Dopamine deficiency is implicated in depression, addictions, Parkinson’s, ADHD, and other conditions. Understand the connection and learn what you can do.
Common low dopamine symptoms include:
- lack of motivation
- inability to experience pleasure
- hard time getting going in the morning
- mood swings
- memory loss
- inability to focus and concentrate
- inability to connect with others
- low libido
- sugar cravings
- caffeine cravings
- inability to handle stress
- inability to lose weight
Since dopamine is involved in a variety of brain functions, low extracellular levels of this neurotransmitter can result in a variety of unwanted symptoms.
- Attention deficits: Many individuals with attentional deficits are speculated to have abnormally low levels of dopamine. If you have below average levels of dopamine, it’s going to make it tougher to pay attention and focus. We know that administration of amphetamines (drugs which elevate dopamine) is able to improve attentional capacities of individuals who struggle with attention. Low dopamine may not be the sole reason for attention deficits, but those with lower than average dopamine will likely struggle to focus their attention.
- Anxiety: Those with anxiety disorders have probably heard that high dopamine can exacerbate nervousness, tension, and anxiety. Certainly higher than average dopamine can be problematic, but abnormally low dopamine causes anxiety in a subset of individuals. These individuals often find that taking a drug like Adderall for anxiety actually improves their symptoms.
- Blunted affect: A decrease in the level of dopamine often results in a person to appear “blunted” or as if they have emotionally flat-lined. They won’t show much capacity for expressing feelings of joy, excitement, happiness, but they also won’t really express sadness or panic. Low dopamine causes a person to appear emotionally “grey” or as if they’ve become a robot.
- Cognitive impairment: It’s tough to perform well cognitively when you don’t have enough dopamine. Insufficient dopamine can result in suboptimal job performance, inability to complete cognitively-demanding tasks, and poor memory. As a means to optimize dopamine levels, many top-performers supplement agents or drugs that deliberately elevate their brain’s baseline dopamine level.
- Confusion: It’s relatively easy to become confused when your brain isn’t producing enough dopamine. Learning new things won’t make as much sense as they should, you may experience excessive brain fog, and have a difficult time functioning in society. Increasing dopamine tends to decrease confusion and promotes psychomotor vigilance.
- Depersonalization: Dopamine promotes emotional expression and helps us process how we feel. With low levels of dopamine, it may feel as if all of the color and zest gets sucked out of life. A person with dopaminergic-based depersonalization may feel as if no activity brings them pleasure. They feel as if their “core” personality has changed and as if they are observing themselves from a third-person perspective. It is common for addicts with low dopamine to become depersonalized.
- Depression: Low dopamine can be a major contributor to depressive symptoms. Anyone with abnormally low dopamine is likely to experience a depression that differs from a serotonergic depression, despite the fact that both share common overt observational symptoms. Those that end up taking a drug like Adderall for depression over a long-term with success may have needed a dopamine boost rather than serotonin.
- Disorganized thinking: Those who have severely disorganized thinking tend to have low levels of dopamine. Sufficient dopamine helps us organize and logically sort through our thoughts. Those that develop conditions likedisorganized schizophrenia may have abnormally low dopamine in certain parts of the brain.
- Fatigue: Without enough dopamine for fuel, you may feel excessively tired or lethargic. When a person that’s been using amphetamines daily for an extended term stops using them, they typically feel more tired than usual. This is a fatigue that’s directly influenced by abnormally low levels of dopamine. Over time without a relapse, the dopamine stores will increase and energy levels will normalize.
- Lack of motivation: Low dopamine can also lead to avolition or severe motivational deficits. Slightly reduced dopamine production may make you feel more tired than usual and feel lazy. Severe deficits can result in motivational impairment to the point that it’s difficult to justify doing work or engaging in proper self-care.
- Learning problems: If you’re a person with low dopamine and are attempting to learn new information, your ability to learn is diminished. It may seem as if you’re reading or hearing information, but it’s going in one ear and out the other. Almost like you cannot absorb the new informational stimuli that you’ve presented your brain.
- Poor concentration: You may have foggy thinking, be susceptible to daydreams, and have a tough time focusing when necessary. Low dopamine can create a state of mental fogginess, making it tougher than usual to concentrate. This is why those with concentration problems often find thatADHD medications (or psychostimulants) improve their ability to focus.
