A high dopamine level can lead to more risk taking, addictive behaviors, and mental disorders. Learn about natural remedies and lifestyle changes that help.
If anyone has ever called you an “adrenaline junkie” or your personal mantra is “too much is not enough,” too much dopamine may be a problem for you.
Dopamine is a major neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, sleep, learning, memory, the ability to focus, and motor control.
It’s your “motivation molecule” that helps you get going in the morning and accomplish what needs to be done throughout the day.
It’s in charge of your brain’s pleasure-reward system and is an integral factor in addictions.
As with any brain chemical, you want to be in that sweet spot of having just the right amount of dopamine — enough, but not too much.
The vast majority of people with brain chemical imbalances have low neurotransmitter levels, not high. (1)
But if you suspect you have a problem with excess dopamine, know that too much can be equally detrimental to your health, happiness, and mental well-being.
Symptoms of Too Much Dopamine
You need dopamine in just the right amounts. (2)
Too little will leave you feeling unmotivated, blah, and joyless.
But too much can wreak havoc on your life in many destructive ways.
When under the spell of too much dopamine, you are more likely to take risks and act impulsively.
Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen is the poster child for what can go wrong when excessive dopamine rules your life.
Interestingly, how you get your thrills may depend on which area of the brain is pumping out dopamine. (9)
This is why some high-dopamine people thrive on making money while others turn to extreme sports.
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- manic phase of bipolar disorder
Many of these disorders are treated with dopamine antagonists, prescription drugs that work by blocking dopamine receptors.
Dr. Fred Previc posits in The Dopaminergic Mind in Human Evolution and History that a “high dopamine” personality is characterized by high intelligence, a sense of personal destiny, an obsession with achieving goals and conquests, an emotional detachment that in many cases leads to ruthlessness, and a risk-taking mentality. (14)
He contends that too much dopamine can push some people over that fine line between genius and madness.
But nowhere does excess dopamine play a more destructive role than with addictions.
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Dopamine is the “reward” neurotransmitter that tells your brain you want more of something.
It’s released when we take an action that helps ensure our survival, such as eating, drinking, having sex, or making money.
Neuroscientist John Coates reveals in his bestseller The Hour Between Dog and Wolf that these natural activities temporarily raise dopamine by 50-100% over baseline levels, but addictive substances increase dopamine much, much more.
Nicotine increases it by 200%, cocaine 400%, and amphetamines by an astounding 1,000%.
All potentially addictive substances and behaviors — including caffeine, alcohol, sugar, drugs, shopping, video games, cell phone use, online porn, gambling, pursuit of power, and thrill-seeking — flood the brain with unnaturally high levels of dopamine. (15, 16)
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But dopamine receptors are relatively fragile and this bombardment can damage them or even stimulate them to death.
So to protect your dopamine receptors, a process known as downregulation occurs. (17)
Dopamine receptors become less responsive or even totally shut down.
But this means you will need more and more of your addictive behavior or substance to get a similar buzz from it.
You are now stuck in a vicious cycle of addiction, dopamine production, and downregulation.
Dr. Robert Lustig reports in The Hacking of the American Mind that as long as dopamine receptors are alive they can regenerate, but it can take 12 months or more to get them back to normal.
Prescription Drugs That Can Cause Excess Dopamine
It’s not just illicit drugs that can cause high dopamine — so can prescription medications.
Many are dopamine agonists which means they work by activating dopamine receptors in the brain.
These drugs are usually prescribed for treating low dopamine conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome. (18)
The popular antidepressant Wellbutrin works by increasing dopamine as do drugs commonly prescribed for ADHD like Ritalin.
But these drugs can overshoot their target level, causing the symptoms associated with high dopamine.
For example, some Parkinson’s patients have experienced weird side effects, including compulsive gambling, from their dopamine-boosting drugs. (19)
Sadly, some seniors have gambled away their life’s savings before the connection between their behavior and the medication was made.
You can find a complete list of dopaminergic drugs — those that increase dopamine-related activity in the brain — on Wikipedia.
Other Causes of High Dopamine Levels
There are a few other causes of high dopamine that are related to lifestyle.
Lack of sleep is another highly detrimental lifestyle habit that can contribute to a rise in dopamine.
There’s a neurochemical reason that sugar and caffeine-laden energy drinks are a favorite of extreme sports enthusiasts.
These substances give their brains the dopamine boost they crave.
Is There a Test for Excess Dopamine?
You may wonder how to know for sure if you are dealing with too much dopamine.
So far, there are no reliable tests for neurotransmitter imbalances, including high dopamine.
Related on Be Brain Fit —
Neurotransmitter Testing: A Dubious Tool (+ what to do instead)
There are tests that measure the amounts of neurotransmitters in bodily fluids — blood, saliva, or urine — but there is no correlation between these levels and those in your brain. (24)
Additionally, there is no scientifically established standard for a “normal” level of dopamine or any other neurotransmitter. (25)
So for now, symptoms are your best indicator of neurotransmitter status.
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How to Decrease Dopamine Naturally
Too much dopamine is often a result of poor lifestyle choices — too much stress, too little sleep, poor diet, partaking of addictive substances, or engaging in risky behaviors.
Clearly addressing these habits and behaviors is the core way to address excessive levels of dopamine in a lasting, meaningful way.
But while you are making these lifestyle changes, there are also a handful of nutritional supplements that can help.
