Can dopamine prevent relapse?

Can dopamine prevent relapse?

Addiction is often triggered by dopamine-fueled feelings. For decades, it has been known that our brains are addicted to dopamine and other drugs. The addiction is driven by a surge in neurotrasmissions.

Too much or too little dopamine can impact your well-being.

It is still unclear whether an individual is addicted to dopamine or to the behavior or action that causes dopamine to be released. Scientists tend to favor the latter. Understanding addiction and the role of dopamine in the brain is key to understanding the issue.

Addiction to dopamine

Addiction goes beyond liking something. It is more than just wanting it. An analysis of research on addiction sought to define addiction. This article outlines 5 components of addiction.

  1. Engaging with the behavior to satisfy an urge
  2. Preoccupied with the behavior
  3. Only temporarily sated after engaging with the behavior
  4. Losing control of the behavior
  5. Continue the behavior even if it has negative consequences

American Society of Addiction Medicine expands on this definition by stating that addiction can be a brain disease that affects reward, memory, motivation, and other brain areas. Addiction is caused by a malfunction in this system. As stated by the ASAM definition of addiction, addiction can be caused by both chronic misuse or excessive use of substances. This happens when the dopamine system doesn’t function properly. It is not the substance that causes addiction, but the dysfunction of the dopamine systems.

Why do we crave it?

Dopamine can make us feel happy. Dopamine works by rewarding us for the behaviors we perform. These rewards motivate us to perform the behavior more often. They encourage us to eat and meet our survival needs. This reward/motivation system can be very beneficial, unless we are suffering from addictions like drug addiction. We are more likely to pursue what we want and to feel rewarded when it is achieved.

Dopamine is released to anticipate the reward. The reward is felt immediately after we have received it. That feeling is what we want again. Is that the dopamine we are looking for? It is in a sense. However, scientifically speaking, we are looking for substances or behaviors that provide dopamine. These substances and behaviors are what we are addicted to, not dopamine.

What happens if you are dopamine deficient?

Dopamine is essential for survival. You wouldn’t be capable of doing anything without it. You can have low levels of dopamine if you have some but not enough dopamine.

What if you have too much dopamine?

An overabundance in dopamine has been linked with mental disorders such as schizophrenia. This complex condition affects many parts of your brain and can lead to dysfunctional thinking. This overabundance of dopamine is not due to an addiction or craving for dopamine.

Can Dopamine Addiction Cause Mental and Physical Disorders?

Problems in the dopamine systems can lead to mental and physical disorders.

Do these conditions result from these problems? This is not yet clear. Dopamine addiction and dopamine are complex topics. It’s possible that different conditions will lead to different results. There is a possibility that other factors are at play and the dysfunction of the dopamine systems could be a result.

Addiction to dopamine & depression

Dopamine is linked to depression. If you are suffering from depression, it is likely that dopamine is not the only neurotransmitter at play. Dopamine may cause depression in certain people more than others. Your biochemical makeup will determine the impact of dopamine on your depression. Addictions are often linked to depression and the dopamine-related changes. Dopamine antidepressants like bupropion, which are dopamine-depressants, can be used to treat both depression and addiction. This is why the depression-dopamine link plays an important role in treating many conditions, especially addictions.

Dopamine Production

Dopamine dysfunctions can cause both mental and physical problems. However, it is still controversial as to whether dopamine addiction is actually a problem. Many scientists believe that dopamine addiction is caused by an addiction to trigger behaviors that dopamine production. This argument can be better understood if you first know the most common triggers for dopamine production.

Cocaine & Dopamine

Dopamine and cocaine go hand in hand. Dopamine releases dopamine, which makes you feel good for a short time. The feeling of high is so strong that you want to retake it. Your dopamine system starts to change over time and your dopamine receptors are less accessible for rewards.

In short, your brain doesn’t release as much dopamine when you use more cocaine. When you stop using, you feel intense cravings and your pleasure from the drug declines. Your brain chemistry is affected by cocaine dopamine dysfunction.

It is essential to seek treatment if you reach this stage. 

Marijuana & Dopamine

The recent legalization of marijuana in many states makes it the most popular drug in the United States. What is the link between marijuana and dopamine? Marijuana is one of the most popular drugs. Dopamine levels are affected by all drugs of abuse. Marijuana triggers the dopamine’s anticipatory reward reaction. This can cause addiction and continued use of weed.

Alcohol & Dopamine

Similar to other substances and behaviors, dopamine and alcohol can cause non-drug reward responses to decrease as addiction progresses. This occurs in the mesolimbic systems. The mesolimbic pathway, also referred to as the reward pathway, is a dopaminergic pathway in the brain.  This dopamine pathway causes a loss of behavioral control. The dopamine system will change over time and the amount of dopamine released will drop. This means that you will need to drink more alcohol to achieve the same “feel good” feeling.


Even after the physical and chemical dependence has been removed, the psychological desire for more can persist for many months or even years. Many young people who are in recovery find that their psychological cravings for more lead to physical cravings. For example, euphoric recall can trigger dopamine production in the brain. This process basically convinces the brain that it has already ingested drugs or alcohol. The brain then experiences withdrawal symptoms and craves that same pleasure again.

Stressful triggers are often the cause of relapse. Recognizing that dopamines can increase relapse risk is an important tool in recovery. Recognizing and managing trigger situations is an important part of recovery. The solution to unfavorable situations, thoughts and emotions is not alcohol or drugs.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, Through the Archway is here for you. Our South Florida-based team serves guests from across the United States and international communities. With decades of experience, we can help you achieve permanent sobriety and other personal goals.


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