Symptoms Associated with Abnormal Dopamine Levels

From brainmatrix

Affective Disorders and Mood[edit]

(-) Depression. Dopamine has been deemed a likely contributor to the pathophysiology of depression and other affective syndromes.[1][2][3] Specifically, there is evidence that dopamine levels are deficient in depression.[2] This evidence is bolstered by research on the effects of medications that impact the dopamine system. Namely, when dopamine is increased, symptoms of depression appear to improve.[2]

(+) Mania. Heightened dopamine activity appears to contribute to mania.[4]

(+) Fear and Paranoia. Dopamine appears to play a role in anxiety, with excessive levels of dopamine leading to paranoia, including the paranoia experienced in schizophrenia.[5][6]

(-/+) Stress and Irritability. Dopamine has been implicated in irritability and aggression.[7][8] Given that it is converted endogenously into morphine, increased levels of dopamine could have stress-reducing effects.[9] Childhood sexual abuse is associated with elevated levels of dopamine, which perhaps occur as a compensatory mechanism to mitigate the stress response.[10] Increased dopamine activity has also been observed to be associated with agitated behavior in people with frontotemporal dementia.[11] Exposure to psychosocial adversity over an extended period is associated with dampened dopamine function, which may occur as a result of chronically elevated dopamine levels.[10]


(-) Concentration and Memory. Dopamine functions to translate information related to costs and benefits into working memory allocation.[12] Dopamine dysfunction is thought to underlie ADHD.[13][14] Specifically, dopamine levels are thought to contribute to ADHD and the lack of attention and focus observed in the disorder.[15][16] Low dopamine levels also predict poorer recall in healthy people.[17] Conversely, dopamine consumption increases the rate of winning in gambling games, suggesting it may enhance the focus necessary to improve performance.[18]

(+/-) Creativity. Human creativity has been shown to rely on the dopaminergic system.[19]


(-) Motivation. Dopamine is involved in value assessment and the anticipation of reward, which may explain its role in motivation and motivated behaviors.[8][20][21][22] Patients with Parkinson’s disease—thought to be caused by deficient dopamine—are often apathetic. Research into the link between Parkinson’s and motivation has revealed that dopamine appears to be particularly important for motivating high effort/high reward behaviors.[3][23]

(+/-) Risk-Taking. Increased dopamine levels are associated with emotional dysregulation and impulsivity.[8][22] Heightened dopamine levels are thought to enhance the expectations of pleasure and the subjective evaluation of hedonic experiences.[24] When dopamine levels are increased in people with bipolar disorder, these people are more likely to choose high-risk options.[20]

  • Tendency Toward Substance Abuse. It may be through similar mechanisms that increased dopamine levels lead to addictive behaviors.[5] Dopamine has a role in the processing of the addictive characteristics of drugs, and low levels of dopamine contribute to drug seeking and alcohol seeking behaviors.[8] However, both lower and higher levels of dopamine activity can contribute to substance abuse.[8]
  • Tendency Toward Gaming and Gambling. As with substance use disorders, gaming and gambling are associated with increased dopamine during gaming and gambling behaviors that results in the down regulation of dopamine and eventually low dopamine levels.[25]
  • Tendency Toward Promiscuous Sexual Behavior. Dopamine is also implicated in sexual promiscuity and infidelity.[26] As with the other contexts, the heightened dopamine release that occurs with compulsive sexual behaviors can lead to down regulation in dopamine.[25]
  • Tendency Toward Eating Disorders. Both heightened and lowered dopamine levels are associated with eating disorders.[25] In the case of the former, elevated levels likely occur in response to the stress of calorie restriction, whereas low levels are linked to anhedonia. In cases of binge eating, the stimulation of dopamine can result in dopamine signal impairment, which occurs progressively.

Physical Symptoms[edit]

(-) Restless Leg Syndrome. While the pathogenesis of restless leg syndrome is not entirely clear, it is generally agreed that the most likely cause is reduced dopamine signaling.[27] People on medication for restless leg syndrome have been shown to have increased blood plasma levels of dopamine, which suggests that impacting the dopamine system may improve restless leg syndrome symptoms.

(-) Tremor. People with Parkinson’s disease suffer from tremors, which appear to often involve low dopamine levels.[28]

(-/+) Fatigue. Dopamine is heavily implicated in fatigue, particularly when it occurs in certain disorders like multiple sclerosis. However, how dopamine contributes to fatigue is not entirely clear, as fatigue appears to result from an imbalance in dopamine rather than because of excessively low or high levels of the neurotransmitter.[29]


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