Supplements That Lower High Dopamine Levels
As we’ve seen, there are many prescription drugs that are dopamine antagonists, which work by blocking dopamine receptors.
There are also several natural dopamine antagonists that safely normalize or reduce high levels of dopamine in mentally healthy people.
Note: If you have a dopamine-related mental disorder or take any medications that affect dopamine levels, talk to your doctor before taking any of these supplements.
Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is a very popular herb used in the Indian Ayurvedic tradition of medicine. (26)
It’s a popular brain-boosting supplement that enhances memory, learning, and concentration and is especially good for age-related mental decline.
It is also a mood enhancer that reduces both anxiety and depression.
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Bacopa is considered an adaptogen — an herb that supports overall health by helping the body achieve a state of balance known as homeostasis.
Bacopa regulates levels of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA by moving production up and down as needed. (27)
This ability makes bacopa a unique, excellent all-purpose herb for achieving and maintaining overall neurotransmitter balance.
2. White Mulberry
White mulberry (Morus alba) is a small ornamental tree native to China that’s widely cultivated to feed silkworms.
It now grows wild throughout the United States and in some areas is considered a pest.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it’s used to treat fever, cough, and diabetes, to increase vitality, and to darken prematurely grey hair. (28)
3. Tryptophan and 5-HTP
Some amino acids are also precursors of specific neurotransmitters.
Tryptophan, an amino acid found in animal protein sources, is the precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
It is also the precursor to another amino acid, 5-HTP.
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You may recognize 5-HTP as a popular supplement usually taken for insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Both 5-HTP and tryptophan are available as supplements and both deplete excess dopamine. (31)
Of these two supplements, we prefer tryptophan since it has fewer side effects and, unlike 5-HTP, is safe to take for the long term.
4. Lemon Essential Oil
One of the simplest and most pleasant ways to normalize dopamine is with lemon essential oil (Citrus limon).
Inhaling lemon oil vapors offers significant anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects.
One known way this works is by speeding up the turnover of dopamine in the hippocampus. (32)
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5. Noni Fruit
Noni fruit (Morinda citrifolia) comes from a small evergreen tree that grows in volcanic soils of the South Pacific.
In traditional medicine, noni is considered a natural cure-all and is used to treat colds, flu, diabetes, and high blood pressure, as well as depression and anxiety. (33)
It’s undoubtedly a nutritional powerhouse and it also happens to lower dopamine. (34)
You can buy bottled noni juice or take it in capsule form.
6. Magnolia Bark
Magnolia bark (Magnolia officinalis) is a bitter herb used in traditional Chinese medicine for digestive disorders and to treat asthma. (35)
It is a relaxant that’s good for stress relief, anxiety, and depression.
It’s considered a nootropic that protects the brain from oxidation and inflammation. (36)
This dopamine inhibitor is available in capsules, as a liquid extract or dried powder, or as a tea that goes by the name hou po tea.
7. Licorice Root
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is mostly known as a popular flavoring used in candy.
Its botanical name Glycyrrhiza literally means “sweet root.”
But it also has a long history of medicinal use by both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic healing practices.
Licorice supplements are now used mainly to treat digestive disorders and ulcers.
Licorice contains many bioactive compounds including isoliquiritigenin which blocks the production of dopamine and is being studied as a possible antidote to cocaine abuse. (37)
Another compound found in licorice, glycyrrhetic acid, has the undesirable effects of decreasing testosterone and increasing the stress hormone cortisol. (38)
The US Food and Drug Administration warns that foods containing licorice should be consumed in moderation.
Licorice should not be mixed with certain medications.
Before taking this herbal remedy, we recommend checking the precautions and possible interactions at WebMD.com.
8. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
There’s evidence that an excess of dopamine can cause vitamin B6 deficiency. (39)
This makes sense when you consider that vitamin B6 is a cofactor required for the syntheses of dopamine.
So if you feel that you have too much dopamine, consider vitamin B6 supplementation.
Dopamine-Lowering Supplements to Avoid
Disturbingly, some health websites promote herbal remedies for lowering dopamine that are not safe.
Indian devil tree (Alstonia scholaris), on the other hand, is a home remedy with a long history of use, but it is not available as an over-the-counter supplement. (42)
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Here’s a complete list of dopamine-enhancing supplements to avoid when your goal is to lower your dopamine level.
Lastly, make sure you aren’t inadvertently taking supplements known to increase dopamine.
If you are trying to lower your dopamine level, taking any of these would be like trying to stop your car with one foot on the brake and the other on the gas pedal.
Avoid any amino acid formulations that are high in the amino acid tyrosine since it’s the main building block of dopamine.
Other common supplements that increase dopamine include curcumin (a compound found in turmeric), SAM-e (taken for depression), and Ginkgo biloba (taken for memory loss).
Too Much Dopamine: Take the Next Step
Dopamine is a major neurotransmitter that sparks motivation and is in charge of the brain’s pleasure-reward system.
Too much dopamine might make you the life of the party, but it also can lead to self-destructive behaviors, including addictions of all kinds.
If symptoms point to you having a high dopamine level, take these steps:
- Get enough sleep
- Learn to manage stress
- Minimize consumption of caffeine and sugar
- Try one of the natural remedies that can reduce dopamine
If you have a problem with one or more addictive substances or behaviors, take steps to get it under control.
Lastly, if you have reason to believe you have a dopamine-related mental disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or if you take any medications that alter dopamine activity, talk to your doctor before trying any natural remedies that affect dopamine levels.