- Inattentiveness: Those with the inattentive subtype of ADHD may get the most benefit from increasing their dopamine. While low dopamine certainly isn’t the only factor that causes inattentiveness, it likely plays a role. Inattentiveness can sometimes be offset by increasing extracellular levels of dopamine.
- Low libido: A person with low dopamine tends to have a reduced interest in sex. They may have less desire to seek out a sexual partner and may have a non-existent sex drive. In some cases anorgasmia or inability to orgasm may result due to the fact that they lack dopamine to sustain interest. Low libido tends to quickly turn around when dopamine levels increase.
- Memory impairment: Those with neurodegenerative diseases often suffer memory impairment as a result of dysfunction within the brain’s dopamine system. The dysfunction results in abnormally low amounts of dopamine and memory functions become impaired. While low dopamine certainly isn’t the only cause of memory problems, increasing dopamine (via pharmaceuticals) tends to help improve recall.
- Monotone speech: A person’s speech may become extremely monotone, which is indicative of the fact that they are lacking pleasure. Life isn’t really as “bright” as it should be when dopamine levels are low. Voices of those with low dopamine may sound robotic and lack any emotional enthusiasm in a positive or negative direction. This is associated with blunted affect which was mentioned earlier.
- Sleepiness: If your dopamine levels are low, you may feel more sleepy than usual. It isn’t uncommon to engage in excessive sleep as a way for your brain to increase dopamine production. Those withdrawing from stimulatory drugs like amphetamines typically notice that they are more sleepy than usual upon discontinuation. This is due to the fact that their dopamine levels are below baseline.
- Slow thinking: While thinking slow can sometimes be a result of preexisting genetically homeostatic neural pathways, it can also be a result of a dopamine deficiency. Those that consider themselves “slow thinkers” may find that their thinking is further slowed with reduced dopamine. Increasing dopamine tends to increase arousal, beta brain waves, and thought speed.
- Social withdrawal: Since low dopamine saps the pleasure from life, it is common for those with low levels to withdraw from social situations. A person may no longer get pleasure from talking to friends, partaking in social activities, etc. The dopaminergic “feel good” reward from engaging with others in social situations is no longer present. This can provoke social isolation, which over time, can also result in poorer functioning of dopamine.
- Weight changes: Generally a person with low dopamine may not derive as much interest in eating food as someone with greater production of dopamine. However, most people with low dopamine find that their metabolism is slowed, they sleep more than usual, and have a difficult time sustaining physical activity. This usually results in weight gain whereas higher dopamine production tends to stimulate weight loss.
If you have excessively low dopamine, you may run into problems with coordination, balance, communication, and thinking. Understand that excessively low dopamine tends to occur with neurodegenerative diseases and severe mental illness.
- Balance difficulties: Since dopamine is involved in motor functions and balance, someone with a deficiency may have difficulty maintaining proper balance. They may also find that their coordination is substantially impaired in direct relation to low dopamine production.
- Inability to write: Writing is an activity that requires significant cognitive horsepower. One of the neurotransmitters that fuels a person’s ability to write with clarity and focus is that of dopamine. If you’re lacking dopamine, you may have writing difficulties or may not be able to write at all (assuming your coordination is also affected). Think of a case of writer’s block on steroids.
- Postural changes: Low dopamine can result in postural changes. A person with low dopamine may sit with a rigid posture or may appear completely stiff and uncomfortable. This is likely due to the fact that certain regions of the brain (e.g. motor circuits) aren’t getting the dopamine necessary to operate properly.
- Severe disorganization: While disorganization is often a common sign of schizophrenia, it can be a sign of a number of other dopaminergic disorders. Dopamine dysfunction accompanied by low levels can result in disorganized thinking, behavior, communication, etc. A person may lose their entire capacity to function logically.
- Speech problems: A person with deficient dopamine may have disorganized speech and/or may not be able to properly speak. Some people with low dopamine may speak infrequently, babble, or make sounds rather than elocute words properly. This is a problem that
- Tremors: Some tremors and restlessness may be fueled by insufficient dopamine production. While lack of dopamine is not always the sole cause of “shakes” or tremors, it can be a contributing factor. Medications that increase dopamine to standard levels can help offset this problem.