The first thing we need to understand about dopamine and serotonin is
that they are neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that regulate myriad functions and processes in the body, from sleep to metabolism. Difference Between Dopamine and Serotonin
While dopamine and serotonin affect many of the same
things, they do so in slightly different ways.
Here, we present an overview of the differences between dopamine and
serotonin when it comes to depression, digestion, sleep, and more.
DOPAMINE, SEROTONIN, AND DEPRESSION Difference Between Dopamine and Serotonin
Like other mental health conditions, depression is a
complex condition caused by several factors.
Both dopamine and serotonin play a role in depression, although experts are still trying to figure out the details.
Dopamine plays an important role in motivation and reward. If you’ve ever worked hard to reach a goal, the satisfaction you feel when you achieve it is due in part to a surge of dopamine. You can also feel immense satisfaction when music releases dopamine which makes you feel inexplicable and pleasant.
Some of the main symptoms of depression include:
- Low motivation
- Feeling helpless
- A loss of interest in things that used to interest you
Experts believe that these symptoms are related to a dysfunction within the dopamine system. They also believe that this dysfunction can be triggered by stress, pain, or trauma in the short or long term.
Researchers have been studying the link between serotonin and
depression for more than five decades. Although they initially believed that low serotonin levels caused depression, they now know that this is not the case.
The reality is more complicated. While a low level of serotonin does not
necessarily cause depression, increasing serotonin through the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is one of the most effective treatments for depression. However, they take some time to be effective.
Among people with moderate to severe depression, 40 to 60 percent of people only report improvement in their symptoms after taking SSRIs for six to eight weeks. This suggests that simply increasing serotonin is not what treats depression.
Instead, research has suggested that SSRIs increase
positive emotional processing over time, resulting in an overall change in mood.
Another factor is that researchers have found that depression is
associated with inflammation in the body. SSRIs have an anti-inflammatory effect.
The main difference
Dopamine system dysfunction is linked to certain symptoms of depression, such as low motivation. Serotonin is involved in the way you process emotions, which can affect your overall mood.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS?
Dopamine and serotonin also play a role in
psychological conditions other than depression.
Almost all pleasant experiences, from eating well to listening to
music, involve the release of dopamine.
Experts evaluate the potential for something to cause an addition by looking at the speed, intensity, and reliability of the dopamine release it causes in your brain. It doesn’t take long for the brain to associate certain behaviors or substances with a rush of dopamine.
Over time, the dopamine system can become less reactive to the
substance or activity that used to cause a great rush. For example, someone
might need to consume more than one drug to achieve the same
effects that a smaller amount used to provide.
In addition to Parkinson’s disease, experts also believe that a dysfunction of the dopamine system plays a role in:
- Bipolar disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
In a 2014 review, serotonin was also linked to several other conditions, including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
More specifically, the researchers found low serotonin binding among people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder. This results in less serotonin available in the brain.
Additionally, they found that people with autism are more likely to have lower levels of serotonin in certain areas of the brain.
Bipolar disorder has also been associated with impaired serotonin activity, which can influence the severity of someone’s symptoms.
The main difference
There is a close relationship between dopamine and the way
pleasure is experienced. Dysfunction of the dopamine system could also contribute to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Serotonin affects emotional processing, which can have significant effects on mood.
DOPAMINE, SEROTONIN AND SLEEP
The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a small gland in the brain called the pineal gland. The pineal gland receives and interprets the light and dark signals from the eyes.
Chemical messengers translate these signals into the production of
melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel drowsy.
The pineal gland has receptors for dopamine and serotonin.
Dopamine is associated with wakefulness.
Also, diseases that decrease dopamine production, such as Parkinson’s disease, often cause drowsiness.
In the pineal gland, dopamine can stop the effects of
norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter involved in the production and release of melatonin. When dopamine appears, the pineal gland produces and releases less melatonin, which makes it possible for us to recover.
A 2012 study also found that sleep deprivation decreases the availability of certain types of dopamine receptors. With fewer receptors, dopamine has nowhere to bind, making it difficult to stay awake.
The role of serotonin in regulating the sleep-wake cycle is complex. While it plays a role in maintaining sleep, it can also prevent us from falling asleep.
How serotonin affects sleep depends on where in the brain it comes from, the type of serotonin receptor it binds to, and other factors.
In a part of the brain called the dorsal raphe nucleus, high serotonin is associated with wakefulness. However, a buildup of serotonin in the area over time can cause us to sleep.
Serotonin is also involved in preventing rapid eye movement (REM). Studies have shown that increasing serotonin
through the use of SSRIs reduces REM sleep.
The Main Difference
Both dopamine and serotonin play a role in the
sleep-wake cycle. Dopamine can inhibit norepinephrine and make us feel more alert. Serotonin is involved in wakefulness, initiation of sleep, and prevention of REM sleep. It is also required to produce melatonin.
Dopamine and serotonin are two neurotransmitters that play
important roles in the brain.
An imbalance in the levels of either can have effects on mental health and the sleep cycle. There are no clear ways to measure serotonin and dopamine levels.
While both affect many of the same parts of health, they do so in
different ways, and this is something that experts are still trying to understand.