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” — it 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.
But if you suspect you have a problem with excess dopamine, know that too much can be equally detrimental to your health and mental well-being.
Symptoms of an Excess of Dopamine
You need dopamine in just the right amounts.
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.
It can push your libido into hyperdrive and make you more prone to addictions of all kinds.
How you get your thrills may depend on which area of the brain is pumping out dopamine.
This is why some high-dopamine people thrive on making money while others turn to extreme sports.
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Excess dopamine plays a role in several mental disorders:
Many of these disorders are treated with dopamine antagonists, prescription drugs that work by blocking dopamine receptors.
In his book, The Dopaminergic Mind in Human Evolution and History, psychologist and neuroscientist Fred Previc, PhD, contends that a “high dopamine” personality is characterized by:
- high intelligence
- sense of personal destiny
- obsession with achieving goals and conquests
- emotional detachment that in many cases leads to ruthlessness
- risk-taking mentality.
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.
The Link Between High Dopamine and Addictions
Dopamine is the “reward” neurotransmitter that tells your brain that 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 bestselling book 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 dopamine by 200%, cocaine by 400%, and amphetamines by an astounding 1,000%.
All potentially addictive substances and behaviors — including caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, stimulant drugs, sugar, shopping, video games, cell phone use, online porn, gambling, pursuit of power, and thrill-seeking — flood the brain with unnaturally high levels of dopamine.
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.
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.
Robert Lustig, MD, states 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 return to their normal function.
Prescription Drugs That Can Cause Elevated Dopamine Levels
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.
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 side effects like compulsive gambling from their dopamine-boosting drugs.
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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, drugs 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.
Stress is tough on your brain in many ways, including negatively impacting your dopamine system.
" Too much dopamine is often a result of poor lifestyle choices — too much stress, too little sleep, poor diet, partaking of addictive substances, and/or engaging in risky behaviors.
Lack of sleep is another highly detrimental lifestyle habit that can contribute to a rise in dopamine.
And when you don’t sleep well, it’s tempting to push through the day on sugar and caffeine, both of which further spike dopamine levels.
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 Excessive Dopamine?
You may wonder how to know for sure if you are dealing with a situation of high dopamine.
So far, there are no reliable tests for neurotransmitter imbalances, including high dopamine.
There are tests that measure the amounts of neurotransmitters in bodily fluids, but there is no correlation between these levels and those in your brain.
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Additionally, there is no scientifically established standard for a “normal” level of dopamine or any other neurotransmitter.
So for now, symptoms are your best indicator of neurotransmitter status.
How to Decrease Dopamine Naturally
Too much dopamine is often a result of poor lifestyle choices — too much stress, too little sleep, poor diet, using addictive substances, and/or engaging in risky behaviors.
Addressing these habits and behaviors responsibly is the key to changing 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
There are many prescription drugs that are dopamine antagonists; they 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.
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.
Bacopa is considered an adaptogen, a substance that supports overall health by helping the body achieve a state of balance known as homeostasis.
Bacopa regulates levels of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, dialing production up and down as needed.
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.
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In traditional Chinese medicine, white mulberry is used to reduce fever, protect the liver, improve vision, and to treat diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
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.
5-HTP is a popular supplement usually taken for insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Both 5-HTP and tryptophan are available as supplements and both deplete excess dopamine.
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 that this works is by speeding up the turnover of dopamine in the hippocampus.
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.
It’s undoubtedly a nutritional powerhouse that also happens to lower dopamine.
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 and Japanese medicine to treat asthma, headache, and gastrointestinal disorders.
It is a relaxant that’s good for stress relief, anxiety, and depression.
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It’s considered a nootropic that protects the brain from oxidation and inflammation.
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 medicine.
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.
The US Food and Drug Administration warns that foods containing licorice should be consumed in moderation.
Another compound found in licorice, glycyrrhizic acid, has the undesirable effects of decreasing testosterone while increasing the stress hormone cortisol.
Licorice should not be mixed with certain medications.
Before taking this herbal remedy, we recommend checking the precautions and possible interactions with one of these online interaction checkers.
8. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
There’s evidence that an excess of dopamine can cause vitamin B6 deficiency.
This makes sense when you consider that vitamin B6 is a cofactor required for the synthesis of dopamine.
So if you feel that you have too much dopamine, consider vitamin B6 supplementation.
Dopamine-Lowering Supplements to Avoid
Some health websites promote herbal remedies for lowering dopamine that are not safe.
Also, make sure that you aren’t inadvertently taking supplements known to increase dopamine.
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)
- Ginkgo biloba (taken for memory loss)
Lower Excess Dopamine With a “Dopamine Fast”
There’s a growing, but controversial, trend emerging from Silicon Valley called “dopamine fasting.”
It appears that it may have some merit.
To combat the effects of excessive dopamine caused by overstimulation, Silicon Valley biohackers are taking time off from electronic devices, drugs, and sex, and even embracing silence for 24-hour periods.
According to Cameron Sepah, PhD, the Silicon Valley psychologist who popularized dopamine fasting, short-term periods of abstaining from social media and technology can help you rebalance your life.
Sepah recommends putting yourself on a dopamine fast by avoiding technology use, drugs, and other activities that flood the brain with dopamine, according to this schedule:
- 1 to 4 hours at the end of each day
- 1 weekend day per week
- 1 weekend per quarter (take a short trip)
- 1 week per year (take a vacation)
While there is little science to support that dopamine fasting actually lowers dopamine levels in the brain, there is no harm and possibly much to be gained by taking an occasional break from overstimulating substances and behaviors.
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.
An excess of 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
- Proactively manage stress
- Minimize consumption of caffeine and sugar
- Try 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.