Dopamine vs. Serotonin
Dopamine and serotonin were once terms that people only used in medical and research settings. However, given the prevalence of drug abuse and mental health issues today, their usage is becoming more commonplace.
In this post, we discuss what these neurotransmitters are, how they affect your mood and how drugs can impact them.
Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that the brain and nervous system use to communicate. They are signaling molecules that transmit messages across the gaps between nerve endings themselves, or muscles and glands.
Neurotransmitters are responsible for multiple processes in the body, including setting your heart rate, digestion patterns, mood, sleep cycles, concentration, and appetite. There are many types that each have unique functions.
Types of Neurotransmitters
The Main Groups
There are dozens of neurotransmitters with more than 100 different types identified to date. Researchers categorize them into three main groups:
- Excitatory neurotransmitters induce a target cell to take action
- Inhibitory neurotransmitters reduce cell action and, often, have a relaxing effect
- Modulatory neurotransmitters send multiple messages at the same time and can communicate with other neurotransmitters
A Few Types of Neurotransmitters
- Dopamine – Dopamine helps reinforce behaviors that make a person “feel good”. It is needed for your balance, motivation, attention, and reward/goal directed behavior. Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter.
- Serotonin – Serotonin is responsible for regulating mood, blood clotting, sleep and the body’s circadian rhythm. It helps us cope when we are frustrated or stressed, provides calmness and patience. It also provides a few memory and learning functions.
- Adrenaline – In stressful situations, this neurotransmitters is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response
- Melatonin – Regulates our sleep and wake cycle
Drug Abuse and Neurotransmitter Imbalances
Life circumstances and medical conditions cause changes in neurotransmitter levels in the body and brain. In some cases, these lead people to seek out substances that can restore balance.
Unfortunately, most illicit substances (such as cocaine and amphetamines) do not restore neurotransmitter levels to normal. Studies by NIDA, for instance, suggest that drug misuse may boost neurotransmitter levels between two and ten times that of conventional pleasures, such as food or sex.
This flood of neurotransmitters into the brain following drug use produces a temporary high. To restore balance, nerve cells respond by reducing the number of neurotransmitter receptors on their surfaces so that they can avoid highs in the future. Unfortunately, this adaptation requires the user to increase their drug consumption the next time around, starting the process all over again.
Drugs that Impact Neurotransmitters
Virtually all drugs impact neurotransmitters. Here are some common drugs and their mode of action:
- Opioids: Opioids trigger excess production of dopamine, leading to temporary pain relief.
- Methamphetamine: Methamphetamine mimics the action of serotonin and dopamine
- Cocaine: Cocaine works by blocking the dopamine transporter, preventing its removal from the brain, thereby increasing concentrations
- Alcohol: Alcohol leads to the release of dopamine and endogenous opiates within the body.
Serotonin vs. Dopamine Deficiency Symptoms
Serotonin deficiency symptoms can include:
- Sleep-wake cycle dysregulation
- Appetite problems
- Chronic pain
- Memory and learning issues
Dopamine deficiency symptoms can include:
- Muscle cramps and spasms
- Feeling fatigued
- Low self-worth
- Suicidal thoughts
- Low sex drive
- Inability to focus
- Loss of balance
- Problems with sleep
Patients can sometimes have both dopamine and serotonin deficiency at the same time, producing a combination of symptoms.