What is Dopamine and What Does It Do?

Medically Reviewed By Angelica Balingit, MD
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Dopamine is a neurotransmitter your body releases at the end of your nerve cells. It helps relay messages across your body. Dopamine is also responsible for pleasure, planning, focus, and more. As many as eight pathways in your brain utilize dopamine, which affects far more than just your mental well-being.

Too much or too little dopamine can lead to various health conditions. These conditions can be serious, such as addiction.

This article will explain what dopamine is and what it does in the body. It will also explain what health conditions associate with high or low levels of dopamine.

What is dopamine?

young woman smiling
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Dopamine is a chemical that acts as a messenger between your nerves and your brain. It is a monoamine neurotransmitter, the same as adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Dopamine is involved in creating your brain’s reward system through regulating pleasure and reinforcement. This reward system can encourage addiction.

Even small imbalances of dopamine across your body can alter your mood. These imbalances may also correlate with the later development of other health conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease.

What is the role of dopamine in the body?

Dopamine plays an extensive role in your mental and physical functioning, such as:

  • your ability to learn and hold focus
  • general mood
  • effective and controlled movement
  • memory
  • sleep
  • control of nausea
  • kidney function
  • blood vessel regulation and function
  • pain processing

After your brain creates dopamine, it releases it into your bloodstream. It can play a small role in your fight-or-flight response. This is your body’s response to a perceived threat, determining the most effective reaction.

How does dopamine make you feel happy?

Many people call dopamine the “feel-good” hormone, as it is part of your internal reward system. It provides you with both a positive feeling and the motivation to repeat that action that caused you pleasure.

From an evolutionary perspective, dopamine developed to reward humans for maintaining their health. This included remaining hydrated, staying fed, and competing to survive. This is why you seek out behaviors that cause a dopamine release, triggering your internal reward system.

When you do something pleasurable, your brain releases more dopamine into your bloodstream. This, in turn, lifts your mood and rewards you for completing that activity.

This is how addiction to sugary foods occurs. These foods contain very high concentrations of a substance that would be a rare find in nature. Because your body has adapted to think sugar is rare, it rewards you for finding it.

What do high levels of dopamine feel like?

With elevated levels of dopamine in your system, you may feel:

  • happy
  • confident
  • motivated
  • alert
  • focused

However, having high levels of dopamine can also look like:

  • mania
  • hallucinations
  • aggressive behaviors
  • poor impulse control
  • trouble sleeping
  • delusions

Excess dopamine can result in several issues, such as:

What do low levels of dopamine feel like?

Low dopamine levels can greatly reduce your motivation and ability to become excited.

You may experience symptoms of depression, such as:

  • fatigue
  • lack of enjoyment of activities you normally find interesting
  • inability to concentrate
  • low sex drive.

What are health conditions associated with high or low levels of dopamine?

Determining whether a condition comes from or causes a dopamine balance is difficult. There is still much to learn.

Conditions associated with elevated levels of dopamine include:

  • obesity
  • addiction
  • mania
  • schizophrenia

Conditions associated with declines in levels of dopamine include:

Read more about Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia here.

What is the role of dopamine in mental health?

Dopamine and serotonin are involved in several bodily processes. If you experience an imbalance, you may develop different medical conditions.

Low mood and depression can result from low levels of dopamine. High dopamine levels can result in positive feelings, such as motivation and joy. High levels of dopamine often provide you with a sense of achievement.

However, these responses happen regardless of whether their cause is genuine or not. For example, you may form an addiction to gambling due to this reward mechanism.

It is important to be aware of the risks of such activities. If you feel you may be struggling, seek help from a mental health professional as soon as possible.

Read more about serotonin here.

How can you increase levels of dopamine naturally?

If you suspect you may lack dopamine, some at-home remedies may help. However, consult a mental health professional first if you are concerned about your mental health.

  • Do more of what you enjoy: More specifically, do more of what makes you happy. This builds the natural production of dopamine.
  • Vitamins: Ensure you are getting enough vitamin D. If you do not get enough from your diet, your doctor may recommend high-strength supplements.
  • Avoid non-nutritious foods: Consume less saturated fat and opt for more nutritious options, such as vegetables and fruit. Large quantities of non-nutritious food can disrupt dopamine signaling in the brain. Studies indicate these changes regardless of changes in body weight and fat.


Dopamine serves many cognitive and neurological functions in the body, including pleasure, reward, focus, and motivation.

High and low levels of dopamine may correlate with different conditions, such as depression or Parkinson’s.

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Medical Reviewer: Angelica Balingit, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 27
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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