BPD Dopamine's Role in Mental Illness By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University. Learn about our editorial process Updated on June 09, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Tom M Johnson / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Dopamine? The Role of Dopamine High vs. Low Dopamine Dopamine in Mental Illness What Is Dopamine? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical released by nerve cells) that plays an important and diverse role in how your brain functions. Often called "the feel-good hormone," dopamine is involved in reward, motivation, and addiction. This chemical messenger is also involved in the coordination of body movements. The Role of Dopamine Dopamine transmits chemical messages between neurons (brain and nerve cells) by binding to dopamine receptors. The action is similar to a key slipping into a lock. Dopamine has a variety of functions and impacts multiple areas of the brain. Amygdala: Plays an important role in processing Hippocampus: Important for memory Insular cortex (also called the insula): Important for homeostasis, or how the body maintains a proper temperature, signals hunger, and regulates heartbeat and breathing Motor cortex: Deals with movement Prefrontal cortex: Important for problem-solving, complex thinking, memory, intelligence, and language Bodily Functions Dopamine plays a role in many important physical functions in the body, including: Blood vessel functionCognitive functions involving attention, learning, and working (short-term) memoryControl of nausea and vomitingHeart rateKidney functionLactationPain processingSleep and dreamingVoluntary movement Mental Health Dopamine has an important role in mental function and emotional response, including impulse control and mood regulation. There are a number of dopamine-related mental health conditions, including: AddictionAttention-deficit hyperactivity disorderBinge-eating disorderBipolar disorderDepressionObsessive-compulsive disorderSchizophrenia Motivation and Reward In addition to movement, emotion, memory, and thinking, dopamine neurons are involved in motivation and reward. This is why certain substances of abuse, especially cocaine and nicotine, are addictive. These substances stimulate the dopamine-mediated reward system in the brain. Dopamine rewards you whenever you engage in a beneficial behavior and motivates you to repeat the behavior. Using alcohol or recreational drugs also causes dopamine to be released into the brain. This is why the chemical messenger has been closely linked to addiction. High vs. Low Dopamine Having high or low dopamine activity can impact your health in a variety of ways, depending on the region of the brain where dopamine activity is excessive or inadequate. Symptoms of high dopamine activity include: AggressionAnxietyExcess energy or maniaHallucinationsHigh sex driveIncreased feelings of stressInsomniaImproved focus and learning ability Symptoms of low dopamine activity include: Chronic back painPersistent constipationWeight fluctuationsDysphagia or difficulty swallowingSleep disordersFatigueAttention difficultiesReduced sex driveHallucinations and delusionsAspiration pneumoniaLow moods There are a variety of factors that can cause fluctuations in dopamine levels, including: Drug misuseObesitySaturated fatSleep deprivationStress How to Increase Your Dopamine Levels Naturally Dopamine in Mental Illness A number of psychiatric illnesses have been linked to dopamine dysregulation, including schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression. The manner in which dopamine affects these psychiatric illnesses is unique. Depression Low levels of dopamine have been found to form the basis of the symptoms associated with major depressive disorders, including lack of interest and motivation. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder In attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), impairment in the dopamine system causes poor attention. This is why stimulants, like Ritalin (methylphenidate) or Adderall (amphetamine), which increase dopamine levels in the brain, help improve attention and alertness. Borderline Personality Disorder Some researchers believe that dopamine dysfunction may be involved in the development of borderline personality disorder (BPD). This mainly stems from studies that support dopamine's role in thinking, regulating emotions, and impulse control, all of which are impaired in people with BPD. Also, antipsychotic medications seem to reduce some BPD symptoms, especially those of anger and cognitive problems (like paranoid thinking). That being said, other experts argue that the manner in which antipsychotics benefit patients with BPD is through non-dopamine pathways. Overall, it's hard to say at this time how critical dopamine is in the development or course of BPD. More research will be helpful in elucidating this connection. Schizophrenia In schizophrenia, the dopamine system is overactive. This is why medications that block dopamine receptors in the brain (called antipsychotics) are used in its treatment. Other neurotransmitters, including GABA and glutamate, have been found to be important in schizophrenia as well. Binge-Eating Disorder One study suggests that a heightened sensitivity to reward, which could manifest as a strong dopamine signal in the brain, could be a contributing factor to BED. Certain medications that impact dopamine function are sometimes used to treat BED. A Word From Verywell Only a medical professional can diagnose a dopamine-related disorder, so if you think that you or someone you love is experiencing low or high levels of dopamine, it's important to schedule a visit with a qualified health care provider. The dopamine system is an intricate, fascinating system that participates in a number of different neurological and mental functions. By further examining dopamine's role in the brain, scientists hope to gain the information they need to develop more targeted dopamine medications—so people with dopamine-mediated illnesses, like schizophrenia, can get well and avoid undesirable side effects. 10 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Juárez Olguín H, Calderón Guzmán D, Hernández García E, Barragán Mejía G. The role of dopamine and its dysfunction as a consequence of oxidative stress. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:9730467. doi:10.1155/2016/9730467 Martikainen IK, Nuechterlein EB, Peciña M, et al. Chronic back pain is associated with alterations in dopamine neurotransmission in the ventral striatum. J Neurosci. 2015;35(27):9957-9965. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4605-14.2015 Sanger GJ. Chronic constipation: improved understanding offers a new therapeutic approach. J Physiol. 2016;594(15):4085-4087. doi:10.1113/JP272560 Polychronis S, Dervenoulas G, Yousaf T, Niccolini F, Pagano G, Politis M. Dysphagia is associated with presynaptic dopaminergic dysfunction and greater non-motor symptom burden in early drug-naïve Parkinson's patients. PLoS One. 2019;14(7):e0214352. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0214352 Blum K, Oscar-Berman M, Badgaiyan RD, Khurshid KA, Gold MS. Dopaminergic neurogenetics of sleep disorders in reward deficiency syndrome (RDS). J Sleep Disord Ther. 2014;3(2):126. doi:10.4172/2167-0277.1000e126 Mahapatra A. Overeating, obesity, and dopamine receptors. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2010;1(5):346-347. doi:10.1021/cn100044y Volkow ND, Tomasi D, Wang GJ, et al. Evidence that sleep deprivation downregulates dopamine D2R in ventral striatum in the human brain. J Neurosci. 2012;32(19):6711-6717. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0045-12.2012 Belujon P, Grace AA. Dopamine system dysregulation in major depressive disorders. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2017;20(12):1036-1046. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyx056 Chen T, Wang Y, Zhang J, et al. Abnormal concentration of GABA and glutamate in the prefrontal cortex in schizophrenia.-An in vivo 1h-mrs study. Shanghai Arch Psychiatry. 2017;29(5):277-286. doi:10.11919/j.issn.1002-0829.217004 Davis C. The epidemiology and genetics of binge eating disorder (BED). CNS Spectr. 2015;20(6):522-529. doi:10.1017/S1092852915000462 Additional Reading Ingenhoven TJM, Duivenvoorden HJ. Differential effectiveness of antipsychotics in borderline personality disorder: meta-analyses of placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials on symptomatic outcome domains. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2011;31(4):489-496. doi:10.1097/JCP.0b013e3182217a69 By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for BPD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.