Dopamine is an important chemical found in almost all forms of life on Earth. Although it is present in plants and other animals, it plays an integral role in the anatomy of the human body. While many associate dopamine with the concepts of reward and pleasure, others note its notorious connotation with drug addiction. In reality, dopamine serves a variety of purposes in our body, none of which should be discredited.
There is a required distinguishment to make when discussing dopamine- whether you are referring to its functions in the brain or the rest of the body. It performs similar, but different enough duties that the variations command notice.
Dopamine in the Brain
Dopamine found in the brain is a type of neurotransmitter or a chemical sending signals between neurons. Dopamine signals are primarily responsible for the rational system of reward. In turn, this leads to its connection with feelings of happiness and pleasure. Some activities that release large volumes of these signals include eating a satisfying meal, getting a high score on an exam, or engaging in sexual activity.
This flow creates an intense initial burst of pleasure during your first time experimenting with a prescription. This surge is likely unprecedented, as most have never experienced this strong of a dopamine signal flow in their life.
With repeated drug abuse, however, this potency shrinks. The chemistry of your brain makes alterations to adapt to this incredible dopamine rush. In turn, you build a tolerance to the drug, making the original pleasure increasingly challenging to relive. As your tolerance and usage build so does your body’s reliance on the medication. It is this vicious cycle that makes the brain susceptible to the disease of addiction. If you feel you are currently trapped in this devastating wheel, you should consider seeking help.
Regardless of this merited connection, there is a common misconception regarding the relationship between reward and pleasure. Not all reward signals provide pleasure. Both learning and approach behavior also serve as principal functions of dopamine reward signals.
Dopamine sends reward signals when a human obtains a piece of knowledge. That is a biological function that was developed evolutionarily to encourage the human pursuit of knowledge. The more experience a human has, the more likely they are to survive long enough to reproduce. Increased reproduction will increase humanity’s prospering as a species. This generational survival is the principal goal of human biology, so it’s only natural for your body to reward the attainment of something that would help ensure this continuance.
Dopamine also rewards approach behavior. Somewhat self-explanatory in name, approach behavior is a term that encompasses the actions your brain takes to move you closer to something. These can be immensely literal (ex. walking toward a door to exit a room), or mostly metaphorical (ex. putting the effort forth at your job so you can progress in your field). As approach behavior also leads toward reproduction and the survival of the human race, it receives dopamine reward signals as well.
Dopamine in Other Areas of the Body
While most associate dopamine with brain and nervous activity, its functions in other sections of the human body are also remarkably essential. Although found in minuscule doses in other organs, dopamine external to the brain is most common in the immune system, bloodstream, kidneys, and pancreas.
Although there are multiple theories, there is no certainty within the scientific and medical communities as to the role of dopamine in the immune system. That does not denounce its guaranteed presence and the abundance of theoretical research on the subject. Dopamine also plays a modulating role in your bloodstream and pancreas.
Perhaps the most prominent function of dopamine in the human anatomy aside for its role in the brain is in the kidneys. It is frequently produced there, as it helps to increase blood flow to the organ. It’s primary function in the kidneys, however, is to help get excess sodium out of your body. By building up sodium quantities in your urine, dopamine facilitates its excretion during urination. The importance of this bodily function is paramount, as its failure will result in high blood pressure.
It is indisputable that dopamine plays a paramount role in multiple systems throughout the body. Due to this influence, failure or degradation on behalf of dopamine neurotransmitters is the culprit of various infamously debilitating diseases.
Parkinson’s disease is associated heavily with dopamine. It is the death of cells responsible for the creation of dopamine that causes the bulk of the disease’s negative symptoms. The body rigidity, sluggishness, and shaking of limbs synonymous with Parkinson’s is the fault of this dopamine failure on the cellular level.
Overactive dopamine transmitters are partially responsible for the onset of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As a disorder, ADHD is often inherited genetically. Specific gene variations passed down generationally directly influence dopamine neurotransmitters. It is this mutation that leads to a collection of symptoms that fall under the ADHD umbrella.
The library of functions that dopamine serves in the human anatomy is vast. From its quintessential duties in the brain to its significant role in the kidneys, it is a vital neurotransmitter in the human body. However, it is this very essentiality that has the potential to cause substantial bodily issues. From its direct role in the development of drug addiction to its failure in cases of Parkinson’s’ Disease and ADHD, when something goes wrong with dopamine, something goes wrong with your health.
If you are facing the dopamine-centric issue of drug addiction, it may seem like there is nowhere to turn; this not the case.