Cultivating a happy, calm, and motivated mind that finds ease in concentrating, relaxing, and sleeping soundly is no simple undertaking. There are many factors that affect a person’s mental wellbeing, and one of the most significant is a group of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters directly influence how a person thinks and feels. Experiencing deficiencies in any of our brain chemicals can cause imbalances not only in our moods but our resulting behaviors. We’re reviewing serotonin vs dopamine deficiency symptoms and things to do when looking to increase levels for a better, more well-balanced you.
Understanding Neurotransmitters in the Brain
The brain is a complex system made up of many components. At its most basic level, the brain is responsible for keeping our body functioning as it should. It carries out instructions to our vital organs, regulates temperature, moods, and other behavioral factors. One way that our brain is able to manage our bodily functions is through the signals that are carried out by a complex network of neurons and neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that pass signals from one nerve cell to another. There are many different types, each with its own unique functions.
Types of Neurotransmitters
Some neurotransmitters such as dopamine create feelings of energy and vitality, while others such as serotonin are crucial for balanced mood, peace, and calmness. The level and efficiency of neurotransmitters are directly linked to your mental and emotional wellbeing, and deficiency or poor functioning of anyone or a number of neurotransmitters can carry negative effects.
There is a library list of neurotransmitters, but some of the most identifiable ones are probably familiar. Some of the most common types of neurotransmitters include:
- Dopamine – needed for walking and balance, for motivation, attention, and reward / goal-directed behavior. Dopamine acts to reinforce behaviors that make you feel good.
- Melatonin – crucial for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. It is produced in the pineal gland, and levels are at their highest between 12 am and 3 am.
- Serotonin – involved in mood, appetite, and sleep. It is the neurotransmitter of calmness and patience, helps us to cope with stress and frustration, and helps to limit aggression. It also has some cognitive functions, including memory and learning.
- Norepinephrine – gets the brain and body ready for action.
- gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) – natural calming effect on the brain has led to countless claims about the use of GABA supplements to reduce stress
- Adrenaline – responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response generated in stressful situations.
Key nutrients can help to naturally support neurotransmitter balance and optimal function. If you think you could do with a bit of a boost, it’s important to first identify which areas need extra help.
Read on for an overview of serotonin vs dopamine deficiency symptoms. A simple test to help identify neurotransmitter imbalance can offer guidance on learning how to boost levels for proper functioning.
Drug Abuse & Neurotransmitter Imbalances
Drugs–whether illicit or prescription medications–have an impact on the brain and its key chemical messengers. This is the primary reason that drug use and abuse can drastically alter a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave. Essentially, different substances block, increase, decrease, or otherwise interfere with the brain’s natural ability to produce and carry out messages by way of the neurotransmitters.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many scientific studies conducted over decades have established that drug dependence and addiction are features of an organic brain disorder caused by drugs’ cumulative impacts on neurotransmission.
The task in neurotransmission is to convey a signal from a sending neuron to a receiving neuron across an open space known as a synapse. When stimulated sufficiently, the neuron generates an electric signal and causes some vesicles to migrate to the neuron membrane, merge with it, open up, and release their contents into the synapse. Some of the released molecules drift across the synapse and link up, lock-and-key fashion, with molecules called receptors on the surface of the receiving neuron.
Drugs Impact on Basic Neurotransmitter Functioning
Once a neurotransmitter has interacted with its receptor on the receiving neuron, neuron to neuron communication is complete. The neurotransmitter molecules drop off the receptors. Once they’re loose again in the synapse, these specific neurotransmitters meet one of three fates:
- Some attach to another receptor.
- Some encounter an enzyme, a chemical that breaks them apart.
- Some reenter the sending neuron via a special structure that spans the neuron membrane, called a transporter. Once back inside the neuron, they are available for re-release in future neurotransmission episodes.
Normally, when drugs are not present, the cycle of release, breakup, and neuron re-entry maintains the number of neurotransmitters in the synapse. This is a steady balance that is critical for mood regulation, decision-making, and overall health or wellbeing. In most cases, when substance abuse and addiction are a cause for concern, the brain’s neurotransmission increases or decreases dramatically beyond normal limits.
