Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that can cause disruptions in thought processes, perceptions, emotional responsiveness, and social interactions. Changes in brain chemicals, including dopamine, can contribute to the development of schizophrenia symptoms.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemical signals that identify and coordinate specific types of nerve cells throughout the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. They can also carry signals to muscles and glands that release hormones.

When the neurotransmitter reaches a target cell, it attaches to specific receptors and triggers a certain action in the cell.

The brain releases dopamine in response to any type of reward and during pleasurable activities. A person’s dopamine levels can also rise in anticipation of these rewards or activities.

Dopamine can play a role in motivation, desires, and cravings. It also plays a role in muscle movement, mood, and decision making.

This article further explores the link between dopamine and schizophrenia. It also looks at how to treat schizophrenia.

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As the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports, dopamine may play a key role in schizophrenia.

The hypothesis that dopamine was involved in schizophrenia first came about in the early 1950s, when a drug called phenothiazine, which was known to block dopamine receptors, led to a reduction in psychotic symptoms.

Newer findings have shed more light. Research from 2016 observes that abnormal functioning of the dopamine system contributes to the development of schizophrenia symptoms.

In addition, a 2020 study concludes that altered dopamine signalling is present in people with this mental health condition — based on animal studies, postmortem research, and findings of investigations into the effects of drugs that block or accentuate dopamine transmission.

More specifically, research from 2014 notes that hyperactivity of the dopamine D2 receptor in the subcortical and limbic regions of the brain contributes to some symptoms of schizophrenia, including hallucinations and delusions. And less activity of the dopamine D1 receptor in the prefrontal cortex contributes to the development of cognitive issues and other symptoms.

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that can cause disruptions in thought processes, perceptions, emotional responsiveness, and social interactions.

It often appears in a person’s late teens or early adulthood. Schizophrenia is fairly uncommon, affecting around 0.25–0.64% of people in the United States.

It can be difficult to diagnose in these age groups, as early signs can include behaviors such as:

  • a change of friends
  • a drop in grades
  • problems sleeping
  • irritability

While these behaviors can be common in adolescents, additional early signs of schizophrenia can include isolating oneself from others, having unusual thoughts, and having an increase in suspicions.

Once a person develops schizophrenia, they may begin to experience a number of common symptoms. We explore some of these below.


During a hallucination, a person most commonly hears voices, sees things, or smells things that others cannot perceive. This experience is very real to the person having it.

The voices may be critical or threatening, and this can be distressing.


Delusions are false beliefs. They tend not to change when the person is presented with facts that prove the beliefs to be incorrect.

A person with schizophrenia may believe that:

  • They are the victim of a threat.
  • They are at the center of a conspiracy.
  • An external force or person is controlling their thoughts or actions.
  • They are highly important.

People with delusions often have trouble concentrating and may also have confused thoughts. In addition, they may feel that their thoughts are blocked.

Negative symptoms

These might include being emotionally flat or speaking in a disconnected manner.

Negative symptoms can make it hard to start or follow through with certain activities. A person experiencing these may also show little interest in life and find it difficult to sustain relationships.

In some instances, people confuse negative symptoms of schizophrenia with clinical depression.

Cognitive issues

A person with schizophrenia may also have trouble remembering things and can struggle to organize their thoughts.

They may also have anosognosia, which is a lack of insight. This can cause a person to be unaware that they have the condition, making treatment much more difficult.

Schizophrenia is a lifelong condition. However, effective treatment can help a person manage their symptoms.

Treatments can vary and may depend on a person’s specific symptoms. A doctor often tailors the approach to a person’s needs. The treatment plan may involve a combination of therapies and antipsychotic medication.

Below are some common treatments for schizophrenia.

Antipsychotic medications

A person with schizophrenia may take antipsychotic medications to reduce the intensity and frequency of certain symptoms.

Some side effects of these medications include weight gain, dry mouth, restlessness, and drowsiness. While some may go away over time, others may persist for longer periods.

Psychosocial treatments

These include cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral skills training, supported employment, and other interventions.

Many of these treatments help ease the negative and cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia and teach the person strategies for coping with the challenges of the condition.

Psychosocial treatments may also help a person pursue certain goals, such as getting a job, attending school, or forming lasting relationships.

Family education and support

There are a number of education programs for family members and others who are close to someone with schizophrenia.

These programs can teach people about the symptoms and treatments, as well as how to support a person with the condition. This may ultimately lessen the amount of distress the person with schizophrenia experiences.

Coordinated specialty care

Coordinated specialty care (CSC) involves a number of treatment options.

A team of healthcare professionals work closely with a person to ensure that they can make effective treatment decisions, involving family members when possible.

CSC can include a combination of:

  • psychotherapy
  • medication management
  • case management
  • employment and educational support
  • family education and support

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, CSC is particularly effective at helping people who have experienced a first episode of psychosis and have an early stage of schizophrenia.

The institute reports that CSC is more effective than typical care for people with early psychosis and can:

  • reduce the person’s symptoms
  • improve their quality of life
  • increase their involvement in work or school

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that can greatly impact a person’s life. It can cause people to have hallucinations, delusions, a general disinterest in life, and trouble organizing their thoughts, among other symptoms.

The neurotransmitter dopamine is a chemical messenger associated with mood and motor function. The brain releases dopamine in response to pleasure and rewards. Abnormalities in the brain’s dopamine system are linked to the development of schizophrenia symptoms.