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Dopamine: Addiction and ADHD

Author: Christine Chen

Editors: Eric Lin and Aanya Ram

Artist: Chiara Chen

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. It plays a major role in how we feel pleasure, and our ability to stay motivated, maintain attention, and assess risks. A big misconception is that dopamine is solely responsible for making us feel pleasure.

There was a study about dopamine that consisted of rats being fed using a lever. When a signal such as a light goes off, it is time for the rat to hit a lever. After about 10 pushes, they were given a reward, food. The study showed that dopamine levels rose during the time the light went off, instead of the time the rats were given food. Meaning that the higher the dopamine level, the more motivated they would be to do work to feel some sort of pleasure. It was also shown that when the chances of getting food went to 50% when the rats pushed the lever, there were higher levels of dopamine. The main difference between humans and animals is that we’ve been able to maintain high dopamine levels for decades. We’ve always had some sort of motivation to get better grades, go to a good school, go to a good college, get a good job, etc. Sometimes our motivation carries on till death in the belief of an afterlife.

Since dopamine is a very important neurotransmitter, small differences can result in significant health issues for individuals. Substances such as drugs and alcohol, can hijack dopaminergic systems, leading to addiction. Several people believe that addiction is due to a lack of willpower and view it as the individual’s fault for being weak; however, there is a more physiological explanation. Substances taken the first time lead to a huge surge of dopamine. This motivates people to take more substances, but the more one takes, the lower their sensitivity is to dopamine which leads to what is known as tolerance. From there, it’s just a continuous fall down a rabbit hole. When one takes substances, it’s no longer a conscious choice, but more of a habit. Ways to help with addiction can be through counseling and medication.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that starts in childhood. Due to a lack of dopamine, people with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, being impulsive, or acting overly active. Assume something cool happens, someone with low dopamine levels, would not recall this, brushing it by. Low levels lead to the inability to recognize rewards, leading to lower levels of motivation. However, this is not always the case. There is an inconsistency in the amount of motivation that people with ADHD have when doing something. When individuals are presented with a task that interests them, they will feel the motivation to work for it. ADHD is often treated with counseling as well as medication.

Having too little or too much dopamine can affect your body in different ways. It plays a role in how you make decisions, like how you were able to get to the end of this article.

 

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