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Dopamine is an incredibly important molecule within the brain. Though it was originally synthesised in 1910, its role as a neurotransmitter did not become clear until 1958.
This discovery won a Nobel Prize in 2000.
Neurotransmitters are chemical substances in the brain that are released in order to send chemical messages and impulses across the nerves and synapses within the human brain and communicate different functions.
The production of dopamine is focussed within the hypothalamus which is the area of the brain associated with homeostasis – keeping the body at a constant and steady rate.
In general, dopamine is considered to play a key role in pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. These are all areas of reward and behaviour that can play a key role in addiction and the development of a substance use disorder (1).
Individuals struggling with addiction may have varying levels of dopamine which can cause serious issues when it comes to the cycle of addiction and working toward rehabilitation.
Dopamine is one of the key neurotransmitters in the brain. Without it, humans would not be able to function throughout daily life, and changes in the levels of dopamine can have serious impacts on the individual’s social, financial, and career situations.
In general, dopamine is most heavily associated with changes in the endocrine system (control of hormones), cognition, emotion, and positive reinforcement.
This is especially important in the field of addiction, as dopamine is known as the ‘feel-good’ hormone.
This is because dopamine is known to give the user a sense of pleasure when engaging in ‘rewarding behaviours’.
In the case of addiction, this refers to the consumption of the substance they are addicted to, something which may cause a dopamine release and therefore the associated pleasure that comes with this.
Over time, this association would become stronger and stronger, leading to a release of dopamine upon consumption of an addictive substance that would not be present without it.
There are many factors that can influence how an individual’s dopamine levels may fluctuate over time. These are individual factors and cannot be generalised to every individual, though the most common reasons are those that are most often seen.
The most common reasons for low dopamine levels are listed below:
Although dopamine is a chemical naturally produced by the body, there are many things that can influence how the levels of dopamine vary from day to day, as well as how to ‘control’ an individual’s dopamine in some cases.
No method will ever be 100% successful in boosting dopamine levels, but there are some top tips that individuals can adopt to begin the process of restoring their dopamine levels to a normal level.
These should be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle, balanced with other aspects of the individual’s life such as their social life, financial situation, and their career/schoolwork.
The following paragraphs highlight the key ways in which someone can naturally increase their dopamine levels. Individuals should try out each one, seeing how it affects their everyday lives as well as their dopamine levels in the long term.
As mentioned above, an unhealthy or unbalanced diet can lead to a decrease in dopamine levels, so it only makes sense that maintaining a healthy diet is the best way to overcome this.
Using advice based on the individual’s age, weight, gender, and metabolism, individuals can find and create custom diet plans for their individual needs
This includes making diet plans that include foods and substances from all food groups, leading to the development and maintenance of a long term diet plan.
If the individual deems it necessary, it is also possible to hire personal diet planners and individuals whowill help you stick to this. Some individualsopt to join group diet plans and stick with their groups to stay on track to continue working on and developing their programmes.
Foods that are especially proven to boost dopamine levels include foods rich in tyrosine – a substance present in most proteins (3). This can be found in foods such as almonds, eggs, chicken, and fish.
In the short term, some processed sugars, such as those found in sweets and fizzy drinks can have a positive boost on the individual’s dopamine levels. However, in the long term, this is not the case.
This is similar to the effect caused by alcohol and other recreational drugs where the individual’s dopamine levels are temporarily boosted, but still have an effect on the individual’s ability to produce their own dopamine naturally.
Individuals who consume large amounts of processed sugars may be familiar with a ‘sugar rush’ in other words, a sudden increase in dopamine levels, leading to increased pleasure and the feeling of reward. These are the feelings associated with increased dopamine levels.
If an individual is struggling with low dopamine levels, decreasing the number of processed sugars that they consume can assist in increasing these levels and returning dopamine regulation to a natural process within the body.
Exercise is an activity that is suggested for multiple health issues – both physical and mental. This is because exercise promotes a healthy lifestyle, often co-occurring with a healthy diet as well as other tips on this list.
Specifically, exercise can boost the health of the individual’s brain, including the increase of dopamine levels.
The exact reason why this occurs has not been fully researched yet, and there are still multiple individuals and research groups working to connect the two phenomena.
However, exercise is known to engage the brain, perhaps activating the rewards and pleasure areas of the brain, as well as areas associated with cognition; the brain is conducting multiple processes at once when individuals exercise, stimulating activity and the firing of neurons within the brain.
In some cases, individuals who go jogging, running, or professionally compete in these activities report a ‘runners’ high’, something which has also been described as a dopamine rush, though one that has been achieved naturally, promoting the well-being and health of both the mind and body.
