Select Page

Dopamine High & Drug Abuse

by | Last updated Mar 31, 2021 at 1:46PM | Published on Jun 6, 2020 | Health and Wellness, Mental Health


Dopamine is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that sends signals to and from the parts of the brain that control our focus and mood and several other factors. There are prescription medications such as Adderall and Ritalin and many illicit chemicals that affect the brain’s production of dopamine.

What is Dopamine High?

When any of these chemical substances are taken in large enough doses, it dramatically increases the release of this neurotramsmitter within a short time. In as little as a few seconds, certain drugs’ consumption can produce a euphoric, pleasurable sensation. This sensation is known as a dopamine high.

A dopamine high is a highly addictive experience. It also has the potential to cause numerous other harmful effects. Those who experience a euphoric high may find themselves trying to “chase” the high. As tolerance develops, they may search for more potent stimulants or use more significant amounts to achieve the same effects.

Drugs That Increase Dopamine

There is a wide array of drugs that increase the release of dopamine. As mentioned above, some of them are pharmaceutical drugs, whereas others are illicitly made. Illicit drugs are always dangerous as there is no way to know their exact composition, but even prescription medications should not be taken in doses greater than prescribed.

Prescription Drugs

  • Marijuana
  • Opioids (OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, Vicodin, Dilaudid, & methadone)
  • Stimulants (i.e., Dexedrine, Adderall, Ritalin®, Concerta®)

Illicit Drugs

  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • MDMA
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opioids (ie: Heroin & Fentanyl)

Another substance that affects dopamine production and is legal, but is not prescription, is alcohol. An easily accessible and legal substance, alcohol is arguably one of America’s most dangerous mind-altering drugs.

Side Effects

When naturally occurring, dopamine can help increase focus, motivation, mood and regulate sleep. It can also affect heart rate, blood vessel function, kidney function, and lactation. Although pharmaceutical drugs that affect brain chemistry can help control these same functions when an imbalance is present, abuse can create an imbalance and cause severe side effects. When large doses are consumed and a dopamine high occurs, it can lead to dangerously high body temperature, heart failure, seizures, and death.

Resetting Dopamine Receptors

When dependence is developed from long-term substance use that artificially increases dopamine production in the brain, the number of dopamine receptors decreases overtime to compensate for the increase in dopamine available to bind to them.

When substance use is discontinued, it can take some time for the number of these receptors to regrow. As there are initially fewer neurotransmitters and fewer receptors, it is less likely the two will find each other and bind. This leads to depression, a lack of motivation, an increase in cravings, and potentially a substance-induced anxiety disorder. The first few days are the hardest and are why medical detox facilities are ideal for those addicted to drugs affecting brain chemicals.



Stacey has been writing for Lighthouse Recovery Institute since late 2019. Her years of experience in the marketing industry as a content writer and SEO specialist, as well as her own family history with addiction allows Stacey to provide a unique insight into substance abuse.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

Related Articles

How to Help Someone With Depression

How to Help Someone With Depression

It’s not rare for someone my age to know someone else with depression. Heck, I’ve been there myself. It’s hard to find help for yourself, let alone try to help someone with depression. The last survey estimates that at least 7% of all US adults experienced a major...

Do You Have Self-Destructive Behavior?

Do You Have Self-Destructive Behavior?

At one point in your life, odds are you’ve done something self-destructive. It's fairly common. While most of the time is not intentional, it can quickly become a habit and lead to significant issues like addiction. Self-destructive behavior is not to be confused with...

Need Help? Start here!

find your insurance sidebar

Find Your Insurance

*Lighthouse Recovery Institute is not affiliated with any insurance.

Get Help During COVID-19

Within days, you can get clean and sober, start therapy, join a support group, and learn ways to manage your cravings.

Ready to Start? We're here for you.