Differences Between Serotonin And Dopamine
* Verified by a US-based board-certified doctor.
If you're like a lot of people, you've probably heard of the terms serotonin and dopamine, but you may not have any idea what they mean or how they differ from one another. If you're looking for some answers regarding their differences and similarities, you've come to the right place. Please keep reading to discover everything that you need to know about these neurotransmitters and their role in your daily life.
Neurotransmitters 101: What Are They and How do They Work?
Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers utilized by the body's nervous system. Neurotransmitters are used to regulate several specific functions and processes within the body, ranging from your ability to get a decent night's sleep to the overall effectiveness of your body's metabolism. Though these two neurotransmitters are often confused or utilized interchangeably, there are significant differences between them that need to be understood, especially by those seeking help to deal with various mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression.
Related: How To Increase Dopamine Naturally
What is Dopamine?
In short, dopamine is released from the brain and into the bloodstream in response to pleasurable sensations, like eating your favorite snack or listening to a musical artist that you love. Additionally, it also plays a critically important role in the body's motivation and reward system. This neurotransmitter is mainly responsible for creating positive moods, feelings of productivity, and helping you to stay motivated. Dopamine is also able to impact other elements as well, including:
- Cognition and memory
- Motivation and concentration
- Ability to sleep well
- Attention span
- Learning capabilities
- Mood and alertness
- Urine output and blood flow
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin plays a foundational role in our ability to process emotions and determine how we feel. Specifically, serotonin can help us to feel calmer, happier, less anxious, and more focused when the correct amounts of it are present within the body. However, low levels of serotonin can have negative impacts on your mood and overall quality of life in certain circumstances. Other processes and functions that primarily rely on serotonin include:
- Emotions, mood, and regulation of the two
- Appetite and metabolism
- Your sleep-wake cycle (also known as one’s circadian rhythm)
- Concentration and cognition
- Body temperature
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The Relationship Between Dopamine and Serotonin
One of the reasons dopamine and serotonin so often get confused is because of their relationship and the fact that they both can impact people's emotions and moods. They don't work independently but instead affect one another to create a stable chemical balance within your body, though this is not always an easy task. For example, in some cases, serotonin's presence seems to inhibit the production of dopamine, meaning that low serotonin levels can trigger the overproduction of dopamine.
Dopamine and Serotonin Differences
While these two neurotransmitters tend to work in tandem and have many similarities, they also have several intriguing- though at times problematic- differences. For example, serotonin and dopamine can often exhibit effects that can counteract one another. Serotonin, for instance, inhibits impulsive behavior and can actively suppress feelings of hunger, while dopamine enhances impulsive behavior and can stimulate one's appetite. Other distinct functions between these two neurotransmitters include the following:
- Relays signals between neurons that control coordination and bodily movements
- Plays a part in the brain’s reward and pleasure center
- Can cause feelings of bliss and euphoria
- Regulates digestive functions, including:
- Gut motility
Mental Health Issues
When any neurotransmitter levels are not appropriately regulated within the body, numerous complications can occur regarding people's mental health and their ability to control their mood. Ineffective levels of both serotonin and dopamine have been linked to the development of several conditions that can negatively impact mental and physical health.
Deficiency in the levels of dopamine within the body has the potential to result in several problematic symptoms and complicated conditions, including:
- Depression (which involves:)
- A lack of motivation
- A significant loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable
- Issues with concentration
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Parkinson’s disease
The release of dopamine is involved in nearly all forms of pleasurable experiences, ranging from eating one's favorite food to having sex. This release is a significant component in what makes specific substances and activities so addicting to particular individuals, such as:
- Excessive shopping
- Excessive eating
- Drugs (marijuana, opioids, methamphetamines, and other illicit substances)
Researchers have repeatedly linked abnormal serotonin levels with multiple types of medical conditions, particularly mood disorders like anxiety and depression. However, despite popular belief, serotonin alone does not necessarily cause depression. Several other factors are also able to contribute to the development of depression, and these factors must be considered for someone to fully understand their mental state and address any mental health issues they may be struggling with. Some of these other factors include:
- Family history and genetics
- Environmental and lifestyle stresses
- Additional medical issues
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