Dopamine

Dopamine is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters—a chemical that ferries information between neurons. Dopamine helps regulate movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses. It also enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. Since dopamine contributes to feelings of pleasures and satisfaction as part of the reward system, the neurotransmitter also plays a part in addiction.  

Dopamine is heavily involved in the motor system. When the brain fails to produce enough dopamine, it can result in Parkinson’s disease. A primary treatment for Parkinson’s disease, therefore, is a drug called L-dopa, which spurs the production of dopamine. Dopamine has also been implicated in schizophrenia and ADHD, but its role is not fully understood. People with low dopamine activity may also be more prone to addiction. The presence of a certain kind of dopamine receptor is associated with sensation-seeking, more commonly known as risk taking.

Dopamine and Behavior

From paying attention to hallucinating, and experiencing sexual arousal, dopamine is a key molecule in the puzzle of how humans navigate the world. Accordingly, scientists who study neurological and psychiatric disorders have long been interested in how it works and how relatively high or low levels in the brain relate to behavioral challenges and disability. The brain systems underlying conditions such as schizophrenia, ADHD, and substance abuse disorder are complex—the activity of the dopamine system depends on the state of one’s dopamine receptors, for instance—and in people with these conditions, the chemical interacts with other factors in ways that have yet to be completely explained.

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