Dopamine affects movement control, emotion regulation, and thinking skills. When dopamine levels are typical, they promote good health, while atypical levels can lead to health concerns.

The above information comes from a 2023 research article published in the National Library of Medicine.

Additionally, when levels are too high, they may hinder impulse control. When they are too low, they can lead to a lack of motivation.

Healthy lifestyle practices, such as regular exercise and adequate sleep, may encourage healthy dopamine levels.

This article discusses dopamine effects on the body, including what happens when levels are too high and too low.

A smiling woman wearing a neon yellow jacket.Share on Pinterest
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical that transmits messages from one nerve cell to another.

It plays a critical role in the following brain functions:

  • movement control
  • emotion
  • learning
  • reward
  • executive skills such as memory, problem-solving, and inhibition control

According to a 2021 review, dopamine participates indirectly or directly in almost every function that occurs in the central nervous system (CNS), which is the brain and spinal cord. It also influences functions outside of the CNS, such as the immune system and gut-brain axis.

Like other substances in the body, dopamine promotes health when levels are within a certain range. When the levels are too high or too low, a person may experience adverse effects.

High levels of dopamine may result in difficulties with impulse control. Consequently, a person can take some actions that they regret later. They can also cause aggressive behavior.

Low levels may cause a person to experience tiredness, lethargy, and a lack of motivation.

These include the following:

Huntington’s disease

Since dopamine is involved in movement control, causes of high levels include conditions that produce hyperkinesis. This term refers to increased and sometimes uncontrollable movements.

One example is Huntington’s disease, an inherited disease that causes nerve cells to gradually break down. In its early stages, the condition causes hyperkinetic movements due to higher dopamine levels.

Medication side effects

Some medications cause side effects that influence dopamine levels.

For example, some can lead to tardive dyskinesia, a condition causing repetitive and uncontrollable movements. This is a side effect of medications that block dopamine receptors in the brain.

Doctors believe this may result in irregular dopamine messaging in a part of the brain involved with movement control. Some medications that can cause tardive dyskinesia include antipsychotics, which doctors use to treat schizophrenia and other mental health conditions.

Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that affects movement. This can cause:

  • tremor
  • rigidity
  • slow movements

When nerve cells responsible for producing dopamine die, a person will have lower dopamine levels. This can lead to Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Experts believe that there may be a link between low levels of dopamine and ADHD symptoms. Examples of these symptoms include impulsivity and inattention.

An imbalance in dopamine may also hinder the dopamine reward pathway. This affects how a person with ADHD perceives pleasure and reward.


A 2017 study explains that sometimes people with depression have low levels of dopamine. This can lower motivation, which plays a role in low mood and the reduced ability to feel pleasure.

Drug misuse

According to a 2021 study, drug misuse can change dopamine function in a manner that promotes addiction. However, the exact mechanism that underlies this is unclear.

Some researchers believe that using harmful drugs blunts dopamine transmission, fostering further drug use to overcome a dopamine deficiency. Conversely, other researchers claim that harmful drug use increases dopamine, boosting motivation for the drug.


An older 2015 review states that dopamine and other neurotransmitters do not work in isolation. Instead, sex hormones — which act on multiple sites in the body — are highly interwoven with them.

To illustrate, the decline in the female hormone estrogen following menopause correlates with an increase in mood disorders. These have an association with atypical levels of neurotransmitters.

Mental Health America offers the below recommendations for increasing dopamine levels:

  • Eat foods containing L-tyrosine: This is the amino acid the body uses to make dopamine. Foods with L-tyrosine include:
    • bananas
    • dairy products
    • avocados
    • poultry
    • sesame and pumpkin seeds
  • Get 7–9 hours of sleep per night: Sleep deprivation harms dopamine receptors. Dopamine cannot produce its effects unless it binds to them.
  • Exercise regularly: A daily session of 20–30 minutes can cause a release of dopamine. This increases focus and boosts mood.
  • Get a massage from a licensed massage therapist: An older 2005 study found that this reduces the stress hormone cortisol and increases dopamine levels.
  • Do random acts of kindness: Similar to runner’s high, this triggers a helper’s high, the good feeling people get when they do something nice for others.

These may include:

  • Do I need a doctor to check my dopamine levels?
  • If my dopamine is too high or too low, what measures will put it in a typical range?
  • If treatment is necessary, how soon will it take effect?

Dopamine affects movement, emotion, learning, reward, and executive functions. High levels may result in impulsiveness and aggression, while low levels may lead to tiredness and a lack of motivation.

Causes of atypical levels include medication side effects and conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and ADHD.

If a person wants to know if their dopamine levels are healthy, they can ask their doctor if testing is necessary.