just like these illegal drugs, caffeine produces increased concentrations of dopamine in your brain synapses.
A review published in the July 1997 issue of the journal "Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior" states that preclinical behavioral studies show that caffeine produces an increase in behavior associated with dopamine-enhancing drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine. A study published in the August 2002 issue of the journal "Psychopharmacology" researched the addictive properties of caffeine due to its influence on increased dopamine production and acetylcholine in laboratory rats. While most of the studies regarding caffeine's influence on dopamine have been conducted on laboratory rats, the findings of these studies may be extrapolated to apply to humans as well.
Caffeine is thought to have low potential for abuse and is therefore considered to be an atypical stimulant drug, according to a March 2005 review published in the journal, "Behavioural Pharmacology." However, any drug taken in excess can result in harmful effects. According to the Partnership at Drugfree.org, caffeine tolerance results in a need to consume higher levels of caffeine. If taken in high quantities, caffeine can cause jitteriness, tension and disrupted sleep. Withdrawal symptoms from caffeine can result in symptoms similar to those of other stimulant-type drugs.