Overextended periods of time, the disruption in these neuron networks causes lasting damage. This is why it’s critical to seek help when symptoms or signs of drug abuse become apparent, ideally even before.
Drugs that Impact Neurotransmitters
What drugs impact what neurotransmitter? What is some serotonin vs dopamine deficiency symptoms? These questions offer key insight into how different substances can impede on the brain’s normal functioning.
Prescription opioids and heroin are included with these effects. Opioids impact neurotransmitters endorphin and enkephalin, which can increase analgesia, decrease alertness, and slow respiration. Additionally, opioids including heroin, fentanyl, morphine, and hydrocodone block dopamine in the neurons, leaving excess while also increasing serotonin throughout the brain.
The result long-term is:
- Decrease ability in decision making
- Decrease ability for self-reflection and discipline
- Decrease ability to respond to stress effectively
- Increase brains interpretation of pleasure artificially
Prolonged abuse of opioids can severely impact neurotransmitters. The impact is usually apparent during acute withdrawal from the opioid. Serotonin vs dopamine deficiency symptoms become immediately apparent:
- Muscle spasms
- Aches and pains
- Loss of balance
- Difficulty eating
- Inability to recognize or feel pleasure
- Low energy
- Inability to focus
As one of the most dangerous synthetic drugs available, methamphetamine or meth, carries highly addictive properties. Prolonged use can result in long-term brain and neuron damage. Meth is well-known for its amplified dopamine production in the brain. The reuptake of dopamine is blocked, leaving excess dopamine between neuron receptors. The result is feelings of:
- Pleasure and euphoria
- Increased memory and focus
Additionally, meth impacts transporters of norepinephrine and serotonin, responsible for mood, sleep, and neuroendocrine regulation. Depleted norepinephrine and serotonin show that they return normal once meth abuse is stopped. Decreases in dopamine levels have a longer-lasting effect and may not return to normal even after stopping use.
Cocaine acts by binding to the dopamine transporter, blocking the removal of dopamine from the synapse. Dopamine then accumulates in the synapse to produce an amplified signal to the receiving neurons. This is what causes the euphoria commonly experienced immediately after taking the drug.
According to Science Direct, cocaine also has a second action of blocking voltage-gated membrane sodium ion channels. This action accounts for its local anesthetic effect and may contribute to cardiac arrhythmias.
Some of the neurological pathways known to be affected by alcohol consumption include the dopaminergic, serotonergic, GABA, and glutamate pathways. Ethanol, which is used to make alcohol, at low blood concentrations releases behaviors that are otherwise inhibited. This is the reason alcohol usually produces feelings of relaxation and a good mood which may facilitate socializing.
Short-term alcohol consumption depresses brain function by altering the balance between inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmission. According to the National Institute of Health, alcohol can act as a depressant.
Alcohol consumption is initially accompanied by decreased attention, alterations in memory, mood changes, and drowsiness. Continued acute consumption may result in lethargy, confusion, amnesia, loss of sensation, difficulty in breathing, and death.
Serotonin vs Dopamine Deficiency Symptoms
Regardless of the deficiencies, you may be experiencing, it’s important to address the dangers of long-term substance abuse and the impact it has on neurotransmission processes. Without the body’s natural cycle to balance brain chemicals, more individuals may continue to experience imbalances and the resulting shifts in behavior, cognition, mood, and overall health. If you’re experiencing deficiencies, it’s important to seek support and addiction recovery programs that are focused on restoring your body’s natural ability to produce and send brain signals by way of neurotransmitters.
AspenRidge Recovery Can Help
AspenRidge Recovery offers a phased approach to treatment and has a highly reputable and effective program that involves a 90-day partial hospitalization program, intensive outpatient care, and an alumni support program that aids in maintaining sobriety even after program completion. Prolonged use of any substance can have drastic effects on your brain’s natural chemicals, making it more difficult to make the decision to seek recovery. Our compassionate staff provides support that can help address substance abuse using evidence-based methods.
AspenRidge is a confidential recovery center located in Fort Collins and Lakewood, Colorado. AspenRidge understands the challenges that arise from opioid use. We offer access to self-assessment tools that may provide more clarity on how to address or prevent opioid abuse. To speak with an addiction specialist directly, contact us at (855) 281-5588.