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What Is the Connection between Dopamine and ADHD?

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  • Written By: Kristeen Moore
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter, or brain chemical. It helps level out the nervous system, thereby reducing anxiety and stress, and it is responsible for feelings of motivation. When a person has optimal dopamine levels, that person has control over his or her feelings and mood. Researchers have found a connection between low dopamine levels and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is thought that reduced dopamine in the brain is one of the causes of ADHD.

ADHD is a health condition that starts during childhood and can progress through adulthood when left untreated. The condition, which has become increasingly common, is marked by a difficulty to focus, overactive behavior, a lack of organization skills, poor self-esteem and acting out on impulse. Children who have ADHD often have problems in school academically and socially.

There are different theories about how a child develops ADHD. Some environmental factors, such as toxins, can affect a child’s brain development. More commonly, it is believed that ADHD is hereditary. A lack of dopamine in the brain is developed before birth or during early childhood. Environmental elements might further influence dopamine and ADHD, but they are not considered to be the sole cause.

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Dopamine and ADHD are linked to an increased risk of drug and alcohol use. Prolonged dopamine exposure can cause unsettled moods and depression. One of the reasons that many people start abusing drugs and alcohol is to help level out their mood. Drugs also tend to increase dopamine levels, which is why some patients who have ADHD are at risk of abusing them. The fact that ADHD causes impulsive behavior only increases the risk of trying alcohol and drugs, particularly at a young age.

Certain medications are used to treat dopamine and ADHD. Physicians generally prescribe stimulating drugs, such as amphetamine and methylphenidate. These stimulants also increase the amount of neurotransmitters, including dopamine. Symptoms of hyperactivity are reduced while patients are on the medication. After a patient stops using this medication, however, symptoms of ADHD are likely to return.

Antidepressants might also help level out dopamine levels, thereby reducing symptoms of anxiety and stress. Such medications are sometimes used instead of stimulants, and they are more common in older children and adults. Physicians generally regard antidepressants as an alternative when a patient doesn’t respond to stimulants.

Researchers have continued to examine the effects of low dopamine and ADHD. The brain is a complex organ, with several chemicals. A dopamine imbalance is just one of the causes of ADHD.

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