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What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger for the nervous system) that is made organically in the body. Dopamine plays an important role in how you feel pleasure and how you think and plan. It helps with focus, motivation, and curiosity.

Nobody notices dopamine’s activity in the body until a problem develops. People who have too little or too much of it experience a wide range of mild to severe health issues.

Too much dopamine can trigger schizophrenia, while too little dopamine can trigger:

  • Depression
  • Social phobia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease

There are also links between dopamine, ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder.

Dopamine affects a variety of functions, including:

  • Attention
  • Learning
  • Mood
  • Motivation
  • Heart rate
  • Blood vessel function
  • Lactation
  • Kidney function
  • Sleep
  • Pain processing
  • Control of nausea and vomiting

Dopamine acts with other neurotransmitters and hormones, including serotonin and adrenaline. An imbalance causes a variety of issues. The only way to know if you have too little or too much dopamine (or any other neurotransmitter) is to speak to your doctor and undergo testing.

Dopamine Addiction

Dopamine plays an important role in mental health. Some mental health professionals believe there is a link between dopamine levels and addiction. Addictive substances can include alcohol, cocaine, pornography and sex, gambling, and shopping. 

Many researchers believe that “dopamine addiction” is less about an addiction to the neurotransmitter and more about the addiction to behaviors that trigger dopamine production.

Note: a substance or behavior is not needed to increase dopamine levels in the brain. Just the thought of performing a behavior might be enough to stimulate dopamine production. For example, thinking of shopping or sex can cause a spike in dopamine.

According to researchers, ongoing use of stimulant drugs, including cocaine, is associated with decreased levels of dopamine. Some believe this explains what makes these drugs so addictive and that targeting dopamine levels could help treat addiction.1 

How Does Dopamine Work?

Dopamine is a chemical that assists signals to move through the spaces between neurons. This enables the brain’s networks to do their jobs. 

It plays an important role in: 

  • Executive function
  • Motor control
  • Motivation
  • Focus
  • Happiness
  • Arousal
  • Reinforcement
  • Reward 

The right amount of dopamine usually indicates positive feelings and a good mood. It helps with learning, planning, and productivity. A sudden spike in dopamine can also produce temporary feelings of euphoria.

Dopamine affects blood pressure, cardiac output, and renal function. It is also used for reversing the adverse effects shock patients experience. 

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What is a Dopamine Drip (Dopamine-Injection) Used For?

The administration of a dopamine drip provides dopamine hydrochloride through an intravenous infusion. It treats certain conditions related to shock, which might occur due to a heart attack, trauma, surgery, heart failure, kidney failure, and other serious medical conditions.

Dopamine drips are given to patients to help with:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Low cardiac output
  • Blood flow to the kidneys

Dopamine is also an effective treatment for certain heart conditions. For example, it treats bradycardia, a condition that causes the heart to beat too slowly, and hypotension, which is characterized by abnormally low blood pressure. Dopamine affects vasoconstriction, vasodilation, and other vascular issues.

When administered through a drip, dopamine will increase blood pressure and heart rate, just as it does when the brain releases it naturally in response to stimuli.

Dopamine Drip Dosages 

Dopamine drip doses vary based on a patient’s need for the drug and their age. 

The usual initial dose of dopamine for adults is 1 to 5 mcg/kg/min through IV infusion. There are instances in which a doctor may increase dosage and give more than 50 mcg/kg/min safely to treat serious issues. 

What are the Side Effects of a Dopamine-Injection?

Side effects of a dopamine drip that require medical attention include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coldness
  • Fast, slow, or pounding heartbeat
  • Numbness
  • Bluish tint to hands and/or feet
  • Darkening of the skin on the hands and/or feet

More common and less serious side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Chills and goosebumps

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What are the Risks of a Dopamine-Injection?

Dopamine injections are potent and must be diluted by an experienced medical professional before use. Risks of the drug include:

  • Blood pressure changes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Kidney damage
  • Potentially life-threatening heart arrhythmias
  • Gangrene of the fingers and toes when given in higher doses

This can occur in verbal and non-verbal patients, so it’s important to monitor anyone receiving a dopamine injection for signs of restlessness, coughing, or difficulty breathing.

Legal dopamine-enhancing drugs also carry a variety of risks. These drugs include:

  • Prescription painkillers
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine

The use of these drugs releases up to five to ten times the level of dopamine that the brain naturally produces. Depending on the dose, this can trigger a variety of side effects, including:

  • Augmentation: About 7% of patients per year who take a dopamine agonist will develop augmentation.2 Some people on dopamine experience breakthrough symptoms that are more severe, intense, and unbearable than when they first initiated the medication. Experiencing moderate to severe symptoms early in the evening, afternoon, or morning is also an indication of augmentation.
  • Sleepiness: Some patients experience sleepiness shortly after taking a dose of dopamine medication. They might struggle to stay awake or fall asleep if they are inactive throughout the day.
  • Compulsive behaviors: Dopamine medication can trigger compulsive behaviors, including shopping, eating, gambling, and sexual activity. Problems might also manifest as less obvious behaviors such as thoroughness or tidiness.2

Does a Dopamine Drip Require a Prescription? 

Yes. Dopamine is a prescription medication and dosages must be carefully monitored for safety. It corrects hemodynamic status in people with shock syndrome

Some dopamine drugs require a prescription but not every substance that triggers the release of dopamine is prescription-only.

What Substances Interact with Dopamine Drips?

Like many drugs, dopamine interacts with other substances. Dopamine should not be added to a sodium bicarbonate injection or other alkaline intravenous solutions. Additionally, a dopamine drip can interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications, including:

  • Furazolidone
  • Isocarboxazid
  • Phenelzine
  • Rasagiline
  • Selegiline
  • Tranylcypromine

Ongoing use of dopamine drugs can trigger withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fluctuations in body temperature
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Persistent tremors and shaking
  • Hallucinations
  • Irritability and paranoia
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Dry mouth
  • Hostility and aggression
  • Seizures
  • Coma

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Resources

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(1) “Dip in Dopamine Linked with Drug Addiction.” LMS London Institute of Medical Sciences, 17 Mar. 2017.

(2) Kieffer, Sara. “Dopamine Drugs and Possible Side Effects | the Johns Hopkins Center for Restless Legs Syndrome.” www.hopkinsmedicine.org.

(3) “What Does Dopamine Actually Do?” Psychology Today, 2012.

(4) “Dopamine (Dopamine Hydrochloride): Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Interactions, Warning.” RxList.

(5) “Dopamine (Injection) | Michigan Medicine.” www.uofmhealth.org.

(6) PubChem. “Dopamine Hydrochloride.” Nih.gov, PubChem, 2019.

(7) “Dopamine Hydrochloride.” Dailymed.nlm.nih.gov.

(8) PubChem. “Dopamine.” Nih.gov, PubChem, 2019.

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