Aerobic exercise is also recommended for this reason and can also help the individual to leave the house for a class or group meeting.
This is helpful in more ways than one, as it promotes a healthy lifestyle, encourages physical exercise, and helps the individual meet new people and form new connections.
The reason why we sleep is still an area of research that is much debated. Though we know that sleep boosts reparative processes and consolidates cognitions and memories, there are still many features of sleep that are under further investigation.
However, it is also known that individuals who suffer from lack of sleep, either from lifestyle choices or from disorders such as insomnia, are more likely to develop issues with their health.
This can lead to poor decision-making, difficulty in carrying out everyday tasks, or failure to complete work and responsibilities within their job or school life. This in itself can lead to lower dopamine levels, as well as the associated issues that an individual may face as a result of this.
By getting the right amount of sleep (which differs between individuals from around 7-9 hours), individuals allow their body rest. This can be the difference between natural dopamine production and lowered levels within the body.
This can promote increased dopamine levels over time.
Dopamine levels are known to increase when we engage in something we enjoy. This is why something as simple as choosing and putting on some of our favourite music can be a great way to boost dopamine levels naturally and feel good doing it.
Individuals could create a playlist of their favourite songs – something to listen to when getting ready, working on projects, or doing chores around the house.
Playing music will increase dopamine levels and help the individual feel better naturally, lowering the likelihood of returning to previous substance use or other medication that they may have previously used.
This method could be used in combination with other top tips provided such as listening to music while exercising or during the preparation of food for the week.
Research has shown that listening to music activates the reward areas of the brain, creating pleasure for the individual and increasing their dopamine levels temporarily but more permanently over time (4).
Another way to increase the individual’s pleasure within everyday activities is to take up a mindfulness exercise such as meditation.
Not only does meditation allow for the individual to take a moment of reflection and gratification (something highly recommended through most rehabilitation programmes, if appropriate), but it also allows the individual to relax their body completely.
Activities such as this throughout the individual’s everyday life can increase dopamine by improving their natural dopamine production levels, something that otherwise may be achieved through alternative means – something which the individual wants to avoid.
Research has shown directly that individuals who engage in meditation or other mindfulness activities display an increase in dopamine levels, as well as other chemicals such as serotonin and a lowering in cortisol – the stress hormone (5).
A final tip to naturally increase dopamine levels is to remove stressors from your life.
Stressors are the influences that cause us to feel stress and, although it may sound difficult, removing these from the individual’s everyday life can have massive effects on their well-being, including their physical health, mental health, and dopamine levels.
This can include simple tasks such as completing a job that’s been on your mind for a while, creating a positive space within the individual’s residence, or creating a regular schedule of activities to alleviate confusion.
This can also include longer term solutions. For example, if the individual’s commute to work every day is causing them additional and unnecessary stress, then it may be an option to move to an area closer to work.
This may only be suitable in some situations but finding ways to reduce stressors in everyday life is a great way to increase dopamine levels and return the production of dopamine back into a natural process.
At Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we understand that every individual will require different levels and types of assistance.
This can range from a chat over the phone with one of our friendly and professional team members to the beginning of the admittance process to a dedicated rehabilitation centre.
An individual’s dopamine levels are essential to their well-being and health. Without constant and natural production of dopamine, an individual may not be able to go about their daily lives, completing tasks that are essential to their social, financial, or personal life.
To speak to someone today about taking the next step, give Rehab 4 Alcoholism a call on 0800 111 4108 where our addiction support hotline is available 24/7.
 Di Chiara, G., 1997. Alcohol and dopamine. Alcohol health and research world, 21(2), p.108.
 Cone, J.J., Chartoff, E.H., Potter, D.N., Ebner, S.R. and Roitman, M.F., 2013. Prolonged high fat diet reduces dopamine reuptake without altering DAT gene expression. PloS one, 8(3), p.e58251.
 Daubner, S.C., Le, T. and Wang, S., 2011. Tyrosine hydroxylase and regulation of dopamine synthesis. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics, 508(1), pp.1-12.
 Ferreri, L., Mas-Herrero, E., Zatorre, R.J., Ripollés, P., Gomez-Andres, A., Alicart, H., Olivé, G., Marco-Pallarés, J., Antonijoan, R.M., Valle, M. and Riba, J., 2019. Dopamine modulates the reward experiences elicited by music. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(9), pp.3793-3798.
 Esch, T., 2014. The neurobiology of meditation and mindfulness. In Meditation–neuroscientific approaches and philosophical implications (pp. 153-173). Springer, Cham.
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