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How Are ADHD and Dopamine Related?

The exact causes of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) still aren’t known, but some small studies have indicated that there may be some connection between ADHD and dopamine levels in the brain. But what is the connection and how thorough is the research? In this blog, we’ll be exploring the relationship between ADHD and dopamine and why it matters. Read on to learn more!

A Brief Introduction

ADHD is a complex neurological disorder that can affect both children and adults. The exact cause of ADHD is still being studied, but there are likely several factors that can lead to someone developing ADHD. Furthermore, the condition can affect people in different ways, making it even more complicated to nail down.

With that being said, there have been numerous ADHD studies conducted over the decades, which has led to some speculation along with some solid theories as to what the true cause of ADHD might be. Amongst the findings is a better understanding of how dopamine regulation might play a part in someone’s risk of developing ADHD. In individuals with ADHD, there has been some evidence of abnormalities in dopamine function, which can contribute to the characteristic symptoms of the disorder.

Before diving deeper into this potential connection, let’s first go over the definition of ADHD.

Understanding ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

Understanding ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)DHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. As mentioned, the condition is a complex neurological disorder and it can affect people of all ages. Although the symptoms can vary by individual, the most common characteristics of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. 

Those who have ADHD that go undiagnosed may be perceived as lazy or irresponsible, but it’s important to understand that ADHD is a real condition that often affects an individual's ability to focus and make decisions.

Several factors may cause ADHD or increase someone’s risk of developing ADHD. As mentioned, we still don’t fully understand ADHD, but our understanding and treatment options for the condition have vastly improved over the years. One potential connection is dopamine, which we’ll discuss next.

What Is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or a chemical messenger in the brain that regulates our motivation and reward response. Dopamine is often referred to as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter because it is released when we experience something pleasurable or rewarding. 

Individuals with ADHD may have abnormalities in their dopamine function that cause their symptoms of inattentiveness and lack of focus. If an individual with ADHD has lower levels of dopamine or if they don’t get as much dopamine from completing a task, it may make it more difficult for them to maintain focus and regulate their impulses.

It’s important to note that the research into the connection between dopamine and ADHD is far from complete, but there is evidence to suggest that it might play a role. Let’s take a look at what the research says about this potential relationship.

What Does the Research Say?

According to Healthline, the research into the connection between ADHD and dopamine began in 1999. The study looked at two different groups of study participants — one with ADHD and one without — and specifically looked at the DTD levels in each subject.

DTD, or dopamine transporter density, is the measure of dopamine transport density in an individual’s brain and nervous system. Dopamine transporters are proteins and if someone has a higher DTD level, they may have lower dopamine levels. However, it’s important to note that these lower dopamine levels don’t necessarily mean the individual has ADHD, but it does sometimes correlate.

As always, it’s important to note that more research is needed. The dopamine and ADHD studies that have been conducted have been relatively small, so there is no way to definitively say that dopamine levels in the brain have a direct causation to someone having ADHD. Often, experts look at a more holistic view of the underlying factors to determine if someone does or doesn’t have ADHD.

Still, the research into the relationship between dopamine and ADHD is promising. As time goes on and more studies are conducted, we will hopefully gain a more concrete understanding of the relationship between the brain and ADHD, allowing us to identify the exact causes someday.

Treatment Options & Medications

While ADHD is often a chronic condition that you have throughout your life, there are various treatment options and medications that can help manage your symptoms. Typically, the first line of defense for treating ADHD will be lifestyle modifications. If deemed medically appropriate, you may also be prescribed ADHD medication.

The lifestyle changes for ADHD treatments often revolve around helping the patient focus and giving them strategies to deal with the symptoms they struggle with most. These lifestyle changes may include exercising, practicing good sleep hygiene, eating a balanced diet, meditating and engaging in therapeutic interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy. Interestingly, some of the common lifestyle changes recommended for ADHD treatment involve natural ways to regulate dopamine levels. We’ll dive into these methods in a further section.

Prescription medication is also another common ADHD treatment method. Stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate and amphetamines, are some of the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD. These medications work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, which can help to improve focus and reduce hyperactivity. There are also non-stimulant medications available for those who don’t find the stimulant medications to be effective or those who suffer adverse side effects from these medications. Non-stimulants work by targeting neurotransmitters in the brain that may contribute to ADHD symptoms.

Just as ADHD symptoms can be different for everyone, ADHD treatment is also usually unique to the person. Treatment may involve a combination of medications, therapy and lifestyle changes. What works for one person may not work for another. With guidance from your primary care provider and some patience, you can find the right combination of strategies to help manage symptoms and improve your quality of life.

How To Increase Dopamine Naturally

As we mentioned earlier, ADHD treatment plans will often include lifestyle modifications that naturally increase your dopamine levels. Along with helping to regulate dopamine to manage your ADHD symptoms, these lifestyle changes often have other mental and physical health benefits. With that being said, you should always consult your health care provider before incorporating new lifestyle changes into your routine. 

Here are some of the lifestyle changes your provider may suggest to naturally regulate your dopamine levels:

  • Exercise — Exercise is a great way to naturally boost dopamine. When you exercise, you promote the release of endorphins which stimulates the production of dopamine. Aerobic exercise can be especially effective for this. Make sure to consult your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine.
  • Meditation and breathing exercises — Mindfulness techniques such as medication and breathing exercises can help regulate dopamine levels. These practices help to reduce stress and promote relaxation, which can then result in boosted dopamine levels.
  • Sleep quality — Sleep is essential for optimal everyday function, and this is especially the case for those with ADHD symptoms. Sleep deprivation may lead to disruptions in dopamine function, which can then worsen ADHD symptoms. Practicing good sleep hygiene and getting quality sleep each night may help with dopamine regulation and ADHD symptoms overall. 
  • Get some sunlight — Getting outside and getting some sunlight can help to regulate your dopamine levels. Remember to get sunlight in moderation and to wear sun protection to block out harmful rays.
  • Maintaining a balanced diet — A poor diet may disrupt dopamine production, so it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. For dopamine levels specifically, this usually means more protein and fewer saturated fats. It can also be helpful to eat foods or take probiotics that help regulate your gut microbiome. Your health care provider may even recommend some foods or supplements that provide beneficial vitamins and nutrients for dopamine production. Make sure to consult your health care provider about changing your diet for ADHD symptoms.

Connect with a doctor or online provider

If you’re experiencing symptoms of ADHD, it’s important to seek the advice and care of a medical professional. A primary care provider will be able to officially diagnose your ADHD, develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs and monitor your treatment as it progresses.

When choosing your health care provider, you should make sure to seek someone who has experience in ADHD diagnosis and treatment. Circle Medical is an ideal solution for those suffering from ADHD symptoms. Our board-certified providers can determine if you’re a good candidate for ADHD treatment and develop a plan that works for you. Additionally, Circle Medical is a full-stack care clinic — meaning you can receive care in person or online. 

Online ADHD care allows you to get treatment from the comfort of your own home. It’s a great option for those who may not have access to quality care options or for those who simply prefer the convenience of telehealth. If you’re interested in ADHD care, Circle Medical is here to help.

Book an appointment with a Circle Medical telehealth provider today!

Circle Medical is a full-stack primary care provider that offers both in-person and online healthcare options. From diagnosis to treatment to prescriptions when medically necessary, Circle Medical is here for your ADHD care, needs and more. If you’re ready to get started on your healthcare journey, you can make an appointment as soon as today. Book your same-day appointment with Circle Medical today to get started!

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