The Difference Between Serotonin and Dopamine

Your Brain on Drugs

Dopamine and serotonin are two important neurotransmitters that play an important role in how you respond to rewards. Dopamine is the “reward chemical,” responsible for signaling pleasure when something good happens. Serotonin, on the other hand, is often referred to as the “happy chemical” because it influences our mood. 

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating many aspects of our brain and behavior. It also helps us experience pleasure, stay focused, regulate movement, and control our mood. Dopamine be involved in drug addiction through multiple mechanisms. Drugs hijack the brain’s reward system by increasing dopamine levels, motivating the person to keep taking the drug again and again. Dopamine influences our attention, ability to process information, emotions, ability to learn new things, and regulation of our movement.

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin has a significant influence on our mood and appetite, like dopamine. When you’re feeling down or depressed, scientists often talk about you having low serotonin levels. Conversely, they say you’re experiencing “high serotonin” when you’re feeling really happy or excited. Serotonin also helps regulate our sleeping and waking patterns.

Why Drugs Increase Dopamine Levels

While dopamine is responsible for our pleasure response, it’s also important for regulating our attention, our mood, and our ability to learn. Dopamine is responsible for our reward response, but it does so much more. It helps us focus on what we’re doing, helps us regulate our mood—whether that’s feeling anxious or relaxed, happy or sad. 

Why Drugs Increase Serotonin Levels

Like dopamine, serotonin has a significant influence on our mood and appetite. Drugs like serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. While SSRIs don’t have the same addictive potential as dopamine-inducing drugs, they can come with a host of side effects. Dopamine-inducing drugs increase dopamine levels by binding to dopamine receptors. SSRIs, on the other hand, block serotonin from being reabsorbed back into the brain. The end result is a significant increase in serotonin levels.

The Dark Side of Dopamine and Serotonin

The reward response is an important part of being human. It’s what motivates us to do the things that help us survive, like eating and working. Dopamine is important for regulating pleasure and our reward response. But, it’s also responsible for more (regulates our attention, our mood, and our ability to learn) If we have too little dopamine, we lose our ability to feel pleasure, become less focused, and have difficulty regulating our mood. On the other hand, if we have too much dopamine, we feel restless, anxious, and irritable. It’s these side effects of dopamine that make drugs so addictive.

Drugs don’t hijack serotonin like they do dopamine. Instead, they just increase serotonin levels. Drugs that promote serotonin release in the brain are often prescribed to help people with anxiety, depression, and insomnia. There’s no denying that drugs are incredibly addictive, because they hijack our dopamine and serotonin levels, making us crave more and more. It’s important to be aware of the differences between dopamine and serotonin. 

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