Exploring the Effects of ADHD Medications on Dopamine Levels

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What Dopamine is and How it Affects Your Behavior

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in your brain that transmits signals between your nerve cells. It has been linked to decision-making activities and plays a part in influencing your motivation and rewards system.

The Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine reports that high dopamine levels may be linked to compulsive and addictive behaviors.

Dopamine Levels for People With ADHD

Often, people with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine present in their brain. These lower levels of dopamine are suspected in being responsible for symptoms associated with ADHD. Some common symptoms of ADHD are inattention and reduced motivation.

Some people who self-medicate to control their ADHD symptoms often use illegal street drugs. The risk of self-medicating is that studies indicate that when dopamine levels are too high compulsive and addictive behavior may follow. These behaviors increase the risk of obesity and drug abuse, as well as other addicting activities.

ADHD Medications Dopamine Levels Increase

Methylphenidate and Dexmethylphenidate are commonly used to treat ADHD. Of the Methylphenidate drugs, the most common are:

  • Ritalin
  • Metadate
  • Concerta
  • Daytrana

Dexmethylphenidate, or Focalin, is also used to treat ADHD.

Both groups of drugs are used to increase dopamine levels in the brain. They are available in both short-acting and long-lasting form. They are all taken orally except for Daytrana. Daytrana was approved in 2006 as the first skin patch drug for ADHD. It delivers nine hours or methylphenidate.

Amphetamine, Dextroamphetamine and Lisdexafetamine are others groups of medications that are used to treat ADHD. They do not increase the levels of dopamine directly; rather, they prevent the reabsorption of dopamine by the brain.

Common ADHD drugs that belong to these families are:

  • Adderall
  • Dexedrine
  • Dextrostat
  • Vyvanse

Benefits of Increasing Dopamine Levels

By using controlled medications to increase dopamine levels, people with ADHD may be able to experience a reduction in their ADHD symptoms. By being able to focus better and refrain from impulsive actions, someone who suffers from ADHD will be able to complete daily tasks effectively and have a better chance of succeeding in life.

ADH Medication Dopamine Levels Side Effects

Common side effects from ADHD medications are

  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sleeping problems
  • Instability as medication wears off

In a few cases, children may also experience jerky muscle movements, called tics. These tics usually disappear once the medication has been lowered. Instances of reduced growth rate have also been reported and there is concern surrounding whether or not preschoolers who have ADHD should use stimulant medications.

Some stimulant medications have been reported to cause heart-related deaths. Although rare, any child taking these drugs will be required to have regular check-ups with their doctor. The American Heart Association indicates that every child who takes stimulant drugs, should first undergo an electrocardiogram, ECG, to ensure the heart is healthy.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that an ECG heart test is not necessary and that a thorough history and physical exam is enough to screen for heart problems.


The Globe and Mail: ADHD study ties brain proteins to symptoms

Psychiatric News: Dopamine Role in ADHD May Explain Drug’s Efficacy

Northwestern University: New Insight into What Freezes Parkinson’s Patients and Drives Drug Addicts

University of Maryland Medical Center: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – Medications

MayoClinic.com: ADHD Treatments